Saturday, August 19, 2017

Is the growth of feminism leaving men in the dark

Kimberley, a receptionist in Tallulah, thinks the local men are lazy. “They don’t do nothin’,” she complains. This is not strictly true. Until recently, some of them organised dog fights in a disused school building.

Tallulah, in the Mississippi Delta, is picturesque but not prosperous. Many of the jobs it used to have are gone. Two prisons and a county jail provide work for a few guards but the men behind bars, obviously, do not have jobs. Nor do many of the young men who hang around on street corners, shooting dice and shooting the breeze. In Madison Parish, the local county, only 47% of men of prime working age (25-54) are working.

The men in Tallulah are typically not well educated: the local high school’s results are poor even by Louisiana’s standards. That would have mattered less, in the old days. A man without much book-learning could find steady work at the mill or in the fields. But the lumber mill has closed, and on nearby farms “jobs that used to take 100 men now take ten,” observes Jason McGuffie, a pastor. A strong pair of hands is no longer enough.

“If you don’t have an education, what can you do?” asks Paxton Branch, the mayor. “You can’t even answer a phone if you don’t have proper English.” Blue-collar jobs require more skills than they used to, notes Katie McCarty of the North East Louisiana Workforce Centres, a job-placement agency. If you want to be a truck driver, you need at least an eighth-grade education to handle the paperwork, she observes; that is, the mental skills a 13- or 14-year-old is supposed to have, and which men disproportionately lack.

Orlando Redden is in his mid-40s and sporadically employed. He is big, strong and, by all accounts, a hard worker. But he is inarticulate, hazy about numbers and has no skills that would make an employer sit up and take notice. He has bounced from job to job throughout his adult life: minding the slot machines in a casino, driving a forklift, working as a groundskeeper, and so on.

The forklift job, at a factory that made mufflers for cars, was the best: it paid $10.95 an hour. But then the factory closed. He lost his groundskeeper job, too, when a new boss merged two roles (groundskeeper and maintenance man) into one, and gave it to the man with more skills. He recently found a job with a paving contractor, which is better than nothing but requires him to commute more than 30 miles (50km) a day.

Tallulah may be an extreme example, but it is part of a story playing out across America and much of the rest of the rich world. In almost all societies a lot of men enjoy unwarranted advantages simply because of their sex. Much has been done over the past 50 years to put this injustice right; quite a bit still remains to be done.

The dead hand of male domination is a problem for women, for society as a whole—and for men like those of Tallulah. Their ideas of the world and their place in it are shaped by old assumptions about the special role and status due to men in the workplace and in the family, but they live in circumstances where those assumptions no longer apply. And they lack the resources of training, of imagination and of opportunity to adapt to the new demands. As a result, they miss out on a lot, both in economic terms and in personal ones.

For those at the top, James Brown’s observation that it is a man’s, man’s, man’s world still holds true. Some 95% of Fortune 500 CEOs are male, as are 98% of the self-made billionaires on the Forbes rich list and 93% of the world’s heads of government. In popular films fewer than a third of the characters who speak are women, and more than three-quarters of the protagonists are men. Yet the fact that the highest rungs have male feet all over them is scant comfort for the men at the bottom.

Technology and trade mean that rich countries have less use than they once did for workers who mainly offer muscle. A mechanical digger can replace dozens of men with spades; a Chinese steelworker is cheaper than an American. Men still dominate risky occupations such as roofer and taxi-driver, and jobs that require long stints away from home, such as trucker and oil-rig worker. And, other things being equal, dirty, dangerous and inconvenient jobs pay better than safe, clean ones. But the real money is in brain work, and here many men are lagging behind. Women outnumber them on university campuses in every region bar South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In the OECD men earn only 42% of degrees. Teenage boys in rich countries are 50% more likely than girls to flunk all three basic subjects in school: maths, reading and science.

The economic marginalisation this brings erodes family life. Women who enjoy much greater economic autonomy than their grandmothers did can afford to be correspondingly pickier about spouses, and they are not thrilled by husbands who are just another mouth to feed.

If the sort of labour that a man like Mr Redden might willingly perform with diligence and pride is no longer in great demand, that does not mean there are no jobs at all. Everywhere you look in Tallulah there are women working: in the motels that cater to passing truckers, in the restaurants that serve all-you-can-eat catfish buffets, in shops, clinics and local government offices. But though unskilled men might do some of those jobs, they are unlikely to want them or to be picked for them.

In “The End of Men”, a good book with a somewhat excessive title, Hanna Rosin notes that of the 30 occupations expected to grow fastest in America in the coming years, women dominate 20, including nursing, accounting, child care and food preparation. “The list of working-class jobs predicted to grow is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes,” writes Ms Rosin. And those old stereotypes are deeply ingrained in the minds of the men they marginalise; they no more see jobs centred on serving or caring as their sort of thing than society does.

Although there is no reason in theory why men could not become nurses or care-home assistants, few do. Most schools would love to have more male teachers to serve as role models for boys, but not many volunteer. And poorly educated men are often much worse at things such as showing up on time and being pleasant to customers (even if you don’t feel like it) than their female peers are. For the working class, the economy “has become more amenable to women than to men”, argues Ms Rosin.

Criminality, alas, remains an option for men of all skill sets, as Tallulah’s prisons bear witness. The world’s most dysfunctional people are nearly all male. Men have always been more violent than women, even if they are less violent now than they used to be. In America today they commit 90% of murders and make up 93% of the prison population. They are also four times more likely to kill themselves than women are.

For many men in Tallulah, the greatest obstacle to finding a job is that they have already fallen foul of the law. Mikel Davis, a polite 29-year-old, is typical. He graduated from high school a decade ago and got “caught up in the street,” he says. “My mind wasn’t there. I wasn’t dedicated to the right.”

He started to deal small quantities of marijuana. He was caught, briefly jailed and released on probation. “I haven’t peed dirty since,” he says, but with a criminal record “finding a job was hell.” Mr Davis applied to McDonald’s, Arby’s, Chevron—you name it. After a year he found work “washing cars in the rain”. Now he toils at a burger joint, and is training to be a welder. When Mr Davis was selling drugs, he says, he could make more in a day than he does in a week wiping tables. But crime seldom pays in the long run. It is no way to support a family.

