The apocalyptic title of Hanna Rosin's new book is guaranteed to get attention, as it did when the magazine piece that inspired the book, also titled "The End of Men," appeared in The Atlantic in summer 2010.
But it is not to be taken too literally. There are still men.
What has changed, if you go by the measures Rosin cites, is how much men matter – to women and to society overall. For, while men still dominate the highest levels of business and government – after the flirtations last year with Hillary and Sarah, we are again in the midst of another all-boy presidential campaign – in the everyday lives of the shrinking middle class and the working poor, their roles undeniably have shifted, and even declined, to an unprecedented degree.
At the same time, women have become more empowered, and, though it is the smaller print on the cover of her book, this is where Rosin focuses more of her attention.
The trend is powered by the eternal engines of sex and money, Rosin contends, with a generational divide in expectations today that is every bit as great as, or perhaps greater than, the break decades ago that led to the coining of the term Generation Gap.
The behavior and life choices made by men and women in their 20s and 30s have finally tipped the scales from a social construct reliant upon male dominance at work, at home, on campuses and government to one in which, in nearly every arena, women have the larger role.
Among her well-supported statistics:
* More girls than boys graduate from high school.
* Of every five college degrees, three go to women.
* More women than men get advanced degrees.
* And, in an employment market now dominated by a service sector that values people skills over muscle power, women are finding it much easier to get and keep jobs. Although older generations still show men earning more, women in their 20s make more money than men of their age, and don't expect to have a man support them.
The result? According to Rosin, for many women, having a man in their life – specifically a husband – is no longer a necessity, and in many cases, could be considered a liability.
Rosin pulls this together in a narrative long on anecdote and interview, but well bolstered by a wide range of well-chosen reports and studies. It would be hard to deny that society and the part men play in it have changed. Left for discussion is: what does it mean?
Among Rosin's more interesting conclusions:
* The hook-up culture celebrated in TV reality shows, magazines and music is a fact of life for young adults, whether they take part or not. It appears to peak for most in their college years and is embraced as vigorously by women as by men. She cites research that shows women are in no hurry to enter into serious relationships that might hold them back; they enjoy sexual intimacy but are not yet interested in commitment.
* While men also enjoy the benefits of casual sex, she notes, they aren't necessarily making as productive use of their freedom as women. Hence the image of the "Peter Pan" man-child, devoted to fantasy sports teams, video games and porn, who, as one professor Rosin quotes points out, become so socially inept and financially undesirable, by the time they want a serious relationship, they are no longer considered suitable partners for "equal status female mates."
(That professor is Philip Zimbardo, who is co-author of his own take on this issue, "The Demise of Guys.")
* Because after sex – or perhaps even before – it's about the money. In this tough economy, an economy that has proven especially brutal toward manufacturing jobs, construction and other male-dominated professions, Rosin has had no trouble finding young women who are doing whatever it takes to take care of themselves. They are raising their children while going to school, and perhaps working, too, to get the skills demanded by new technologies and a burgeoning health care field – jobs that appreciate the traditionally female skills of listening, empathizing, responding and communicating.
These women, who may still remain in the lower income tiers, aren't looking for a man to rely on, because too many times they have found they cannot rely on men. Some are blunt about it. They don't view these unemployed or underemployed, socially stunted men as protectors and providers. These guys would just be one more person to take care of, one more mouth to feed.
Rosin does include in her book families in which love and affection are valued more than a paycheck, although even in those cases, the couples are far from the world of Ward and June Cleaver. There are no kings in these castles; men share the housework and child rearing, in many cases following directives from the women. (Even then, women continue to do the larger share of parenting and homemaking.)
The one place where Rosin did find men and women working together as partners and finding satisfaction in their marriage and families was among well-educated people with good jobs and comfortable salaries. Women are less likely to resent a man they see as an equal; men who feel accomplished themselves may be more able to "be there" for their equally accomplished wives – even if the wife, or the husband, decides to take time off for children. Rosin calls these "see-saw" marriages, with spouses taking turns being the power-person in the relationship. They could be the way of the future, she believes, as society as a whole embraces its feminine side.
"The end of men" has had other repercussions in the lives of women beyond economic. Rosin includes a chapter about the sharp decrease in violent crime against women, with statistics from a 2010 White House report showing a 60 percent decrease in reported cases of rape since 1993, along with cases of assault and domestic violence. She quotes Mike Males, a criminologist: "Girls have achieved a great deal more power. And that makes them harder to victimize." And, as another expert says, not being dependent also makes it easier for women to leave dangerous relationships.
(The flip side is that women themselves are becoming more violent, toward one another and their own domestic partners. More women are being arrested for violent crimes – still far fewer than men, but the numbers are trending up dramatically.)
So, is the rise of women the end of men?
Rosin is far from alone in exploring the phenomenon. Besides Zimbardo's book, there are Kay Hymowitz's 2011 "Manning Up: How The Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys;" "Boys Adrift," by Leonard Sax; Christina Hoff's "The War Against Boys;" "The Decline of Men," by Guy Garcia, and on and on.
They all believe that this is not a blip on the cultural radar that will disappear if the GNP suddenly doubles. Women are not going to march back to the kitchen and nursery, and factory doors are not going to fly open again. It is the end of something, and, in Rosin's view, it is going to be up to men to make their own new beginning.
Melinda Miller is The News' ?features editor.
The End of Men And the Rise of Women
By Hanna Rosin
Riverhead Books310 pages; $27.95