This summer, All Things Considered is exploring what it means to be a man in America today. In some ways, the picture for men has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. More women than men are going to college, and the economy is moving away from jobs that traditionally favored men, like manufacturing and mining. Attitudes have also changed on the social front, with young men having more egalitarian attitudes toward women and expectations of being involved fathers.
Pedro Noguera, a professor at New York University and head of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, says the biggest shake-up has been in education. In 1962, men made up about 65 percent of college enrollees; today they make up about 43 percent.
The other side of that figure is the dropout rate for men. Noguera tells NPR’s Audie Cornish that in some states, it’s twice as high as the female dropout rate.
“These patterns speak to a larger problem, because we know now that the jobs of the future require college degrees,” Noguera says.
The education imbalance between men and women is also having an impact on the dating scene, Noguera adds, something that’s been already true in the African American community. “A growing number of well-educated, professional women … are unable to find men of similar education.”
But sociologist Michael Kimmel, a professor at Stony Brook University and director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, says the changing landscape hasn’t come with changed attitudes about masculinity.
“Survey after survey shows that 60 to 70 percent of men still agree with the notion that masculinity depends on emotional stoicism — never showing fear, never showing pain,” Kimmel says. “So, the world has changed dramatically, and yet most men still cling tenaciously to an ideology of masculinity that comes off the set of Mad Men.”
But Kimmel says today’s boys and young men have a much better sense of gender equality than many of their fathers did. He sees a clear example in cross-sex friendship. For 25 years, Kimmel has asked his students if they had a good friend of the opposite sex. When he first started asking, about 10 percent would answer yes. Today, almost everyone does.
“Think about that. You make friends with your peers, right? You make friends with people you consider your equals, not your boss or your servants. I mean, my students today are more experienced with gender equality in their interpersonal relationships than any generation in our history,” he says.
Noguera also has seen men become much more involved with raising their children and general housework.
“But what hasn’t come with that is a new definition of what it means to be a man as a nurturer in the family,” Noguera says. “Can you be strong and be a nurturer? Well, many women have figured out, yes, they have to be, in fact. Because they have to raise the kids on their own, and they can’t afford to just expect some man to save the day.”
He says today’s men are searching for a way to reconcile old ideas related to strength with the need to be better listeners, more cooperative and more open to others.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It’s ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I’m Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I’m Melissa Block. This Summer, we’re going to talk about men.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Men.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Gents.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Gentleman.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: Guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 5: Fellas.
BLOCK: About what it means to be a man in America today.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 6: Being honest, responsible and respectful and hard-working.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 7: Strong and stoic.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Kind, caring, dedicated.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 8: You don’t have to be tough or brawny or outspoken.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 9: Something that you’re always learning on the job, and it’s – you don’t have an instruction manual.
BLOCK: The good.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 10: Being a dad is absolutely the best part of being a man.
CORNISH: The bad.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 11: My father gave me all the wrong concepts about being a man. If you’re going to be a man in this world, you better learn how to dominate and control people and circumstances.
BLOCK: But also the fun of being manly.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 12: Right now I don’t have a manicure but a manicure…
BLOCK: So a manicure is manly?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 12: So what? It’s manly. You got to be well groomed. Sometimes I get pedicures, too.
CORNISH: Now why spend the summer talking about the lives of men? Because as the roles of women in society have changed in the last 50 years, so have men’s – sometimes dramatically. Consider education.
PEDRO NOGUERA: So right now, on average, in every state women exceed men by 8 to 12 percentage points in college enrollment.
CORNISH: That’s Pedro Noguera, professor at New York University and head of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Let’s consider that education gap another way. 50 years ago men made up about 65 percent of college enrollment nationwide. Today it’s more like 43 percent, and that’s a big difference.
NOGUERA: Now, the other side of that – the male dropout rate is, in some states, twice as high as the female dropout rate. These patterns speak to a larger problem, because we know, now, that the jobs of the future require college degrees. They’re going to pay substantially more than those who only have high school degrees or less. And so we are looking at – and we’ve already seen this, particularly amongst African-Americans – is a growing number of well-educated, professional women who are unable to find men of similar education. That’s the trend that we’ll see more and more of.
CORNISH: Here’s another set of numbers – this time, from Michael Kimmel, Professor at Stony Brook University and director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.