Mr Redden has three children by three women. Mr Davis has two children by two. Neither man lives with any of the mothers or any of their children. Mr Davis supports both of his, he says: one, financially; the other, by visiting and helping around the home. He says he is still friendly with one mother, but “not in a committed relationship”.

When they talk about a man’s role in the home, though, both men sound like preachers from the 1950s. “Being a man means supporting your family,” says Mr Davis. “You’ve got to do whatever it takes so they eat, [or] you’re no man at all.” Being a man, says Mr Redden, means you “work hard, provide for your kids, have a car and [maybe] get your own house some day.” Mr Davis goes further: “If I have kids and my woman has to work, that’s not what a woman should do. She should be home with the kids.”

There is, to put it mildly, a disconnect between these ideas of a man’s role and the reality of life in Tallulah. The busy women of Tallulah are far from rich, but they are getting by, and they are doing so without much help from men.

Fifty years ago the norms for marriage in most rich countries were simple and sexist. If a man got a woman pregnant the couple got married; in 1960 in America 30% of brides gave birth within eight and a half months of the wedding, according to June Carbone of the University of Minnesota and Naomi Cahn of George Washington University. After the arrival of children, the husband’s responsibility was to earn and the wife’s was to mind the home. There were exceptions, but the rules were universally understood and widely followed. According to Ms Carbone and Ms Cahn more than 80% of wives with young children stayed at home in 1960.

Those norms have changed. The pill, which was approved in America that same year, allowed women to regulate their fertility. It used to be common for brainy women to drop out of college when they became pregnant. Now they can time their babies to fit with their careers. The ability to defer children is one of the reasons why 23% of married American women with children now out-earn their husbands, up from 4% in 1960. Few women in rich countries now need a man’s support to raise a family. (They might want it, but they don’t need it.)

With women in a better position to demand equality, many men have changed their behaviour accordingly. Studies of who does what within two-parent families show a big generational shift. In 1965 fathers did 42 hours of paid work, 4 hours of housework and 2.5 hours of child care each week, according to the Pew Research Centre. Mothers did seven times as much housework as fathers, four times as much child care and one-fifth as much paid work, adding up to 51 hours a week. Overall, men had two extra hours a week to drink highballs and complain about their daughters’ boyfriends.

Fast-forward to 2011 and there is less housework—thanks to dishwashers and ready meals—more evenly divided, with the mother doing 18 hours a week to the father’s 10. Both parents are doing more child care. The mother is doing a lot more paid work; the father is doing five hours less. Overall, the father is toiling for 1.5 hours a week longer than the mother.

The same Pew survey suggests that most couples don’t think the compromise they have reached is wildly out of kilter. Fully 68% of women say they spend the “right amount” of time with their kids; only 8% say they spend too much. Many parents find it hard to balance work and family, but there is not much apparent difference between the sexes on this score: 56% of mothers and 50% of fathers say this is “very” or “somewhat” difficult.

As a measure of how male attitudes have changed, however, this sample is misleading. It excludes families where the father is no longer there. Couples split up for a variety of reasons, but a common complaint among women who throw out their partners is that the man was not doing his fair share. And here there is a huge class divide. Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution argues, in “Generation Unbound”, that college-educated men have adapted reasonably well to the feminist revolution but it “seems to have bypassed low-income men”.

In 1970 there was not much difference between the happiness of better-off families and that of the less-well-off: 73% of educated white Americans and 67% of working-class whites said their marriages were “very happy”, observes Charles Murray, a conservative writer. Among the professional class, marital satisfaction dipped sharply in the 1980s, suggesting that for a while men and women struggled with the new rules. But it has since recovered to roughly the level it was in 1970. By contrast, the share of working-class whites who say their marriages are very happy has fallen to barely 50%, despite the fact that fewer of them are getting hitched in the first place. In Britain, too, more-educated couples are more likely to say their relationship is “extremely happy”.

This difference is in part because unskilled men have less to offer than once they did. In America pay for men with only a high school diploma fell 21% in real terms between 1979 and 2013; for those who dropped out of high school it fell by a staggering 34%. Women did better. Female high-school graduates gained 3%; high-school dropouts lost 12%.

And the change is even more dramatic than these figures suggest. First, women are now better educated than men; the proportion of women with no more than a high-school education fell from 32.9% in 1979—one percentage point higher than men—to 11.4% in 2013, one percentage point lower. Second, many men do not work at all. In America, the share of men of prime working age who have a job has fallen from a peak of nearly 95% in the mid-1960s to only 84% in 2010. In Britain the share of men aged 16-64 who work has fallen from 92% in 1971 to 76% in 2013; for women it has risen from 53% to 67%. For those with few qualifications the situation is worse: in America in 2010 25% of 25- to 54-year-old men with only a high-school education were not in work; for those who did not graduate high school the rate was 35%.

There is no sugar-coating this: many blue-collar men no longer have the sort of earnings or prospects that will make women want to marry them. A recent Pew poll found that 78% of never-married American women say it is “very important” that a potential spouse should have a steady job. (Only 46% of never-married men said the same.) In theory, this preference should not stop men without steady jobs from finding a mate. There are roughly equal numbers of heterosexual men and women in rich countries, so you might expect nearly everyone to pair up. For poor people, especially, it makes sense. Two pairs of hands can juggle work and kids more easily. Spouses can support each other through sickness or night school. But this works only if both believe that the commitment is long-term. It is pointless to make plans with someone you fear will sponge off you for a while and then vanish.

Which brings up the other side of the control modern contraception offers. When pregnancy is easily prevented or can be legally ended, it no longer functions as a road to marriage. It makes it easier for men who choose not to stick around to tell themselves, and their partners, that a child was not part of the deal.

