Saturday, 24 November 2007

Men: Obsolete in the UK by 2030

A serious of recent media reports in the UK have been indicating how obsolete men are becoming in this country. The fact that there are more female than male workers in the country has been a fact of life since the 1970s, partly because women are far more likely to fill part-time and temporary jobs and to have more than one job. The 1970s saw the growth of the feminist movement in the Western world, and in the UK it had some benefits for women, with anti-gender discrimination legislation coming in the mid-1970s and added to incrementally over the past three decades. The latter phase under Blair owed more to his very pro-family agenda but did mean some additional benefits for mothers in terms of tax breaks and maternity (and paternity) leave, despite other contrary policies which tried to get even more women to work. Despite over thirty years of such legislation women on average in the UK earn 16% less than a male counterpart in the same role. However, a third of women over 40 are now the main earner in their household (partly this is due to the increase in single parent families as a result of a divorce rate of over 150,000 per year in the UK) and in 25% of all households a woman makes all of the decisions about the main purchases - i.e. house, car, holidays, furniture, electrical goods, etc.

So, given the gains, but the fact that we have not yet attained gender equality, you might ask on what basis I argue men will become obsolete by the time I retire. The key reason stems from education. Girls have been doing better at age 11 since the end of the Second World War, but this has now extended further down the age range and they are streaking ahead of boys from the minute they start school, these days on average at the age of 4. Interestingly, in South Africa the starting age is 7; in Sweden it is 6 and a later start actually benefits boys. The move to 'reception' classes for 3-4 year olds becoming increasingly common actually disadvantages boys even further. Boys and girls learn in different ways. Boys always tend to be more physically restless especially below the age of 11. All primary schools in the UK have a large majority of female teachers and many of them have no male teaching staff at all. This stems from the status of primary school teachers and men considering the profession worrying they are going to be accused of paedophilia. The balance is currently shifting backwards, but certainly in the 1990s and 2000s there has been a real shortage of male school teachers; consequently things such as reading books are seen as exclusively female activities. In addition, female teachers, unsurprisingly, despite all their training, think like women, which means an emphasis on communication, consensus and group activity rather than the activity-driven, often quite individualistic focus of boys' preferred forms of working. I am not saying boys should be taught by men and girls by women, but certainly boys would benefit from a range of staff in their primary schools.

As boys find it difficult to engage at the start of their schooling, they now particularly suffer in the very target-driven approach to schooling with exams at age 7, 11, 14 and so on (the test at 7 has been dropped in Scotland and Wales but not England where 83% of the UK population lives). I would be interested if any other government has issued targets for children under the age of 5, as the UK government has done. Doing poorly in such tests disheartens boys and so distances them from any interest in learning. Both sexes are increasingly attracted by the other, easy ways to success in the UK - crime and celebrity, but these stand out a little less for a girl who is doing well at school than they do for boys, who are likely to have a tendency to petty crime anyway (the two most common youth crimes are vandalism and shoplifting and girls engage in shoplifting as much as boys), especially that which involves violence or the destruction of property. So, from the moment they start school, boys are liable to be lagging behind girls, a position they never recover. The disheartening nature of failing every couple of years and the lack of a clear position in society must be a contributing factor in the high level of suicides among men and boys in the UK.

The National Curriculum was introduced to UK schools in 1992. It was the first time in British history that the government outlined what schools had to teach (bar religious education which was the only subject to have been made compulsory previously, in 1944), what skills they expected pupils to gain and issues they had to cover. This means that any person who is 20 years old or younger will have gone through this system for all of their school life and any person 31 or younger will have at least experienced it during their secondary education. The consequences are already apparent in the gender imbalance in universities. Again, I am not arguing it was wrong for the position of women to improve, but it seems now that they are pushing far ahead and we will soon see a gender imbalance which mirrors (i.e. in reverse) that of the 1950s. There are currently over 330,000 more female students at university than male students. The balance is 56% female to 44% male and the female share is increasing. Some subject areas such as engineering and certain science subjects are holding on to a male majority. However, other traditionally male subject areas such as medicine (to become a doctor) and law now have 6 women students for every 4 men and again this level is increasing. You may say, well, that is only university students, but in contrast to the early 1980s when only 6% of the population went to university the level is now not far off the government target of 50% of the population under 25. Of course, also, people with degrees tend to fill the best jobs. Men are more debt-averse than women, so again the move towards students (or their families) paying up to £3000 (€4290; US$6210) fees has just increased the tendency of men not to go to university and to seek work, adding to the fact that because of their lagging in study right throughout school they lack the grades to compete against women.

