How Men Are Falling Behind, in Two Steps

How Men Are Falling Behind, in Two Steps

The MIT economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman try to understand why men are falling behind women in a new report for Third Way. Men are faring worse in education:

And in the labor market:

The problem isn't that college is somehow a better deal for women than it is for men, Autor and Wasserman explain. Getting a degree is still a great deal for both men and women: 

So why aren't more men getting degrees and moving up the economic ladder? Autor and Wasserman look past the normal explanations to a few "pre-market" factors that could explain the emerging gender achievement gap. They tentatively suggest that there's a two-step process at work in U.S. society that keeps men back.

The first step is that marriage has become less attractive for women: declines in the earnings power of non-college males combined with gains in the economic self-sufficiency of women—rising educational attainment, a falling gender gap, and greater female control over fertility choices—have reduced the economic value of marriage for women.

Here's the first step in graph form. Note that this trend was more pronounced among people with less education (a development that was explored in a post on this blog yesterday)

With marriage rates in broad decline, the second step is that more boys are raised by single moms, who aren't able to provide a role model for them:

[E]vidence...suggests that male children raised in single-parent households tend to fare particularly poorly, with effects apparent in almost all academic and economic outcomes. One reason why single-headedness may affect male children more and differently than female children is that the vast majority of single-headed households are female-headed households. Thus, boys raised in these households are less likely to have a positive or stable same-sex role model present.

Here's the second step in graph form. The number of families led by single moms is going up among all races, especially among the less-educated:

And such households are more likely to be poor:

The result of this two-step process: boys have diminished expectations about their achievements, relative to girls:


Joseph Lawler is editor of RealClearPolicy. He can be reached by email or on twitter.

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