No single factor can account for the fragility of working-class families. But economic and technological shifts have clearly affected social norms. Some scholars blame the welfare state for making the male breadwinner redundant. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, protests that women at the bottom of the social scale end up “married” to the taxpayer. Means-tested benefits make it easier to get by without a spouse, and sometimes penalise marriage. In America, a single mother with two children who earns $15,000 a year would typically receive $5,200 in food stamps, which would fall to zero if she were to marry a father who earned the same; and that is just one of 80 or so means-tested federal benefits.

Teena Davison, a cook in Tallulah, is raising four children on her own. One father is in Texas; the other is nearby but disengaged. “Sometimes they help out but basically I do it all,” she says. She gave up trying to make either man do his share. “I don’t want to go through it because they constantly lie, you know, tell the kids I’m going to get you this and never get it.” So, she says, “I don’t even bother with them [or] make a big fuss about it.”

Nonetheless, she worries that the absence of a father might affect her children. The older ones “say bad things” about their dad when he lets them down. Ms Davison tells them to stop, “because he’s their dad no matter what”.

Sex ratios matter when it comes to forging relationships. And here the falling fortunes of working-class men do further damage. In 1960, among never-married American adults aged 25-34, there were 139 men with jobs for every 100 women, with or without jobs. (This was because women typically married somewhat older men.) By 2012 there were only 91 employed men for every 100 women in this group. “When women outnumber men, men become cads,” argue Ms Carbone and Ms Cahn in “Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family”.

Even a small imbalance can have big effects. Imagine a simplified “mating market” consisting of ten men and ten women, all heterosexual. Everyone pairs up. Now take one man away. One woman is doomed to be single, so she may opt to poach another woman’s partner. A chain reaction ensues: all the women are suddenly less secure in their relationships. Some of the men, by contrast, become tempted to play the field rather than settle down.

In most rich countries the supply of eligible blue-collar men does not match demand. Among black Americans, thanks to mass incarceration, it does not come close. For every 100 African-American women aged 25-54 who are not behind bars, there are only 83 men of the same age at liberty. In some American inner cities there are only 50 black men with jobs for every 100 black women, calculates William Julius Wilson of Harvard University. In theory black women could “marry out”, but few do: in 2010 only 9% of black female newly-weds married men of another race.

When men with jobs are in short supply, as they are in poor neighbourhoods throughout the rich world, any presentable male can get sex, but few women will trust him to stick around or behave decently. Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, two sociologists, asked a sample of inner-city women of all races why they broke up with their most recent partner. Four in ten blamed his chronic, flagrant infidelity; half complained that he was violent.

Such experiences make working-class women distrust men in general. They still have babies with men, but they seldom marry them. A whopping 50% of births to American women without college degrees are non-marital, but only 6% of births to college graduates are. Similar trends can be seen in Europe. In Britain 90% of professional couples wait until they are married before having kids, compared with only half of those who earn the minimum wage. Looking at eight European countries, Brienna Perelli-Harris of the University of Southampton and others found that the less educated a mother is, the more likely she is to have a baby outside marriage.

Caitlin (not her real name), who lives in Hartlepool, in north-east England, first got pregnant at 16, ten years ago. She now has four children by two men. She broke up with the first one (a labourer) because they quarrelled “all the time”. “He’d argue about me going out the door,” she says. He was hardly a model father. Whether he helped with the chores depended on his mood, she says, and losing at PlayStation would put him into a foul one. He now lives with a new girlfriend. Caitlin does not trust him to take proper care of the children, so she has stopped them from seeing him. He tried to con the authorities to pay him the child benefits that should have gone to her, she says. As for the father of her fourth child: “I found out he was going to jail for GBH [inflicting grievous bodily harm] from the Hartlepool Mail.” She has concluded that: “It’s easier without men. It’s more predictable. I know whether I’m coming or going.”

Hartlepool has much in common with Tallulah. It was once a thriving industrial town, but as jobs in factories have vanished, the nuclear family has collapsed. The share of babies born outside marriage in Hartlepool has jumped from 12% in 1974 to 70% in 2013 (in England and Wales it rose from 9% to 48%).

Old-timers say life used to be simple for men. “I finished school at 16 on July 25th 1969. On August 1st I started in the steelworks,” recalls Dave Wise. “You always knew where you were going to work. If your dad was at the steelworks, you went there too.” Mr Wise now runs a community centre in West View, a down-at-heel part of Hartlepool. A sign outside says “Bite Back at Loan Sharks”—a local scourge.

Young men from Hartlepool who make it through university do just fine. But as in the rest of the rich world, boys there do worse than girls in school. They read less, do less homework and are more disruptive—which may be why teachers give the same paper a worse grade if they know it was written by a boy, according to the OECD. Raymond Steel, a 19-year-old from Dyke House, another troubled Hartlepool neighbourhood, says he didn’t enjoy school. “I lost interest quickly and was naughty until I got sent home.” The girls did better, recalls his friend Kieran Murphy, because “they paid more attention.” Both men are now learning trades—plumber and builder—but expect the hunt for work to be arduous.

They could move to London, where jobs are more plentiful. But it is hard to leave a tight-knit neighbourhood. In Hartlepool, siblings and cousins often live a street or two away, which creates a network of support. Caitlin and her sister, who is also a single mother, often help each other with the child care.

As in Tallulah, many men in Hartlepool have old-fashioned views. Mr Steel says it would be “a bad thing” if his future wife earned more than him—“You’d feel you were not providing.” When men and women expect different things, relationships fail. Some hard-up mothers have all but given up hope of finding Mr Right. They strive to become financially independent and insist on controlling their own households, notes Ms Sawhill. “They often act as gatekeepers, by denying a father access to his own children.”

Single motherhood is much better than living with an abusive partner. But the chronic instability of low-income families hurts women, children and men. The poverty rate for single-mother families in America is 31%, nearly three times the national norm. Children who grow up in broken families do worse in school, earn less as adults and find it harder to form stable families of their own. Boys are worse affected than girls, perhaps because they typically grow up without a father as a role model. Thus the problems of marginalised men tumble on down the generations.

Men who never shoulder family responsibilities miss out on a lot of joy, and so do many fatherless boys. In Britain, fewer than half of the children of divorce say they have a good relationship with their father. Mr Redden complains that his son, who lives with his mother, “doesn’t listen to me...we ain’t that tight like I’d like us to be.”

