The Atlantic has a love-hate relationship with men’s economic contributions. The magazine alternates between gloating that feminism has destroyed men’s economic status once and for all, and worrying that men are no longer fulfilling their traditional roles as bread winners.
In 2008 The Atlantic published Lori Gottlieb’s now famous piece Marry Him! warning of a shortage of eligible men for marriage delaying women:
…despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! career! but also true love!), every woman I know—no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure—feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.
…if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.
Whether you acknowledge it or not, there’s good reason to worry.
Then in 2010 Atlantic senior editor Hanna Rosin switched the sentiment from fear to greed with her own now famous piece The End of Men, gloating at the ostensible crushing of men once and for all:
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences.
But the end of men means the end of feminists having it all, since having it all depends on men continuing to fulfill their traditional roles as feminists radically rewrite the rules of marriage and the family. In 2011 The Atlantic switched back to fear, publishing Kate Bolick’s All the Single Ladies:
Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the “romantic market” in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options…
Rosin and Gottlieb went on to write books by the same title as their Atlantic articles. Bolick has since embraced her new status as a spinster, first with an Atlantic article and then with a book by the same title.
In 2014 instead of Hanna Rosin’s open gloating, Derek Thompson wrote a less triumphant Atlantic piece titled The Mysterious Rise of the Non-Working Man. Thompson quoted the New York Times, noting that a combination of new technology, the destruction of marriage, and the welfare state was changing men’s incentives:
Many men, in particular, have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment.
Thompson concluded his 2014 piece with a much more muted declaration of feminist victory than Rosin’s 2010 piece:
…some economists think identity plays a starring role in the economy. “Some of the decline in work among young men is a mismatch between aspirations and identity,” said Lawrence Katz, a professor of economics at Harvard University. “Taking a job as a health technician has the connotation as a feminized job. The growth has been in jobs that have been considered women’s jobs—education, health, government.”
The economy is not simply leaving men behind. It is leaving manliness behind. Machines are replacing the brawn that powered the 20th century economy, clearing way for work that requires a softer human touch.
In April of this year Derek Thomson was back, this time with a feminist complaint about American men titled Too Many Elite American Men Are Obsessed With Work and Wealth.
…it’s making the pay gap worse.
Like most economists, Thompson minimizes the obvious difference between men and women’s roles in marriage and the profound impact this has on how the sexes approach work (emphasis mine):
It’s hard to identify the root causes of the values gap. Are women averse to high-risk, high-reward professions because they expect, from an early age, that these career paths are barricaded by discrimination? Maybe. Are women less interested in working more hours because pay disparities mean that the marginal hour worked earns them less money? Maybe. Are subtle and hard-to-measure cultural expectations nudging young women toward jobs that would offer flexibility (to care for kids they don’t yet have) while pushing men toward high-paying jobs (to provide for that family they don’t yet have)? Maybe. Are part-time female workers in the U.S. happier at work because their husbands are the primary breadwinners, and they don’t feel a similar burden at the office? Maybe. In addition to these cultural factors, are there biological factors that, for better and worse, make men more likely to seek out risks? Maybe.
Thompson then closes his April Atlantic piece with an indictment of (some) American men for selfishly working too hard:
But something else is clear: There is a workaholic mania among educated wealth-seeking American men, who seem uniquely devoted to working any number of hours to get rich. Remember the lesson of the Stanford study: Sometimes, the winners of a tournament are the ones who choose not to enter it.
But while Thompson and the Atlantic worry that elite men are selfishly working too hard, they also worry that young men are not preparing to be bread winners for aging feminist career women. This brings us to Thompson’s July Atlantic piece on Why America Should Be Worried About Its Young Men. In this piece the feminist Thompson frames his angst as a concern for the wellbeing of layabout young men who aren’t preparing for the joy of marrying aging feminist career women:
…they are having fun, Hurst emphasized. “Happiness surveys actually indicate that they [are] quite content compared to their peers,” he told UChicago. In the short run, not working doesn’t seem to make men miserable at all.
Cheap and abundant entertainment anesthetizes less-skilled and less-educated young men in the present. But in the long run, it cuts them off from the same things that provide meaning in middle age, according to psychological and longitudinal studies —a career, a family, and a sense of accomplishment. The problem is that these 20-year-olds will eventually be 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds, and although young men who don’t go to college might appear happy now, those same satisfaction studies suggest that they will be much less happy in their 30s and 40s—less likely to get married, and more likely to be in poverty.
There is of course some truth to this concern. A life on the dole is soul crushing. However, this sudden claim of concern for men coming from The Atlantic is hard to take seriously. This is doubly true given Thompson’s Atlantic article two days ago praising the Scandinavian welfare state.
At any rate, we should expect to see an increasing frequency and intensity of articles worrying about how men are reacting to the radical redefinition of the family, as men’s choices slowly catch up with reality. These articles will come both from conservatives looking to conserve feminist progress, as well as feminists who find themselves suddenly conservative when it comes to men as (selfish) breadwinners. There is after all one thing conservatives and feminists can agree on whole heartedly, and that is that weak men are screwing feminism up.