Now the centuries-old preference for sons is eroding—or even reversing. Even Ericsson, the stubborn old goat, can sigh and mark the passing of an era. Of course it existed. But it seems to be gone now. And the era of the firstborn son is totally gone. His niece studied civil engineering at the University of Southern California.
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They do better in this economy. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way—these females are going to leave us males in the dust. Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed.
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Cultural and economic changes always reinforce each other. And the global economy is evolving in a way that is eroding the historical preference for male children, worldwide. Over several centuries, South Korea, for instance, constructed one of the most rigid patriarchal societies in the world. Many wives who failed to produce male heirs were abused and treated as domestic servants; some families prayed to spirits to kill off girl children.
Women moved to the city and went to college. They advanced rapidly, from industrial jobs to clerical jobs to professional work. The traditional order began to crumble soon after. In , the court ruled that women could register children under their own names. Up to a point, the reasons behind this shift are obvious.
As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest. And because geopolitics and global culture are, ultimately, Darwinian, other societies either follow suit or end up marginalized. In , the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in countries.
In some war-torn states, women are stepping in as a sort of maternal rescue team. Postgenocide Rwanda elected to heal itself by becoming the first country with a majority of women in parliament. In feminist circles, these social, political, and economic changes are always cast as a slow, arduous form of catch-up in a continuing struggle for female equality.
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But in the U. American parents are beginning to choose to have girls over boys. What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity.
This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end?
More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women? Once you open your eyes to this possibility, the evidence is all around you.
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It can be found, most immediately, in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of these jobs will come back, but the overall pattern of dislocation is neither temporary nor random.
The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer. The working class, which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U. Indeed, the U. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.
In fact, the opposite may be true. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Yes, the U.
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Yes, women still do most of the child care. And yes, the upper reaches of society are still dominated by men. But given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment. Dozens of college women I interviewed for this story assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home, either looking for work or minding the children. But over the decades, changing economic forces turned those privileges into curses. Although the land no longer produced the impressive income it once had, the men felt obligated to tend it.
Meanwhile, modern women shunned farm life, lured away by jobs and adventure in the city.
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They occasionally returned for the traditional balls, but the men who awaited them had lost their prestige and become unmarriageable. In recent years, male support groups have sprung up throughout the Rust Belt and in other places where the postindustrial economy has turned traditional family roles upside down. Some groups help men cope with unemployment, and others help them reconnect with their alienated families. Mustafaa El-Scari, a teacher and social worker, leads some of these groups in Kansas City.
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El-Scari has studied the sociology of men and boys set adrift, and he considers it his special gift to get them to open up and reflect on their new condition. The day I visited one of his classes, earlier this year, he was facing a particularly resistant crowd. None of the 30 or so men sitting in a classroom at a downtown Kansas City school have come for voluntary adult enrichment. Having failed to pay their child support, they were given the choice by a judge to go to jail or attend a weekly class on fathering, which to them seemed the better deal.
But El-Scari has his own idea about how to get through to this barely awake, skeptical crew, and letters to Crystal have nothing to do with it. What are the four kinds of paternal authority? Moral, emotional, social, and physical.
How does that make you feel? The men are black and white, their ages ranging from about 20 to A couple look like they might have spent a night or two on the streets, but the rest look like they work, or used to.
Now they have put down their sodas, and El-Scari has their attention, so he gets a little more philosophical. Judging by the men I spoke with afterward, El-Scari seemed to have pegged his audience perfectly. And then he fell behind on his child-support payments. The men in that room, almost without exception, were casualties of the end of the manufacturing era.