Sweden has done a better job than most countries of fostering equality between the sexes, and its success is particularly apparent in child care. You can’t throw a ball in a Stockholm park without hitting a bearded man pushing a pram. Fredrik Blid, an engineer, is taking two of his small children for a stroll. “Day care is closed,” he explains. Mr Blid and his partner (an art director at a firm that makes things for babies) split the child care 50/50. If a child is sick, they take alternate days off work. They did not discuss this before they had children. “It was natural,” he says.

Perhaps. If so, though, nature has been helped along by the Swedish government’s decades of work aimed at promoting gender equality, effort which consistently sees it get the highest scores on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index. The equality seen in parenting is supported and shaped by generous parental-leave laws. Each couple is entitled to 480 days off work (between them) for each child. The government pays the stay-at-home parent up to 946 kroner a day ($112) to replace lost wages. Sixty of those 480 days are reserved for men, and are lost if not used. The government offers a bonus of up to 13,500 kroner per child to couples who take equal time off work.

Such policies have had an effect: the share of parental-leave taken by men quadrupled from 6% in 1985 to 25% in 2013. But the government is not satisfied. It sees the unequal division of child care as one of the biggest remaining obstacles to women earning as much as men. Two of the smaller Swedish parties (including the Feminist party, which is bankrolled by Benny Andersson of ABBA), want to compel men to take 50% of parental leave.

This goes too far for many Swedes, particularly those with manual jobs. Working-class Swedish men often make much more money than their wives, thanks to strong unions in heavily male industries. When a waitress makes only 20,000 kroner a month, having her 50,000-a-month construction-worker husband take time off represents a significant cost, says Karin Svanborg-Sjovall of Timbro, a free-market think-tank in Stockholm; many might see it as an unreasonable one. Among white-collar workers, wages are more equal and there is a less macho culture, so child care is split more evenly.

The parental-leave policy works well for professional women, many of whom work for the government, which is happy to accommodate their long absences (65% of managers in the public sector are female). But it has been a mixed blessing for blue-collar women in the private sector. Employers know that young female job applicants are likely to take a lot of time off. None would admit to discriminating, of course, but it is striking that 25% of blue-collar women are on temporary contracts and 50% work part-time—of whom nearly half say they would like to work full-time but cannot find an opening.

Some liberal Scandinavian men find their new roles demoralising. Karl Ove Knausgaard, a Norwegian novelist married to a Swede, writes of walking “around Stockholm’s streets, modern and feminised, with a furious 19th-century man inside me”. One expects novelists to be disgruntled, but they are not the only ones. In a recent poll 23% of Swedish men supported the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD)—more than twice the number of women who did. A similar pattern can be seen in other European countries: men are far more likely than women to vote for protest parties such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik, the Netherlands’ PVV and France’s Front National.

The SD is an anti-immigrant party: its supporters fret that hordes of refugees from Somalia and Syria will bankrupt Sweden’s welfare state. However, it is also in revolt against what William Hahne, an SD leader, calls “extreme feminism”. The SD wants to return to a family-based tax system that would favour single-breadwinner homes. Mr Hahne complains that “If a man is masculine in Sweden today he is seen as bad.” A hunky blond ex-paratrooper, he had to apologise after getting drunk and abusive in a bar in Iceland in 2010.

Some supporters of the Sweden Democrats are men who have been left behind as the economy shifts from industry to services, suggests Asa Regner, Sweden’s minister for gender equality. Others take a “very old-fashioned” view of the family that the majority has left behind, but a minority misses deeply. Many of them, Ms Regner speculates, “wish for a country which is simply not there any more.”

Men are not easy to help. “We find it’s very difficult to connect with [them],” says Carol Walker of Relate, a British counselling charity. “They don’t want to talk about their relationships, sometimes.” This slotting into stereotype matters more when economic times are hard. Couples badly affected by the financial crisis were eight times more likely to split up than those who were unscathed, according to a Relate-sponsored study called “Relationships, Recession and Recovery”. As ever, the connections go both ways: the same study found that an unstable relationship at home makes it harder to thrive in the workplace.

Losing a job can affect a man’s libido. “If they’ve always been strong and suddenly feel helpless, that can cause sexual problems,” says Ms Walker, who works in north-east England. Some men feel emasculated if their partner out-earns them. “It is hard to be a traditional man in a non-traditional world,” says Ms Walker.

If you offer a man counselling, he may refuse. The very notion is unmanly, some feel, though it is often quite effective. Still, there are ways to lure men into talking about their feelings. John Errington, a former lorry driver, organises a “men’s shed” in Wingate, a former mining village near Hartlepool. It is literally a shed, with a darts board and a hob for making tea. Local men meet there and do constructive things, such as plant vegetables or do odd jobs. At the same time, they socialise. Some have lost jobs or wives; others just want something to do. At least one volunteer is trained in spotting the warning signs of depression or suicide.

Hanna Rosin talks of “plastic women”, who adapt deftly to economic and social change, and “cardboard men”, who fail to adapt and are left crumpled. She has a point. The sheds, though, show some are trying. On a recent Wednesday afternoon four men in Wingate gathered to chat and cook panacalty, a local stew of corned beef, potatoes, carrots, leeks and sprouts, swimming in beef stock. “It gets me out of the house,” says Ken Teasdale, a widower. “We all help each other,” says Barry Setterfield, a retired joiner. The “men’s sheds” movement, canny in its appropriation of one of the time-honoured male preserves not normally associated with power or status, started in Australia and has spread to Britain, Finland and Greece. There are more than 40 in County Durham, where Wingate is. Boosters say they save public money by keeping men out of hospital. Participants love them.

As the sheds show, working-class men have changed with the times. At home they are far more likely to change nappies than their fathers were, or to do the ironing, perhaps while watching football on the television. But they have not changed as fast as the world around them. And that world has not finished changing.

