mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Why Can't Men Get Jobs?


Many men are lingering on the threshold of the new economy, either unable or unwilling to cross it. So argues David Brooks in a riff on the decline of men narrative:

But, surely, there has been some ineffable shift in the definition of dignity. Many men were raised with a certain image of male dignity, which emphasized autonomy, reticence, ruggedness, invulnerability and the competitive virtues. Now, thanks to a communications economy, they find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues.

Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating. A high school student doesn’t want to persist in a school where he feels looked down on. A guy in his 50s doesn’t want to find work in a place where he’ll be told what to do by savvy young things.

Brooks highlights an important point: the middle and lower class used to gain confidence and competency from jobs in the manufacturing and construction industries, jobs that have all but evaporated. Today, a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for many jobs (even ones that don’t really require a college education to perform well). But for some reason, men, broadly speaking, have been slow to respond to this new reality. By contrast, 35-year-old women were 23 percent more likely than their male peers to have a bachelor’s degree in 2010.

And this has consequences. One-fifth of men in their prime working ages “are out of the labor force,” Brooks notes. The situation isn’t likely to improve any time soon, as more children than ever are now born out of wedlock—likely due to the decreasing marriagability of these men. And children born in single-family homes are less likely to graduate from high school themselves.

Read the whole thing. 

[Assembly line worker image courtesy of Shutterstock]

Features Icon
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    I have a theory (and that’s all it is) based on my experience of teaching of Tai Chi: male ego.

    I see “I’m a man, this is a sport, no problem . . . the women are out performing me, I’m outta here.” all the time. Transposed to the work environment, it may be difficult for a man who has been competent at a job which no longer exists to deal with difficulty in learning new skills. Could it be that, horrible as it sounds, it might be better to segregate (for training purposes) men in need of retraining so that they are only competing with each other?

  • wigwag

    This post by Professor Mead (and the brilliant column by David Brooks that he refers to) is almost too sad for words. I found myself with a lump in my throat after reading it. It’s even more depressing that the problem seems to cross racial and ethnic barriers. The tragic situation of African American men has been well documented and working class Latino men aren’t doing any better. As Charles Murray points out in “Coming Apart: The State of White America” white men are experiencing many of the same problems.

    It can’t be overstated how calamitous this is. It’s hard to contemplate how the United States can remain the most enterprising and truly progressive nation on the planet if this looming cultural disaster isn’t redressed. But how can it be redressed?

    Brooks is right; there is great wisdom to be found in American westerns; especially John Ford movies. Why can’t anyone make equally intelligent movies today? Brooks is wrong about only one thing; “The Searchers” isn’t the best movie ever made, its the second best. The best movie ever made is another John Ford movie; “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”


  • Jim__L

    Affirmative Action for women has vastly overshot “equality”.

    It’s time for men to push back.

    • bpuharic

      Any proof AA is responsible or is this just more angry white guy stuff?

      • wigwag

        It may not be affirmative action per se, but it seems to me that there is a politically correct mind set that has become increasingly pervasive that tends to disparage male traits. Professor Mead has highlighted some of this in his posts; universities that sanction males for sexual harassment based on flimsy evidence; little boys sometimes as young as 5 or 6 accused of harassing young girls because of the way they touch them during play; boys left out during “take your daughter to work days, etc.

        Progressive people (if progressivism still has any meaning at all) should be concerned about the plight of the working class. Working class men are in trouble; part of this is about economics and part of it is about culture. Chalking it up to “angry white guy stuff” sounds remarkably elitist.

        • bpuharic

          Marginal anecdotes make poor social policy. I remember ‘take your daughter to work day’ from decades ago when the glass ceiling was very real.

          Working PEOPLE are in trouble, regardless of sex. The right focuses on sex because it, like their old ploy on race, is a distraction designed to ‘divide and conquer’. The right thinks the more they can divide working people into categories, the less we’ll see that the real problem is economic inequality for ALL working people, not just men.

  • Anthony

    A reflection on historical transition vis-a-vis men generally (United States): some may attribute WRM’s and Brook’s theme to forces that drive history but on one level modernity, i.e. science, technology, transformations in human relations, etc., may also have disfigured male traditional views of himself (“They find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues.”). Lamentations have a long history in intellectual life but humans persevere – and in this challenge men will adapt. Steven Pinker calls it the interchangeability of perspectives or the nonspecialness of our parochial vantage point. Yet, there remains for me a tinge of sadness because half of our discussed population is being categorized as being on the wrong side of historical transition going forward…

  • Corlyss

    Forget Brooks. Just read the Eberstadt article.

  • thrasymachus02

    The economy is quite feminized and has been for a long time. Employers are very keen to have a certain kind of personality and personal interaction, heavy on indirect signaling and communication. I’ll eat as much crow as I have to, and I’m guessing the other obsolete men will too- we need to eat- but for a combination of reasons of socialization and genetics, I just can’t. I’m polite and respectful, but I need to have a certain amount of directness and explicitness in my interactions, which in today’s society- even 20 years ago when I was in retail- is regarded as offensive. Employers want employees who are a perfect match for their behavioral requirements, and women fit the bill more than men, but even so there are a lot of women who are unemployable in today’s job market. Fortunately I work in a field where my intellectual and behavioral profile is a net positive. Some substantial portion of the population is not employable, not because there’s anything wrong with them but because employers need fewer employees and can demand what they want.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service