Matt Lewis

The silent war on noncollege-educated white men

Much ink has been spilled this election cycle about the so-called “war on women,” but as the Wall Street Journal notes, “In 2010, young American women had a median income higher than that of their male peers in 1,997 out of 2,000 metropolitan regions.”

That same year, Hanna Rosen observed: “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.”

There is no political benefit in discussing this phenomenon, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed by academics. From Kay  Hymowitz’s “Manning Up: How The Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys” (listen to my podcast with Hymowitz here) — to Rosen’s “The End of Men and the Rise of Women” — some observers are keenly aware of the trend.

In recent years, women have also been hit by the economic downturn. Still, you won’t hear much about the plight of men on the campaign trail.

There is very little benefit to talking about how hard men have it.

Times change, and even when the changes are for the better, there are still victims. Writing in the Weekend Journal, Carol Tavris noted that anthropologist Marvin Harris had predicted male supremacy “would end in the 21st century, because its two bolsters—women’s inability to control fertility and the need for men’s physical strength in war and work—would be gone.”

There were other factors, including innovation and globalization. But it seems he was clearly on to something.

A generation ago, a young man in, say, Ohio might expect to graduate from high school, get a job in a factory, and provide a decent middle-class lifestyle for a family. Those days are long gone. And while men in general seem to be in decline, one can imagine the changes are particularly acute for working class white males. They see their jobs shipped off or taken by immigrants who will work for less money. On top of that, they may also feel emasculated at home.

Again, this has not gone completely unnoticed. Ross Douthat noted in a controversial 2010 New York Times column, that “downscale, the rural and the working-class” whites are experiencing “alienation from the American meritocracy.”

One wonders about the unique psychological toll this might take. White men, especially, can’t complain. What I mean is that nobody is sympathetic to them. There is a good reason for this. Historically, they have won the lottery. Thus, there is no release valve — no politically correct way for them to express their understandable anger at a society that seems to have let them down. What is more, they are regularly mocked and portrayed as Homer Simpson-like buffoons by the media. There is no anti-defamation league to complain when men are portrayed as idiots on TV commercials, movies, etc. They are supposed to suck it up.

This is concerning for a variety of reasons. First, we should be concerned when any demographic of American society is falling behind. Second, it seems dangerous for a society to have a bunch of single, disaffected men, roaming around (men, of course, represent nearly 50 percent of the population). People who don’t believe they have a purpose are dangerous. Marriage and other institutions have had a sort of civilizing effect. But as more and more high-achieving women are remaining single (party because there aren’t enough highly-educated men), we can expect problems, including gangs, the rise of fringe radical groups/militias, etc., lower birth rates, more suicide, etc.

This could also have quiet political ramifications. Not many people are writing about it, but as a recent National Journal piece hinted at, there is some angst beginning to bubble up from this silent majority.” [Johnny ] Whitmire is an angry man,” the column observed. “He is among a group of voters most skeptical of President Obama: noncollege-educated white males. He feels betrayed—not just by Obama, who won his vote in 2008, but by the institutions that were supposed to protect him…”

But the political problem is that while these folks are likely not fond of Obama, it’s not as if Mitt Romney is well-equipped to tap into the populist zeitgeist. The moment might be right for a Pat Buchanan or a Ross Perot. But Romney seems uniquely unqualified to appeal to this growing niche.

Meanwhile, Obama continues to pander to women. The goal is to increase turnout among this important voting base, but it will also likely increase the gender gap he has with males. During the Democratic Convention, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said:  “President Obama understands women. He trusts women, and on every single issue that matters to us, he stands with women.”

Can you imagine any speaker saying that about men?