Jobs that reward muscle alone are not coming back, so men will need to pump up their brains instead. Several countries are experimenting with ways to make school more stimulating for children in ways that boys will appreciate. The OECD suggests offering them books they might actually enjoy—about sports stars, perhaps, or dragons. Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank, suggests giving boys gizmos to fiddle with and more breaks so they can run around outside and let off steam: all helpful, and all things that might be appreciated by girls, too. A greater appreciation of anti-boy bias among teachers would help, as well, as would more men teaching.

Men in the classroom do not just broaden children’s experience; they provide role models doing something both caring and disciplined. Boys need to know that their jobs will not be like those of the sports stars they read about; they also need to know that, energy having been let off in the playground, timeliness and good behaviour matter. Manners maketh man—especially in the service industries.

It is inevitable that more men will earn less than their female partners in years to come. To pull their weight, they will have to do more at home. There are few signs that women want househusbands; but though they don’t want a man who does all the housework they often want one who does more of it. And doing more chores could ultimately make blue-collar men happier, because it would help them forge happy relationships. As the experience of white-collar men shows, more equal unions can be just as rewarding for men as the old-fashioned sort.

When men live with women on more equal terms, they may grow closer to their children. Fathers may find they like being attentive, and it would certainly be good for their kids, especially the boys. As one man whose dad abandoned him lamented on Fathers’ Day in 2008:

“[Fathers] are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing—missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

The speaker is now president of the United States—plenty of fatherless boys turn out fine. But his point, which is echoed by many more conservative thinkers, is sound. There are many ways to be a man, but not all of them are equally honourable.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Why is everyone so busy?

Time poverty is a problem partly of perception and partly of distribution

The predictions sounded like promises: in the future, working hours would be short and vacations long. “Our grandchildren”, reckoned John Maynard Keynes in 1930, would work around “three hours a day”—and probably only by choice. Economic progress and technological advances had already shrunk working hours considerably by his day, and there was no reason to believe this trend would not continue. Whizzy cars and ever more time-saving tools and appliances guaranteed more speed and less drudgery in all parts of life. Social psychologists began to fret: whatever would people do with all their free time?

This has not turned out to be one of the world’s more pressing problems. Everybody, everywhere seems to be busy. In the corporate world, a “perennial time-scarcity problem” afflicts executives all over the globe, and the matter has only grown more acute in recent years, say analysts at McKinsey, a consultancy firm. These feelings are especially profound among working parents. As for all those time-saving gizmos, many people grumble that these bits of wizardry chew up far too much of their days, whether they are mouldering in traffic, navigating robotic voice-messaging systems or scything away at e-mail—sometimes all at once.

Tick, tock
Why do people feel so rushed? Part of this is a perception problem. On average, people in rich countries have more leisure time than they used to. This is particularly true in Europe, but even in America leisure time has been inching up since 1965, when formal national time-use surveys began. American men toil for pay nearly 12 hours less per week, on average, than they did 40 years ago—a fall that includes all work-related activities, such as commuting and water-cooler breaks. Women’s paid work has risen a lot over this period, but their time in unpaid work, like cooking and cleaning, has fallen even more dramatically, thanks in part to dishwashers, washing machines, microwaves and other modern conveniences, and also to the fact that men shift themselves a little more around the house than they used to.

The problem, then, is less how much time people have than how they see it. Ever since a clock was first used to synchronise labour in the 18th century, time has been understood in relation to money.Once hours are financially quantified, people worry more about wasting, saving or using them profitably. When economies grow and incomes rise, everyone’s time becomes more valuable. And the more valuable something becomes, the scarcer it seems.

Individualistic cultures, which emphasise achievement over affiliation, help cultivate this time-is-money mindset. This creates an urgency to make every moment count, notes Harry Triandis, a social psychologist at the University of Illinois. Larger, wealthy cities, with their higher wage rates and soaring costs of living, raise the value of people’s time further still. New Yorkers are thriftier with their minutes—and more harried—than residents of Nairobi. London’s pedestrians are swifter than those in Lima. The tempo of life in rich countries is faster than that of poor countries. A fast pace leaves most people feeling rushed. “Our sense of time”, observed William James in his 1890 masterwork, “The Principles of Psychology”, “seems subject to the law of contrast.”

When people see their time in terms of money, they often grow stingy with the former to maximise the latter. Workers who are paid by the hour volunteer less of their time and tend to feel more antsy when they are not working. In an experiment carried out by Sanford DeVoe and Julian House at the University of Toronto, two different groups of people were asked to listen to the same passage of music—the first 86 seconds of “The Flower Duet” from the opera “Lakmé”. Before the song, one group was asked to gauge their hourly wage. The participants who made this calculation ended up feeling less happy and more impatient while the music was playing. “They wanted to get to the end of the experiment to do something that was more profitable,” Mr DeVoe explains.

The relationship between time, money and anxiety is something Gary S. Becker noticed in America’s post-war boom years. Though economic progress and higher wages had raised everyone’s standard of living, the hours of “free” time Americans had been promised had come to nought.“If anything, time is used more carefully today than a century ago,” he noted in 1965. He found that when people are paid more to work, they tend to work longer hours, because working becomes a more profitable use of time. So the rising value of work time puts pressure on all time. Leisure time starts to seem more stressful, as people feel compelled to use it wisely or not at all.

The harried leisure class
That economic prosperity would create feelings of time poverty looked a little odd in the 1960s, given all those new time-saving blenders and lawnmowers. But there is a distinct correlation between privilege and pressure. In part, this is a conundrum of wealth: though people may be earning more money to spend, they are not simultaneously earning more time to spend it in. This makes time—that frustratingly finite, unrenewable resource—feel more precious.

Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas at Austin calls this a “yuppie kvetch”. In an analysis of international time-stress data, with Jungmin Lee, now of Sogang University in Seoul, he found that complaints about insufficient time come disproportionately from well-off families. Even after holding constant the hours spent working at jobs or at home, those with bigger paychecks still felt more anxiety about their time. “The more cash-rich working Americans are, the more time-poor they feel,” reported Gallup, a polling company, in 2011. Few spared a moment to feel much sympathy.