So it is clear that in the next decade women will be the majority in terms of graduates entering the labour market. This is why I said it will take 25-30 years for the impact to be felt, because in that time those men appointed in the preceding circumstances will retire and in many cases will be replaced by women. For example, female lawyers are still a minority but the force of numbers will change this in the next decades as it already has in senior positions in the police service. The female dominance at all levels of education will be reinforced. Women have already made great gains in the number of female doctors and this trend will increase or even accelerate as the current batch of students and their successors begin to qualify (the shift to a female majority in universities occurred in 2000, so with 5-year medical courses you will expect to see women from that majority position appearing in hospitals and surgeries now).

One factor that will accentuate the simple numerical pressures is that the skills women have are those now demanded in the workplace. Think how often you see the requirement for good communication and presentation skills, balancing conflicting demands and team working, just the skills that women excel at from the moment they start school. Things like leadership and manual skill (and in the technological age even the ability to fight) that men were seen as good at are no longer wanted. In the global marketplace, languages are also at a premium and this is an area in which women have always been stronger than men.

Socially men have long been redundant. Single-parent families, which generally means the mother and child(ren) is predominant in many areas of British society, no matter whether it is a working class or middle class context. Often these are multi-generational female-only families with grandmother/mother/daughter sharing childminding. Boys in such circumstances seem out of place and have no positive male role model, though their understanding of the female psyche may be strong. In these common family patterns men come, they produce a child, then contribute some money (or not) and they go again. The number of divorces which happen while the children are at primary school is very high and of course this signals to girls that men are not needed and in fact cause upset and argument. Men are not even needed sexually. In common with other European countries, notably Germany, sex toys are now available in high street shops, even department stores are branching out into them. Whilst male 'escorts' lag in number behind the female variety they are on the increase and it is clear that women in the 2010s will not have to bother with the pain of having a man around the house, they can simply hire one when they feel they need one. Of course they can buy sperm if they want to create a child without even having to have sexual intercourse with a man.

Men will clearly not disappear. As on average in the UK 1056 boys are born for every 1000 girls, they will be in the majority numerically. Women are balancing against their longer life expectancy with their increased consumption of alcohol and drugs, so exacerbating this discrepancy. The issue is what will these men do with themselves? They will be semi-skilled manual workers but lacking the physical and mental abilities to even gain the kind of skills that are needed for high paid, responsible jobs. They will have minimal role as fathers and certainly none as bread winners as even those who marry are likely to earn less than their wives and will probably only be kept on until the woman tires of them. Multiple female families with a couple of mothers (not living in a lesbian relationship, simply in an economic one) and their children may be the common pattern of homeowners in 2030. Men will be the cleaners and the shop assistants (they are already losing their status as bus and train drivers and the number of women truckers is rising quickly too). Boys will have little to aspire to except roles like these or the military or a life of unemployment. The UK will never get to the stage where families will want to abort male foetuses, but there is an issue of what to do with all these men with little hope.

One model is the USA. In the 1980s one saw the rise of the male movement trying to capture a role for men in a changing society. It came in step with the closure of much manufacturing, engineering and related employment in the USA (the UK too) and little success in these regions in creating replacement work. Women were the ones needed for the light engineering, service sector and ICT industries which appeared. The men's movement has never really penetrated the UK, possibly because the gender-specific unemployment was lost among the mass unemployment (4 million+) of the 1980s making it less apparent than in the USA. The future for British males is already becoming visible from the USA - prison. The USA currently has more than 1 in every 100 of its population in prison and the large majority are men. The UK is now at the limit of its prison spaces (around 80,000 compared to over 2.5 million in the USA; population 65 million - UK to 256 million USA), but it is clear that with its prison expansion programme these places are going to be filled by men with no other option bar suicide. By 2030 prison will become the main career route for any UK man who cannot stomach taking his own life or taking a McJob.

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