MICHAEL KIMMEL: In 1961, 3 percent of law students were female. In 201, exactly 50 years later, 53 percent of law students are female. Now, if you just take that one thing and think about how that ramifies over so many different professions – medical school, business school, even the stem fields – women’s entry is probably the single most important story of the changing gender landscape of the past 50 years. Now, while that has changed so much, survey after survey shows that 60 to 70 percent of men still agree with the notion that masculinity depends on emotional stoicism, never showing fear, never showing pain. So the world has changed dramatically, and yet, most men still cling tenaciously to an ideology of masculinity that comes off the set of Mad Men.
CORNISH: And we just heard figures dating back to the ’60s. Pedro Noguera, for you, is there a comparison figure that you look to that shows a shift?
NOGUERA: Yeah, and it pertains to jobs. In the early 1960s, 40 to 50 percent of our jobs were in manufacturing. If you add in mining, you got another 10 percent of jobs. Today those two sectors constitute less than 10 percent of our economy. So that means the old idea that you, as a man, with simply a high school degree or less could get a good-paying union job simply because you had a strong back – those jobs don’t exist anymore. Those jobs have been replaced by very low-wage jobs in the service sector, and what we find is men who get stuck there are in long-term low-wage jobs. And that, I think, is adding to the political crisis that we’re seeing as men become more and more frustrated about the state of our society.
CORNISH: You’ve both pointed out the rise in the number of women when it comes to higher education, but people will also look at, say, the science or stem fields – also look at elite programs and see men doing pretty darn well still. Why should this be considered a crisis of some kind?
KIMMEL: This is Michael. I’m not so sure it is a crisis, but I do think that the entry of women and the changing circumstances of men’s lives and the intransigence of these old ideas is producing that kind of tension. And I think it’s in that tension that you see all of the political mobilization around masculinity today. So, for example, there are those who are saying yes, it’s gone way too far. We have to go back to the old way. There’s others who are saying it’s left men in the dust. It’s the end of men. We have to get our power back. We’ve been emasculated. There’s all kinds of movements that have actually mobilized around this disjunction between these traditional ideas of masculinity and the reality of our lives which are actually quite different from that ideology.
CORNISH: Michael Kimmel, you’ve written a lot about this idea in terms of attitudes. What do you see as the biggest change in men’s opinions about themselves or their place in society?
KIMMEL: The surveys on boys – when you ask them what their lives are going to look like, they all assume their wives are going to work and be just as committed to their careers. They all assume that they’re going to be really involved fathers. And I’ll give you one more big change in their lives, and that is cross-sex friendship. Virtually every one of my students today has a good friend of the opposite sex. This is new, Audie. When I first started teaching 25 years ago, I would ask my students, how many of you have a good friend of the opposite sex? Maybe I’d get 10 percent. Now they all have a good friend. And think about that. You make friends with your peers, right? You make friends with people you consider your equals, not your boss or your servants. I mean my students today are more experienced with gender equality in their interpersonal relationships than any generation in our history.
CORNISH: Pedro Noguera.
NOGUERA: I think, sometimes, men are in fact much more involved in raising their children – doing more household chores than ever before. But what hasn’t come with that is a new definition of what it means to be a man as a nurturer in the family. Can you be strong and be a nurturer? Well, many women have figured out, yes. They have to be, in fact, because they are have to raise the kids on their own, they can’t afford to just expect some man to save the day. I think that men are searching for a way to reconcile these old ideas related to strength with this need to be a better listener, more cooperative, more open to others. So I think that’s beginning to happen. I think it’s reflected to some degree in our popular culture – in the way men are depicted in media. But it’s still very much emerging.
CORNISH: That’s Pedro Noguera. He’s a professor at NYU and head of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Pedro, thanks so much for talking with us.
NOGUERA: Thank you.
CORNISH: And Michael Kimmel, Professor at Stony Brook University and director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. Thank you, too, for speaking with us.
KIMMEL: My pleasure.
BLOCK: As the summer goes on, we’ll go in-depth on many of the issues Michael Kimmel and Pedro Noguera talked about – men’s place in the changing economy, their roles as partners and parents. On Wednesday, educators talk about young boys and why they’re having a tough time in school.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Destructive, disruptive, disruptive – I’m like, what’s going on with you? All I did was go get a piece of paper from my friend – and I’m like, OK, your body is trying to keep yourself awake, so you’re moving.
CORNISH: You can follow our series on Twitter, #menpr. Yes, menpr – punny and easy to remember.
BLOCK: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.