So being busy can make you rich, but being rich makes you feel busier still. Staffan Linder, a Swedish economist, diagnosed this problem in 1970. Like Becker, he saw that heady increases in the productivity of work-time compelled people to maximise the utility of their leisure time. The most direct way to do this would be for people to consume more goods within a given unit of time. To indulge in such “simultaneous consumption”, he wrote, a chap “may find himself drinking Brazilian coffee, smoking a Dutch cigar, sipping a French cognac, reading the New York Times, listening to a Brandenburg Concerto and entertaining his Swedish wife—all at the same time, with varying degrees of success.” Leisure time would inevitably feel less leisurely, he surmised, particularly for those who seemed best placed to enjoy it all. The unexpected product of economic progress, according to Linder, was a “harried leisure class”.

The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched, as the struggle to choose what to buy or watch or eat or do raises the opportunity cost of leisure (ie, choosing one thing comes at the expense of choosing another) and contributes to feelings of stress. The endless possibilities afforded by a simple internet connection boggle the mind. When there are so many ways to fill one’s time, it is only natural to crave more of it. And pleasures always feel fleeting. Such things are relative, as Albert Einstein noted: “An hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour.”

The ability to satisfy desires instantly also breeds impatience, fuelled by a nagging sense that one could be doing so much else. People visit websites less often if they are more than 250 milliseconds slower than a close competitor, according to research from Google. More than a fifth of internet users will abandon an online video if it takes longer than five seconds to load. When experiences can be calculated according to the utility of a millisecond, all seconds are more anxiously judged for their utility.

New technologies such as e-mail and smartphones exacerbate this impatience and anxiety. E-mail etiquette often necessitates a response within 24 hours, with the general understanding that sooner is better. Managing this constant and mounting demand often involves switching tasks or multi-tasking, and the job never quite feels done. “Multi-tasking is what makes us feel pressed for time,” says Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “No matter what people are doing, people feel better when they are focused on that activity,” she adds.

Yet the shortage of time is a problem not just of perception, but also of distribution. Shifts in the way people work and live have changed the way leisure time is experienced, and who gets to experience it. For the past 20 years, and bucking previous trends, the workers who are now working the longest hours and juggling the most responsibilities at home also happen to be among the best educated and best paid. The so-called leisure class has never been more harried.

Racing to the top
Writing in 1962, Sebastian de Grazia, a political scientist, cast a withering eye across the great American landscape, dismayed by all the relentless industry and consumption. “If executives are so powerful a force in America, as they indubitably are, why don’t they get more of that free time which everybody else, it seems, holds to be so precious?” Perhaps it is fortunate de Grazia did not live to see the day when executives would no longer break for lunch.

Thirty years ago low-paid, blue-collar workers were more likely to punch in a long day than their professional counterparts. One of the many perks of being a salaried employee was a fairly manageable and predictable work-week, some long lunches and the occasional round of golf. Evenings might be spent curled up with a Sharper Image catalogue by a toasty fire.

But nowadays professionals everywhere are twice as likely to work long hours as their less-educated peers. Few would think of sparing time for nine holes of golf, much less 18. (Golf courses around the world are struggling to revamp the game to make it seem speedy and cool—see article.) And lunches now tend to be efficient affairs, devoured at one’s desk, with an eye on the e-mail inbox. At some point these workers may finally leave the office, but the regular blinking or chirping of their smartphones kindly serves to remind them that their work is never done.

A Harvard Business School survey of 1,000 professionals found that 94% worked at least 50 hours a week, and almost half worked more than 65 hours. Other research shows that the share of college-educated American men regularly working more than 50 hours a week rose from 24% in 1979 to 28% in 2006. According to a recent survey, 60% of those who use smartphones are connected to work for 13.5 hours or more a day. European labour laws rein in overwork, but in Britain four in ten managers, victims of what was once known as “the American disease”, say they put in more than 60 hours a week. It is no longer shameful to be seen swotting.

All this work has left less time for play. Though leisure time has increased overall, a closer look shows that most of the gains took place between the 1960s and the 1980s. Since then economists have noticed a growing “leisure gap”, with the lion’s share of spare time going to people with less education.

In America, for example, men who did not finish high-school gained nearly eight hours a week of leisure time between 1985 and 2005. Men with a college degree, however, saw their leisure time drop by six hours during the same period, which means they have even less leisure than they did in 1965, say Mark Aguiar of Princeton University and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago. The same goes for well-educated American women, who not only have less leisure time than they did in 1965, but also nearly 11 hours less per week than women who did not graduate from high school.

What accounts for this yawning gap between the time-poor haves and the time-rich have-nots? Part of it has to do with structural changes to the labour market. Work opportunities have declined for anyone without a college degree. The availability of manufacturing and other low-skilled jobs has shrunk in the rich world. The jobs that are left tend to be in the service sector. They are often both unsatisfying and poorly paid. So the value of working hours among the under-educated is fairly low by most measures, and the rise in “leisure” time may not be anything to envy.

Yet the leisure-time gap between employees with more and less education is not merely a product of labour-market changes. Less well-educated men also spend less time searching for work, doing odd jobs for money and getting extra training than unemployed educated men, and they do less work around the house and spend less time with their children.

But this does not explain why so many well-educated and better-paid people have less leisure time than they did in the 1960s. Various factors may account for this phenomenon. One is that college-educated workers are more likely to enjoy what they do for a living, and identify closely with their careers, so work long hours willingly. Particularly at the top, a demanding job can be a source of prestige, so the rewards of longer hours go beyond the financial.

Another reason is that all workers today report greater feelings of job insecurity. Slow economic growth and serious disruptions in any number of industries, from media to architecture to advertising, along with increasing income inequality, have created ever more competition for interesting, well-paid jobs. Meanwhile in much of the rich world, the cost of housing and private education has soared. They can also expect to live longer, and so need to ensure that their pension pots are stocked with ample cash for retirement. Faced with sharper competition, higher costs and a greater need for savings, even elite professionals are more nervous about their prospects than they used to be. This can keep people working in their offices at all hours, especially in America, where there are few legal limits on the working hours of salaried employees.

