Is it harder to be a young man today than it was 20 years ago? I have to say, unequivocally, yes. Of course it is. All the XBoxes and iPhones in the world won’t change this. My friend Allison Schrager picks up on this idea in the latest edition of her Known Unknowns substack letter:
I worry about men in the labor force. The economy is changing. Most of the job growth is in traditional “women jobs” like health care and education – and the economy rewards higher education more. It is becoming entre to the middle class. We should be worried that women are dominating college admissions, 2 to 1, which suggests men will fall farther behind and be shut out. That’s not good for anyone.
Much of this comes from the growing pains of an economy in a transition. We are becoming a tech economy instead of an industrial one. When we transitioned away from agriculture, men also struggled. They found their way, eventually, but it took a 100 years and many destructive social trends, adopting to new social norms and adjusting education to fit an industrial economy. If we want a better outcome this time, we need to accept the new economy as it is rather than try to turn back the clock on manufacturing jobs and unions. We also need to adjust education, which does not suit many boys or prepare them for the new economy.
We say college is necessary to be in the middle class; this is not just true economically, it is also true socially. People with more education do tend to earn more and have more jobs available to them. But a skilled tradesman can earn more than many college graduates, even people who went to grad school – yet they don’t get the same respect.
Respect was one of the biggest subtextual issues on the table during the last two elections. Biden spoke to everyone with respect. Clinton made it clear that, in her worldview, only a portion of the audience was worthy of her consideration. That singular distinction – and no other – explains why Biden won and Clinton lost. You’d do well to remember that while you’re walking around tweeting cancelation notices at people and dismissing the possibility of a valid opinion from anyone with a lesser education than yours.
Allison’s right that we’re going to have to see some more time go by in order for society to adjust to the reordering of the economy. And hope that the young men regain their place in the way things are going to be. The consequences of having millions of idle, maladjusted young men milling around, like powder kegs waiting for the lit match, do not require much imagination to conjure up. When a decent standard of living seems out of reach financially and the media spends most of its time telling you that you’re not going to be a necessary component of America’s future, you become despondent. And then angry. And then the internet links you up with people to be angry among. A community rooted in insecurity and victimhood. And then it serves you up things to be angry about, as frequently as possible in order to hold your attention. That’s the business model of the internet. If it can’t keep you mad, it can’t keep you “engaged.” The internet doesn’t want you outside, playing beach volleyball. Unless you’re taking a picture of yourself while doing it. The internet wants you – needs you – to remain pissed off. And then an opportunist comes along and focuses all of this anger and rage to his own ends. And nothing good occurs from there…
This has happened many times in the past. It can happen again. The variables will be different but the motivations are always the same. History repeats itself precisely because human nature itself doesn’t change.
On the podcast this week we talked about whether or not there is a need for college anymore given the tightness of the labor market and the insatiable demand from the trades and the construction sector. Somebody makes the point that college is not just supposed to be about getting the highest paid job possible as a result. It used to be about imbuing people with the perspective necessary to live a full, well-rounded life. It wasn’t originally meant to be the sort of career sorting facility it’s become. You can listen to the episode here, starring Jenny Harrington and Caleb Silver.