Friday's jobs numbers from the Labor Department showed a continuing worrisome trend among men: A smaller and smaller share of them are working.
Consider men of so-called prime-working age, 25 to 54.
Sixty years ago, close to 97% of men in that group were working or looking for work. Since then, there's been a steady decline. In October, the number was 88.5%, a slight dip from the previous two months.
In a new book, Brookings Institution scholar Richard V. Reeves sounds the alarm about the struggles of men, both in the economy and in society, pleading with policymakers and society at large to pay attention to what's going on and intervene.
Titled Of Boys and Men, the book explores the economic, social and cultural shifts that have forced men to the sidelines of the economy, including the loss of jobs in male-dominated fields such as manufacturing and the influx of women into the workforce, diminishing the need for men to serve as providers for their families.
Rather than try to recapture an era that is long gone, Reeves argues we should help men adapt to the jobs of the future — including many that are now overwhelmingly performed by women.
In an interview with NPR, Reeves warns if nothing is done to help struggling men, families will become poorer and economic inequality will only worsen.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You were a bit reluctant to to write this book about boys and men, dreading some of the criticism you might get for turning the focus away from girls and women. But you call that a false choice. Can you explain that?
The reluctance was simply because the way the debate is framed — it's 'Whose side are you on?'
But of course, most people in the world are perfectly capable of worrying about two things at once.
The danger with even raising the specific challenges of boys and men is that it will be seen as a distraction from ongoing efforts to help women and girls. I think that's a false choice. Partly as a result of the changes of recent decades, we both can and should now pay attention to both sides of gender inequality.
You say the economic relationship between men and women has transformed so rapidly that our culture has not yet caught up. Women have gone to work. They don't need to rely on men for income.
It's important to recognize that that was the central material goal of the post-war women's movement — to secure economic independence for women so that they didn't have to rely on men in a material sense. That has been achieved to a very large degree, very, very quickly.
In 1979, only 13% of women earned more than the average man. Now, 40% of women earn more than the average man. Forty percent of U.S. households have a female breadwinner, quadruple the number a few decades ago.
It's been an extraordinary success. But when it happens that quickly, it's very hard for our culture to keep up. It's very hard for our ideas of fatherhood, motherhood, masculinity, femininity, family life to adapt as quickly as the fundamental economics have changed.
Read the full interview here