This extra time in the office pays off. Because knowledge workers have few metrics for output, the time people spend at their desks is often seen as a sign of productivity and loyalty. So the stooge who is in his office first thing in the morning and last at night is now consistently rewarded with raises and promotions, or saved from budget cuts. Since the late 1990s, this “long-hours premium” has earned overworkers about 6% more per hour than their full-time counterparts, says Kim Weeden at Cornell University. (It also helps reinforce the gender-wage gap, as working mothers are rarely able to put in that kind of time in an office.)

Ultimately, more people at the top are trading leisure for work because the gains of working—and the costs of shirking—are higher than ever before. Revealingly, inequalities in leisure have coincided with other measures of inequality, in wages and consumption, which have been increasing steadily since the 1980s. While the wages of most workers, and particularly uneducated workers, have either remained stagnant or grown slowly, the incomes at the top—and those at the very top most of all—have been rising at a swift rate. This makes leisure time terribly expensive.

So if leisureliness was once a badge of honour among the well-off of the 19th century, in the words of Thorsten Veblen, an American economist at the time, then busyness—and even stressful feelings of time scarcity—has become that badge now. To be pressed for time has become a sign of prosperity, an indicator of social status, and one that most people are inclined to claim. This switch, notes Jonathan Gershuny, the director of Oxford University’s Centre for Time Use Research, is only natural in economies where the most impressive people seem to have the most to do.

The American is always in a hurry
Though professionals everywhere complain about lacking time, the gripes are loudest in America. This makes some sense: American workers toil some of the longest hours in the industrial world. Employers are not required to offer their employees proper holidays, but even when they do, their workers rarely use the lot. The average employee takes only half of what is allotted, and 15% don’t take any holiday at all, according to a survey from Glassdoor, a consultancy. Nowhere is the value of work higher and the value of leisure lower. This is the country that invented take-away coffee, after all.

Some blame America’s puritanical culture. Americans are “always in a hurry,” observed Alexis de Tocqueville more than 150 years ago. But the reality is more complicated. Until the 1970s, American workers put in the same number of hours as the average European, and a bit less than the French. But things changed during the big economic shocks of the 1970s. In Europe labour unions successfully fought for stable wages, a reduced work week and more job protection. Labour-friendly governments capped working hours and mandated holidays. European workers in essence traded money for more time—lower wages for more holiday. This raised the utility of leisure, because holidays are more fun and less costly when everyone else is taking time off too. Though European professionals are working longer hours than ever before, it is still fairly hard to find one in an office in August.

In America, where labour unions have always been far less powerful, the same shocks led to job losses and increased competition. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan cut taxes and social-welfare programmes, which increased economic inequality and halted the overall decline in working hours. The rising costs of certain basics—pensions, health care and higher education, much of which is funded or subsidised in Europe—make it rational to trade more time for money. And because American holidays are more limited, doled out grudgingly by employers (if at all), it is harder to co-ordinate time off with others, which lowers its value, says John de Graaf, executive director of Take Back Your Time, an advocacy organisation in America.

The returns on work are also potentially much higher in America, at least for those with a college degree. This is because taxes and transfer payments do far less to bridge the gap between rich and poor than in other wealthy nations, such as Britain, France and Ireland. The struggle to earn a place on that narrow pedestal encourages people to slave away for incomparably long hours. “In America the consequences of not being at the top are so dramatic that the rat race is exacerbated,” says Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist. “In a winner-takes-all society you would expect this time crunch.”

So rising wages, rising costs, diminishing job security and more demanding, rewarding work are all squeezing leisure time—at least for the fortunate few for whom work-time is actually worth something. But without a doubt the noisiest grumbles come from working parents, not least the well-educated ones. Time-use data reveals why these people never have enough time: not only are they working the longest hours, on average, but they are also spending the most time with their children.

American mothers with a college degree, for example, spend roughly 4.5 hours more per week on child care than mothers with no education beyond high school. This gap persists even when the better-educated mother works outside the home, as she is now likely to do, according to research from Jonathan Guryan and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago, and Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland. As for fathers, those with a job and a college degree spend far more time with their children than fathers ever used to, and 105% more time than their less-educated male peers. These patterns can be found around the world, particularly in relatively rich countries.

If their leisure time is so scarce, why are these people spending so much of it doting on their sprogs, shepherding them from tutors to recitals to football games? Why aren’t successful professionals outsourcing more of the child-rearing? There are several reasons for this. The first is that people say they find it far more meaningful than time spent doing most other things, including paid work; and if today’s professionals value their time at work more than yesterday’s did, presumably they feel the time they spend parenting is more valuable still. Another reason is that parents—and above all educated parents—are having children later in life, which puts them in a better position emotionally and financially to make a more serious investment. When children are deliberately sought, sometimes expensively so, parenting feels more rewarding, even if this is just a confirmation bias.

A mother’s work
The rise in female employment also seems to have coincided with (or perhaps precipitated) a similarly steep rise in standards for what it means to be a good parent, and especially a good mother. Niggling feelings of guilt and ambivalence over working outside the home, together with some social pressures, compel many women to try to fulfil idealised notions of motherhood as well, says Judy Wajcman, a sociology professor at the London School of Economics and author of a new book, “Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism”.

The struggle to “have it all” may be a fairly privileged modern challenge. But it bears noting that even in professional dual-income households, mothers still handle the lion’s share of parenting—particularly the daily, routine jobs that never feel finished. Attentive fathers handle more of the enjoyable tasks, such as taking children to games and playing sports, while mothers are stuck with most of the feeding, cleaning and nagging. Though women do less work around the house than they used to, the jobs they do tend to be the never-ending ones, like tidying, cooking and laundry. Well-educated men chip in far more than their fathers ever did, and more than their less-educated peers, but still put in only half as much time as women do. And men tend to do the discrete tasks that are more easily crossed off lists, such as mowing lawns or fixing things round the house. All of this helps explain why time for mothers, and especially working mothers, always feels scarce. “Working mothers with young children are the most time-scarce segment of society,” says Geoffrey Godbey, a time-use expert at Penn State University.

