The trouble with men

Posted: Aug 08, 2006 12:01 PM

At the highest echelons, men are doing well. Just look at the list of Nobel Prize winners, corporate presidents, senators, movie directors and entrepreneurs, all heavily male.

But underneath the highest echelons, there is growing evidence that men, as a gender, are not doing so well. The New York Times has begun publishing a series, "The New Gender Divide," that chronicles the current XY chromosomal crisis among those who lack a college education.

Men now make up only 42 percent of college students. For every 50 women who earn a bachelor's degree, only 37 men get a college degree. As recently as 1980, only one out of 20 men without college degrees in their early 40s had never married, compared to almost one out of five middle-aged men today.

"Men don't marry because women like myself don't need to rely on them," Shenia Rudolph, a 42-year-old divorced single mother, offers the optimistic explanation. Shenia married her high school sweetheart two weeks after her first child was born. Six years later, after a rocky road of unemployment, she divorced him. Seeking a better life, she proceeded to have three kids with (but not marry) a basketball player, only to discover that he was actually married to someone else.

Ketny Jean-Francois says: "It's a myth that all women want to marry." She is "supporting" her 3-year-old by living off unemployment insurance and food stamps, the Times reports.

But men tell a different story. Men don't marry because they don't have to.

Joe Callender, 47, a retired New York City corrections officer, has had four children with two different women he has lived with but not married, because (he says) he doubts his own capacity to be faithful. "Marriage, that's sacred to me," he says.

Tom Ryan is an electronic specialist who spent years touring with a rock band. He touts traumatic fears of divorce as a reason for his middle-aged celibacy. After living with a girlfriend for six years, and buying a house with her, he had to suddenly come up with the cash to buy out her share of the house after the breakup. His girlfriend, who had lived with him for six years, had wanted to get married and have children. He loved her, he says, but he "did not feel ready." He still holds out that marriage and/or children is not "totally out of the question." Mr. Ryan is 54 years old.

The decline in marriage comes with a weakened inclination to work. Between 1979 and 2003, the earnings of male high school graduates without any college dropped 8 percent, while women high school grads' earnings grew by 12 percent. The proportion of American men age 30 to 55 who are not working and not looking for work has tripled: 4 million missing men.

Alan Beggerow, 53 and working on his third marriage, is one of them. He can't find a job that is "neither demeaning nor underpaid." He spends his days playing classical piano, reading history books and writing reviews for "I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me." He lives on his savings, the equity in his house, and his third wife's $12,000 a year disability payments. Social Security disability is the fastest growing federal entitlement program: 6.5 million Americans are now on disability, up from 3 million in 1990. "About 25 percent of the missing men are collecting this insurance," reports The New York Times.

So why do we care? Here's one reason: Men and women are not from different planets, we are from the same families. When men do badly, women have a hard time finding good mates for themselves and good fathers for our children. We watch our own sons and brothers struggle and wonder: What has gone wrong? And what can we do to help?