Last week the U.S, government released statistics showing that for the first time women held more payroll jobs than did men. Not only that, but overall male unemployment was three full points [or roughly 30% higher] than that of women. Among blacks, the discrepancies were far greater, with black male unemployment rates being more than twice that of women. In addition, there’s a similar pattern occurring in education, where women are not only obtaining more collegiate level education, except in four areas of science and computers, but women are also winning a disproportionate amount of the scholastic honors, far more than in proportion to their enrollment.
That isn’t to say that some males aren’t excelling, because they are, but more and more, I’m seeing a pattern in both the statistics and in my own observations, and it’s simple. A small percentage of men are extremely high achievers, and so are a small, if somewhat larger, percentage of women. The remainder of the men tends to skate by (and at times, that’s an particularly charitable description), while a far, far larger percentage of women work extremely hard at what they do. In short, more and more, men seem to be choosing between the extremes of high achievement and effort and just “getting by.”
My wife has also noted this change among students, where a smaller and smaller percentage of male students devote themselves to their studies — even while test and ability scores indicate that the average intelligence level of these males is considerably higher than that of their predecessors twenty years ago, due in part to the fact that the university’s admission standards have tightened. On the other hand, a greater and greater percentage of the female students devote themselves to pursuing excellence. Most of the males have greater difficulty concentrating. Interestingly enough, what the males also fail to notice, or apparently don’t care about, is that the majority of the women aren’t terribly interested in non-motivated males, and they comprise the majority of the male students.
The other area of extremism is that of risk-taking. A far greater percentage of men than women take high risks, often in areas where the chance of success is not all that great… or where sooner or later, failure is inevitable, such as with the derivatives meltdown.
While it’s anecdotal, and I do tend to regard such with skepticism, I might also note that all those financial institutions which took huge risks and which continue to pay huge bonuses are dominated by males. I could not find a single large institution that failed and that was headed by a female CEO. There certainly may be one, but, even taking into account the far smaller number of large business organizations headed by women, the statistical discrepancy is noteworthy.
This difference may be biological in nature, in that women tend not to take extreme risks because doing so would jeopardize their offspring, or cultural, or both, but what I find disturbing is not that men tend to take risks, and that some take extreme risks, but when they take risks with other people’s money and capital. If a risk-taker wants to sky-dive, free rock climb, or the like, that’s his privilege and life, so long as it doesn’t endanger the lives and resources of others. But taking extreme risks with large amounts of the funds of others to bring in a higher rate of return in order to gain millions in personal bonuses, while threatening the entire financial system… that kind of risk-taking I find objectionable, self-centered, and disgusting.
Part of these masculine behaviors may simply be a reaction to civilization, and particularly to a high-tech culture. Proving that you’re the meanest, nastiest, and greatest risk-taking male in the world may have a large personal payoff in a low-tech culture, but that sort of behavior is a disaster in a world where everything is interconnected. As a result, society is creating more and pressures against such behavior. Some men just don’t respond well to such pressures, and, for better or worse, a disproportionate percentage of those types of males are represented in those who immigrated to the United States. I suspect that’s why we have so many “backlashes” against laws that restrict certain kinds of behaviors, from gun control legislation to restrictions on riding ATVs on public lands, to opposition to seat-belt laws, etc. This male reaction may also be fueling the popularity of “reality shows,” where the “rules” of civilization don’t apply.
Again, I have no problem with people watching “reality shows,” but I do have a problem with their proliferation, because when the media is over-saturated with such programs, the message the media sends is that extremism, plotting and scheming, and all manner of negative behaviors are to be applauded and rewarded. In short, extremism is a virtue under the reality show model, while hard work, dedication, and honesty are for losers.
We’re currently at war in two nations, battling extremism in its worst forms. Should we really be celebrating and espousing it here in the United States? Especially when it appears that it’s creating an even greater divide between men and women? Or is it that only “our” forms of extremism are the good ones?