Parents also now have far more insight into how children learn and develop, so they have more tools (and fears) as they groom their children for adulthood. This reinforces another reason why well-off people are investing so much time in parenthood: preparing children to succeed is the best way to transfer privilege from one generation to the next. Now that people are living longer, parents are less likely to pass on a big financial bundle when they die. So the best way to ensure the prosperity of one’s children is to provide the education and skills needed to get ahead, particularly as this human capital grows ever more important for success. This helps explain why privileged parents spend so much time worrying over schools and chauffeuring their children to résumé-enhancing activities. “Parents are now afraid of doing less than their neighbours,” observes Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who studies contemporary families. “It can feel like an arms race.”

No time to lose
Leisure time is now the stuff of myth. Some are cursed with too much. Others find it too costly to enjoy. Many spend their spare moments staring at a screen of some kind, even though doing other things (visiting friends, volunteering at a church) tends to make people happier. Not a few presume they will cash in on all their stored leisure time when they finally retire, whenever that may be. In the meantime, being busy has its rewards. Otherwise why would people go to such trouble?

Alas time, ultimately, is a strange and slippery resource, easily traded, visible only when it passes and often most highly valued when it is gone. No one has ever complained of having too much of it. Instead, most people worry over how it flies, and wonder where it goes. Cruelly, it runs away faster as people get older, as each accumulating year grows less significant, proportionally, but also less vivid. Experiences become less novel and more habitual. The years soon bleed together and end up rushing past, with the most vibrant memories tucked somewhere near the beginning. And of course the more one tries to hold on to something, the swifter it seems to go.

Writing in the first century, Seneca was startled by how little people seemed to value their lives as they were living them—how busy, terribly busy, everyone seemed to be, mortal in their fears, immortal in their desires and wasteful of their time. He noticed how even wealthy people hustled their lives along, ruing their fortune, anticipating a time in the future when they would rest. “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy,” he observed in “On the Shortness of Life”, perhaps the very first time-management self-help book. Time on Earth may be uncertain and fleeting, but nearly everyone has enough of it to take some deep breaths, think deep thoughts and smell some roses, deeply. “Life is long if you know how to use it,” he counselled.

Nearly 2,000 years later, de Grazia offered similar advice. Modern life, that leisure-squandering, money-hoarding, grindstone-nosing, frippery-buying business, left him exasperated. He saw that everyone everywhere was running, running, running, but to where? For what? People were trading their time for all sorts of things, but was the exchange worth it? He closed his 1962 tome, “Of Time, Work and Leisure”, with a prescription:
Lean back under a tree, put your arms behind your head, wonder at the pass we’ve come to, smile and remember that the beginnings and ends of man’s every great enterprise are untidy.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Christmas Planning!

I know it's a bit early but the early bird catches the worm. And Christmas dinner (or lunch) at the Crown is an opportunity not to be missed!

Check the menu and make a reservation today! We are open for business.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

In defence of the childless

One by one, prejudices are tumbling in the West. People may harbour private suspicions that other people’s race, sex or sexuality makes them inferior—but to say so openly is utterly taboo. As most kinds of prejudiced talk become the preserve of anonymous social-media ranters, though, one old strain remains respectable. Just ask a childless person.

They are not subject to special taxes, as they were in Soviet Russia; nor are they driven from their homes, as they still are in some poor countries. The childless nonetheless come in for a lot of criticism. “Not to have children is a selfish choice,” Pope Francis has intoned, perhaps forgetting what the Bible says about motes and eyes. Others point out that non-parents are failing to produce the future workers who will pay for their pensions. Childless politicians are charged with not having a proper stake in society. “He talks to us about the future, but he doesn’t have children!” complained Jean-Marie Le Pen, co-founder of the National Front party, of Emmanuel Macron, who went on to win the French presidency. Similar attacks on Theresa May and Angela Merkel also failed—but researchers find that many voters quietly agree.

The charges against the childless should be thrown out, along with other social calumnies. In many rich countries, between 15% and 20% of women, and a slightly higher proportion of men, will not have children. The share is rising (see article). Some have medical problems; others do not meet the right person in time; still others decide they do not want them. Falling sperm counts in rich countries may play a role, too. Whatever the cause, the attacks on the childless are baseless.

If non-breeders are selfish, they have an odd way of showing it. They are more likely to set up charitable foundations than people with children, and much more likely to bequeath money to good causes. According to one American estimate, the mere fact of not having children raises the amount a person leaves to charity by a little over $10,000. The childless are thus a small but useful counterweight to the world’s parents, who perpetuate social immobility by passing on their social and economic advantages to their children.

The fact that so many senior politicians lack offspring ought to put to rest the notion that they do not care for society. Five of the G7 countries are led by childless men and women. Mr Macron, Mrs May, Mrs Merkel, Shinzo Abe and Paolo Gentiloni have their faults, but they are not notably less able than Justin Trudeau (who has three children) let alone Donald Trump (who has five). Their opportunities for nepotism are limited. And they spare their countries the spectacle of dynastic politics, which can lead to mediocrity. The BJP in India has a brighter future because Narendra Modi is childless; for proof, look at what has happened to the Congress party.

No kidding

The charge that childless people fail to pull their weight demographically is correct, but is less damning than it appears. Those who do not have children do put pressure on public pension systems. Faced with a deteriorating ratio of workers to pensioners, governments have to do unpopular things like making pensions less generous, as Japan has done, or accepting more immigrants, as some Western countries have done.

But to sustain public pensions in the long term, countries do not actually need more parents. What they need instead is more babies. It is possible to combine a high rate of childlessness with a high birth rate, provided people who become parents have more than one or two children. That was the pattern in many Western countries a century ago. Ireland, yet another country with a childless leader, still manages it today.

The childless also do everyone else a favour by creating wonderful works of art. British novelists have been especially likely to have no progeny: think of Hilary Mantel, P.G. Wodehouse and the Brontë sisters. In September Britain will put Jane Austen on its ten-pound note. That decision has been controversial, though it is hard to see why. Few people have written as shrewdly about money or about families—even though Austen did not marry, and had no children.
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