How you interpret these figures may depend on whether you focus first on the individual, then the home or finally the society -- but however you consider them, the numbers are serious issues for reflection about what they mean for the future. What does it mean when a man no longer gets his identity through work, or as the support for his wife and children? Women are better educated than men at every level, but how does it affect culture and personal relationships when a man has a diminished role in a woman's heart and at the family hearth?
When the Pew findings were released, a conservative male panelist on Lou Dobbs' Fox Business News show expressed the once routine observation that animals tracked the human complementary sex roles: The male offers strength and protection, and the female provides nurturing. One blogger shot back angrily that he should tell that to a lioness, a black widow spider or a female praying mantis. But if women are no longer perceived as traditional nurturers, women who work full time either as single or married mothers continue to worry more about their children than men do.
Few Americans are eager to return to rigid formulas for parental roles. Most agree that a woman should work if she wants to, but men urgently need expanded job opportunities now that the blue-collar industries have fled to foreign shores. A boy still needs a man to look up to, and a girl still gets her first impression of the opposite sex from a father, even if he's not there.
In an information society, women have the edge, and both men and women with better educations are leaving behind men who traditionally were trained for industrial vocations. The most startling statistic in the Pew study is that "the total family income is higher when the mother, not the father, is primary breadwinner."
These startling observations won't make the cut in college, where women's studies dominate the curriculum and professors prefer to discuss "The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie," or the "mythic maleness" of Che Guevara. Feminists must move away from their narrow protests over pay gaps, which are largely determined by personal choices. Rather, they should look at the support gap of psychological and economic accountability for their challenged sisters who have no men around to take paternal responsibility for their children. That's far more important than out-of-date grievances, and will profoundly affect the next generation, whatever we decide to call it.