Book Review: The End of Men — and the Rise of Women

Hanna Rosin, a senior editor of The Atlantic, has produced an interesting, potentially groundbreaking book based on a cover article she wrote in 2010 for the magazine she edits. The End of Men suffers from some annoying shortcomings but also has much to recommend it and is the first book of which I am aware to direct itself to what could eventually become a calamitous crisis: the failure of men to keep up with women in employment and in life.

We are in the midst of a transition that to some extent has been going on for three decades or more. Women’s people skills are becoming more important in the new economy, and men’s willingness to work long hours, greater ability to lift heavy objects, and so on are becoming less critical. “Women are not just catching up anymore; they are becoming the standard by which success is measured.” The world has gotten more verbal but boys have not.

It turns out that females are the stronger sex in this new world, having more self-discipline and ability to delay gratification, which happen to be the qualities most predictive of success. Moreover, women seem to have an ability generally lacking in men to nimbly adapt to whatever situation in which they find themselves. We are, as Rosin puts in, in the era of “Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man.” We are also finding out that women’s power is strongly correlated with a country’s economic success.

So it is that we find three-quarters of the 7.5 million who lost a job in the recent Great Recession to have been men. And so it is that we discover that university enrollments are now 60% female and are only prevented from going even higher thanks to quiet affirmative action steps taken by virtually every university to avoid hitting a problematic gender imbalance tipping point. (An extensive study documenting this trend in the Ivy Leagues was unceremoniously halted when it started to become clear that the findings were likely to threaten feminist victimization ideology.) Astoundingly, out of two thousand metropolitan regions in the US, in all but three of them young women have a higher median income than do young men. In short, the “vast and struggling middle class… is slowly turning into a matriarchy…” In many countries, the historic preference for boys as offspring has turned to a demonstrable preference for girls.

Perhaps in a way that has never previously been true, many issues are quite sharply stratified depending on a person’s age. The common hookups among young adults have been much discussed, but Rosin delves a bit deeper: “Young women are more in control of their sexual destinies now than probably ever before,” a development that further ignites the trend toward them seeing themselves as not needing a man. As men become more interested in permanent relationships, often more so than women, women are starting to step back. “Today’s college girl likens a serious suitor to an accidental pregnancy in the nineteenth century; a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it thwart a promising future.” Meanwhile, with sex cheap, men have “become allergic to monogamy.”

The author points out one alarming aspect of this trend, that stable marriage is becoming another class privilege. Women wed to men without a college education are finding that by and large, there is not enough “glue” in the relationship to induce them to stay in it. Intriguingly, couples in which the woman works are substantially less likely to divorce. The author somewhat superficially speculates that this is “probably because of less financial stress” but that is likely to be only one of a spectrum of reasons.

One fact we never hear about is the sharp decline over the last two decades in violence by men, including sexual assault, and a more or less coincident rise in female aggression. (“The most dramatic declines occurred in acquaintance rape.”) One highly illuminating chapter reviews in detail the stories of a number of highly educated women who meticulously murdered their husbands, often using the same lethal chemicals to which they needed access in their jobs. Even suicide bombings are now routinely carried out by women, with average fatalities more than 50% higher than for men. “[W]omen in traditional Muslim garb can hide twelve pounds of explosives under a chador.”

Rosin writes smoothly and her book offers a quick, painless, novel-like reading experience. She seems generally on target in her points and not necessarily to be exaggerating the gravity of the situation, as authors are sometimes tempted to do so that “their” problem and therefore their book seemingly gains in importance and attracts more attention.

I found quite enlightening Rosin’s extended exploration of pharmacy as a previously male-dominated field that is now predominantly female. The field essentially reinvented itself from a past when corner pharmacies were operated by their owners, who necessarily had to work nights and weekends and thus were overwhelmingly male, into its current family- and women-friendly, and very remunerative, status. Veterinarian medicine provides a similar example.

One problem I have with Rosin is her nearly exclusive focus on the effects of the developments she describes on females. While I understand it isn’t necessarily entirely fair to critique a book for what it is not, still it seems to be missing the point to write about the end of men while overwhelmingly focusing on the impacts of these developments on women, and to some extent on society, but almost not at all on the men themselves.

The author provides significant documentation that this is not a problem limited in scope to the US or even to the developed world. She has a chapter exploring a fascinating confluence of developments in South Korea. Similar events are playing out around the globe and will continue to evolve as the current have-not countries start to catch up.

This generally outstanding book suffers from a few regrettable shortcomings. Occasionally Rosin trots out some tired, long disproven factoid, such as the old bromide “that marriage benefits the man much more than the woman…” Also, I doubt she is correct when she claims that African-American boys with dads behind bars are more likely to graduate than those whose fathers are around.

The numbers in this book are not handled well. Repeatedly the author cites ratios without, for example, telling us whether the absolute number of arrests of women for various offenses have risen or only the ratio relative to men has increased At one point she writes that “women were three times more likely to be arrested for domestic violence” but does not clarify whether she means relative to men or relative to some unspecified point in the past. . It is poor authorship to compel the reader to seek out her sources to answer these questions. One almost amusing example arises when she writes of a narrowing risk-taking gap between males and females, “showing that either girls are getting braver or boys are getting more cautious.” Well, which is it? Surely it is fair to expect an author of such a book to look at the underlying data and studies and determine whether the ratio changed because boys’ numbers dropped, or girls’ numbers rose, or both.

Also, while Rosin keeps alluding to the difficulty men allegedly have adapting to new conditions, her book is stuffed with stories of men happily staying home minding children, making projects for their kids’ classrooms, and so on. Her analysis does not quite mesh up with her facts. Finally, the ending of the book is quite weak, more a whimper than a climax.

Rosin is certainly not anti-male. She happily points out that the single factor most closely correlated with a child’s school grades is the frequency of the father’s presence at school events, which leads to higher IQs, higher self-esteem, and less promiscuity for girls.

Read this book for its numerous strengths and for its important highlighting of a critical new development that has worldwide significance. The imperfections fade into insignificance relative to the critically important message Hanna Rosin has to pass on to all of us. Recommended.

–Review by J. Steven Svoboda

The End of Men—And the Rise of Women. By Hanna Rosin. New York: Riverhead (Penguin) Books, 2012. Riverheadbooks.com. $27.95. 310 pages.