Men face age of uncertainty: Flexible work patterns favour women, a study says David Nicholson-Lord

MEN ARE facing a new era of insecurity, according to a study published today. Their jobs and economic status are threatened, there is more competition from women at school, university and work, and they are increasingly likely to live alone. They also appear poorly equipped for the changes being thrust upon them.

The biggest question mark for men over the next 10 years is linked to employment patterns, according to the research organisation Mintel. 'The overall effect of the changes which are coming about can be summed up as 'more flexibility, less security'. On the whole this less structured working environment is more suited to women than men.'

Recession and 'improving technology' has led to far- reaching changes that favour female employment, says the Mintel study, Men 2000. There has been a rise in part-time and flexible working, and a steady fall in male employment since the 1970s. By the middle of last year there were nearly as many women as men with paid jobs.

Loss of male jobs has hit those in their 50s and 60s particularly hard, with many persuaded or compelled to take early retirement. Mintel adds: 'The concept of a job for life is now obsolete . . .'

However, jobs are still important for self-respect. For both men and women, 4 in 10 say how well they do their job is central to self-esteem. An even higher proportion said they would carry on working if they did not need the money.

'The effects of the new insecurity which has permeated all areas of working life are probably being felt first by those trying to start out in their careers and by older men facing redundancy or enforced early retirement,' the study adds. 'Ultimately, though, all men are vulnerable.'

Men in their late 40s and early 50s are the 'least enchanted' with their working lives, however, suggesting that early retirement or a career change might be attractive.

But men are also facing changes in family structure, including later marriages - the average age for men has risen from 25 to 27 in the decade 1981-91 - and family breakdown. With women taking the children - only 1 per cent of families are headed by fathers on their own - the growth of single-person households is faster among men under 65 than any other group.

A quarter of men are single. Divorce, separation, and longer life expectancy mean that men are 'increasingly likely to have longer periods in their lives when they live alone', Mintel says.

Girls are also outperforming boys in some educational areas and the gap between females and males in higher education is narrowing.

Leading article, page 15