Glenn Reynolds points out this piece from James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal. Taranto mocks City Journal's Kay Hymowitz opening to her essay out surveying the social-science research into the effects of fatherless household on boys and young men--specifically, her assumption that men are acting irrationally. Hymowitz asserts that young men, in contrast with their female counterparts, are failing to behave "rationally" (in the economic sense of the word) by turning from the labor market's clarion call for more education. She writes:
Now, though, with teen births down more than 50 percent from their 1991 peak and girls dominating classrooms and graduation ceremonies, boys and men are increasingly the ones under examination. Their high school grades and college attendance rates have remained stalled for decades. Among poor and working-class boys, the chances of climbing out of the low-end labor market--and of becoming reliable husbands and fathers--are looking worse and worse.Taranto notes, in response:
Hymowitz would like men to organize their lives around maximizing their usefulness to women and children. Hey, what woman wouldn't? But in invoking H. economicus, she ends up equating the goal of serving others with individual self-interest--an outright inversion of the latter concept.Taranto indicates that Hymowitz's thesis only makes sense when viewed in the context of reproductive biology. He then explains:
In contemporary America, then, girls and young women act in ways that meet with the approval of Hymowitz and her economists, because doing so accords with both economic self-interest and biological instinct. That was once true of boys and young men. It no longer is, because of the same social changes--feminism and sexual liberationism--that transformed the incentives for women.
Hymowitz laments that young males are insufficiently interested in "becoming reliable husbands and fathers." Imagine somebody opening a piece with the converse lament that young females are insufficiently interested in "becoming reliable wives and mothers." The author would be attacked as a misogynist and a dinosaur. Why, critics would demand, should women set their sights so low?
Well, why should men? Except perhaps in very conservative communities, men with sufficient social skills can find sex and companionship without need of a matrimonial commitment (and for those who lack social skills, a willingness to marry is unlikely to provide much compensation). The culture's unrelenting message--repeated in Hymowitz's article--is that women are doing fine on their own. If a woman doesn't need a man, there's little reason for him to devote his life to her service. Further, in the age of no-fault divorce, "reliable husbands and fathers" not infrequently find themselves impoverished by child support and restricted by court order from spending time with their children.
... Men traditionally sought to "better themselves" not because working in an office or on an assembly line was itself a source of delight, but because being a workingman enabled them to earn respect and made possible the joys of domestic life.In other words, men are acting rationally, even if women are not perceptive enough to understand the incentives and needs of men.
Today, the idea of commanding respect for an honest day's work seems quaint, and if you don't believe us, try "resigning" yourself to "a life of shelf stocking" and see where that gets you. In a world of female independence and limitless options, traditional family life is both less attractive and more elusive--for men and women alike--than it used to be.
Boys and young men are no less rational, or capable of adapting to incentives, than girls and young women are. They are, in fact, adapting very well to the incentives for female power and independence--which inevitably also serve as disincentives to male reliability and self-sacrifice.