Can I make a confession? Most of the time I don’t know the answer to that question. I used to think I was alone in that. I looked around at the other men that I knew, and it seemed like they had it figured out. Now, as I have grown to have deeper relationships with other men, I realize that most of us feel this way. Sure, we could point you to our favorite fictional or historical men (Ron Swanson and Teddy Roosevelt are clearly the best, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise), but what actually made them men? How do we live that out in our own lives? And most importantly — are they examples of men we should emulate?
I’m going to disappoint you now. This post isn’t really about answering those questions. There will be plenty of time to find those answers later, and no single article could ever hope to provide a comprehensive response. My purpose here is to show some of the core issues I think this confusion has caused in our culture.
Much of this confusion manifests itself in the prolonged adolescence seen in so many young men. Boys to Men has become Boys to Boys. Not so long ago, men in their early 20s had passed most of the core signposts of the transition between boyhood and adulthood — education, financial independence, marriage, and children. This is not to say that all men need to be married or have children. Having achieved these things doesn’t mean that you have become a man. There are plenty of boys with jobs and a wedding ring. I know. I was one. These are simply indicators we can use to look at the state of men as a whole in our culture.
Let’s first look at education. Men have fallen behind in almost every area of educational attainment. In the United States, men have fallen behind women in just about every major measure of educational attainment. Men have lower literacy rates, drop out of high school at a higher rate, and earn fewer bachelors and masters degrees. The areas where men still do well are in Ph.D.s and professional degrees, but women are projected to surpass men in these areas in the coming years.
Another worrying statistic is the decline in labor force participation amongst men. In 1948 86.7% of men were active in the labor force. This has steadily declined over the years to the point that, as of September of this year, only 69.1% of men were active in the labor force. This is even more worrying for men aged 24-54 where participation has fallen from over 97% in 1955 to 88.4% in 2013. These are men who should be done with their education and ready for employment, up through those men in their peak earning years.
When it comes to marriage, I probably don’t need to point out the stellar success rate that it enjoys in this country. More and more, both men and women are putting off marriage until later in their lives and those marriages tend to fail at alarming rates. Some of this is exacerbated by the above two factors. Men and women both tend to marry people who have similar education and income levels to themselves. And as men start slipping further behind women in those areas, young women will find it increasingly difficult to find suitable young men to marry. Divorce rates are also correlated with education level. More educated individuals tend to divorce less.
There are many theories about why men are falling behind, but I think many of the problems are due to a misplaced and delayed since of manhood. Many men are content to remain boys much longer than they used to, shut up in their parents basements playing video games until well after they should have finished their degrees and entered the workforce. Often, they don’t have any other notion of what it is to be a man. They are often forced to live with fathers who are simply not around, and must look to their peers to ground their sense of manhood.
We here at Mannerd are deeply concerned about these issues, and we aim to address some of the incorrect notions of manhood that lead to these problems. We want to equip men with the tools they need in order to achieve these things, as well as the skills they need in order to develop the deep connections to other men that they need in order to weather life’s many storms. We encourage you to evaluate how your definition of manhood was shaped, and then reconcile that against what you believe to be true. We’d love to hear your definitions, both past and present.