Why American Men Are Falling Fast Behind
Life + Money

Why American Men Are Falling Fast Behind


Men – once the dominate sex in nearly every sector of society – seem to be falling far and fast. A new Pew report finds that 40 percent of households with children under 18 have mothers who are the primary breadwinners – a dramatic rise from just 11 percent in 1960.

Women now earn about 60 percent of university degrees in America and Europe. Single women are increasingly becoming homeowners and a survey by Harris Interactive and Mortgage Marvel this week finds that women are more financially responsible when buying a home. Of the 41 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 who expressed interest in buying a home this year, 17 percent of men said their finances were “shaky” – whereas only 6 percent of women said the same.

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Female breadwinners are also driving up their family wealth - when the mother is the primary breadwinner, the total median family income is nearly $80,000 – $2,000 more than when the husband is the breadwinner, according to the Pew survey.

What exactly has happened to men?

Many trace the beginning of this dramatic gender reversal to the days of the Great Recession when men were being laid off in droves – three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men, mainly in traditionally male-dominated industries like construction, manufacturing and finance. The decline of labor unions has also disproportionately affected men. But as Hanna Rosin reported in her 2010 Atlantic cover story, “The End of Men,”  the “mancession” was just the beginning. Thirteen of the 15 job categories projected to grow in the next decade are dominated by women. 

“What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men?” she writes. “In the long view, the economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.”

Though many women have opted out of childbearing to focus on their careers (the fertility rate in the U.S. has plummeted recently to below replacement level), the number of married women with children in the workforce has also skyrocketed – their employment rate has gone from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent today.

While the demographic trend has shifted, our acceptance of the changing roles of mothers and fathers hasn’t caught up. Over half of respondents in the Pew survey said that children are better off if mom is home and doesn’t hold a job – just 8 percent said the same about dad. Three-quarters of respondents said that if the woman works, it’s more difficult for the couple to raise children.

The role reversal is dramatically changing family dynamics and upending traditional ideas of masculinity. Male support groups have cropped up in the post-industrial Rust Belt, and more attention is now being paid to the rise of stay-at-home dads. 

While this new crop of lower-paid, childrearing men struggle to redefine their identity, women report increased anxiety about work-life balance and wanting to “have it all” – a challenging career, a supportive husband, and being home to raise her children. The shift will be painful for many – as Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer has shown, the workplace is still not conducive to baby-toting executives and the U.S. continues to be one of the only developed countries with no paid maternity leave requirement. But the growing pains of a new gender dynamics subside, the hope is that the genders can meet somewhere in the middle, and Mr. Mom can simply be Dad.