The Erosion of Male Advantage in the Workplace

It has generally been thought that men get better as they age.  They become more relaxed and confident.  Less driven to prove themselves, they are able to be more generous and wiser.  And as the awkwardness and angularity of youth softens, they even become more attractive.

But if there was any truth to this, recently evidence suggests these benefits no longer count.  Time is not on their side.

Last summer, Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic chronicled the erosion of men’s status in the workplace:  “Three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost had belonged to men.”  More startling was the underlying trend.  More women than men are now employed, and “women are also starting to dominate middle management.”

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of all accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. About a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms—and both those percentages are rising fast.”  (See “The End of Men.”)

Rosin offered the explanation that our “white-collar economy” values intellect as much as brawn but also “requires communication skills and social intelligence, areas in which women, according to many studies, have a slight edge.”  In other words, men may get better as they age but woman are better from the start with in the skills that increasingly matter.

Last month, Newsweek zeroed in on the plight of older men:  “From the financial meltdown in late 2007 that led to the recession up to now, the rolls of all unemployed white professional men have more than doubled.”

Calling such men BWMs (Beached White Males), the reporter noted that older white men are losing jobs faster than any other group, including teenage girls.  He cited the professional-finance blog Calculated Risk:  if these men “lose their job, they are toast.”  (See, “Dead Suit Walking.”)

Just last week, The New York Times commented on how senior men are increasingly being eased out of their jobs.  “’All the rules have changed,’ said a longtime New York executive recruiter…. ‘In a market that’s become extremely lean and mean, these individuals who have tended to be the senior statesmen of their day are sometimes the first to go.’”  (See, “Easing Out the Gray.”)

To be sure, only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, but that is increasingly seen as a problem.  Rosin noted that not only are the ones who make it to the top now seen as celebrities, but also “last year, they out-earned their male counterparts by 43 percent, on average, and received bigger raises.”

The demands of evolutionary struggle gave men an advantage for their greater size and strength, but it has been a long time since those differences mattered so much.  Our consciousness awareness and social values are just now catching up.