Christina Patterson: Men: the latest endangered species

Boys are being vomited out of an inadequate school system at 16 and left to rot. If the state keeps them from starving, it probably won't for much longer

Wednesday 07 July 2010 00:00 BST

OK, so they run the economy. And the country. And the world. OK, so they earn more. In global terms, an awful lot more. OK, so they took that having dominion malarkey – over the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth – horribly literally, extending it to all kinds of areas (the duvet, the remote control) that God forgot. But men had better look out. Poor darlings, they're doomed.

That, at least, is the conclusion of a new article in Atlantic Monthly, which has created a bit of a stir on both sides of the pond. "Earlier this year," says its author, Hanna Rosin, "women became the majority workforce for the first time in US 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. For years, women's progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what," she asks, in a manner faintly reminiscent of a super-coiffed Carrie Bradshaw tapping away at a laptop before nipping out for a Cosmopolitan, "if equality isn't the end point? What if modern, post-industrial society is simply better suited to women?"

Women in poor parts of India are, she says, learning English faster than men. Women own more than 40 per cent of businesses in China. In some war-torn states, women are "stepping in as a sort of maternal rescue team". And in America, parents are beginning to choose girls over boys. "We can," she says, "see with absolute clarity that in the coming decades the middle class will be dominated by women." It is, in other words, as the headline makes screamingly evident, "The End of Men".

Oh, well. All good things must come to an end, etc. Anyway, they've had a pretty good innings. And being on the sidelines isn't that bad. Sort out the hair, the pecs and the buns and they'll be just fine. Cheer up, lads! It might not happen!

In her argument that it will, Rosin draws on figures which, as so often with our giant transatlantic cousins, are rather more extreme than ours. There's no evidence here (and not, it seems, much in the US) that parents are choosing girls over boys. The British workforce is not made up of more women than men. There are still more male managers here than female ones, and there aren't three women for every two men who get a degree. But it is true that more girls are now going into higher and further education – 57 per cent – than boys. It's true that more women are undertaking full-time postgraduate study than men. And it's true that boys aren't just doing worse than girls at GCSE and A-levels. They're also experiencing higher levels of graduate unemployment.

According to a new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute, 17.2 per cent of young male graduates are failing to find jobs, compared to 11.2 per cent of women. "One possible reason," says Carl Gilleard, the chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, when called upon to explain this largely middle-class male meltdown, "might be a degree of complacency because of an extensive period of growth... and it may be that these male students think the fact they went to university is going to be enough to guarantee them the dream career."

So, spoilt, lazy and bursting with inappropriate confidence! Is this the legacy of those primary schools that give children stickers for turning up, or smiling, or breathing? Primary schools like the one where I once did a residency, where the children ended a report on a school football match by congratulating themselves on their performance and just looked baffled when I pointed out that they'd lost? Is it the legacy of pass-the-parcel parties where everyone gets to open one and stagger home with a Naomi-Campbell-sized goodie bag? Is it the legacy of parents who wanted to be cool with their kids, parents who often behaved like kids?

Heaven (or perhaps Hanna Rosin) knows. If complacency is the problem, then the mass unemployment that's on its way should help. A bit late, perhaps, for the current crop of graduates, but when the machete strikes (sorry, but if I hear the word "axe" once more, I'll take one to my throat) they might think about diluting some of their dreams and getting, as most of us did when we started out, anything they can lay their hands on, anything that keeps the wolf from the door. At least, with a degree, they can probably read and write. Maybe even get out of bed.

The much bigger problem is the boys without degrees, the boys, in fact, without any qualifications at all. White working-class boys are doing badly. So, unfortunately, are black ones. With the migration of manufacturing to the Far East, and the disappearance of most of the traditional blue-collar options, these boys – many of whom don't have a working parent, let alone a male one – are vomited out of an inadequate school system at 16 and left to rot. If the state keeps them from starving, it probably won't for much longer. Frank Field, who was asked by Tony Blair to "think the unthinkable" on welfare reform and then, when the unthinkable proved unpalatable, quietly bundled off, is, as the coalition's new poverty tsar, planning to remove benefits from many of them. He hasn't yet said how he's going to force employers, who are turning away graduates who don't have a 2:1, to opt instead for boys without a single GCSE.

And who, by the way, will marry them? Not, presumably, the women who now make up 40 per cent of the medical profession (and who, by 2017, will dominate it) or the women who now make up 60 per cent of the graduate intake of lawyers. (But let's not get too excited. Only 11 per cent of FTSE companies have women on their boards. Less than a quarter of public appointments are of women. A fifth of MPs are women, and only a sixth of the Cabinet. Of 17 national newspaper editors, only two are women. The pay gap between men and women is still about 16 per cent. In the financial sector, up to 55 per cent. The end of men? Sweetie, you're having a laugh.)

The sad fact is that we're producing a whole sub-species of men that nobody wants. Employers don't want them. Society doesn't want them. Women don't want them. Or only for their sperm. Which, of course, ensures that the whole damned merry-go-round of boys with no fathers, and few male teachers, and few male role models (except a bunch of preening idiots who are famous for being famous and footballers who are famous for being rubbish) judders miserably on.

We have a choice. We can, at a time when the mass cull of people's hopes and livelihoods appears to have become a national sport, decide to focus on the education and needs of this soon-to-be-lost generation, or we can encourage Toby Young and his equivalents across the country to siphon off funds for so-called "free schools". With universal cuts at 25 per cent, which have suddenly become 40 per cent, we can't do both.

Among the skills that many of these young men lack, which adds to their all-round unsuitability for the changing workplace, is one that Rosin calls "social intelligence". The other word for it is "conversation". Frankly, it's not just young men, or working-class men, or uneducated men, or unemployed men, for whom it's a bit of a struggle. It's a skill that could usefully be taught to all boys, in all schools, from an early age. One which would have women, relieved of the need to be Jeremy Paxman, even on a date, weeping with gratitude. And one whose absence was highlighted by a questionnaire in a newspaper at the weekend.

Ted, a parliamentary officer, who had had a blind date with Anna, a primary school teacher, was asked what they had talked about. "Most of the conversation," he replied, without irony, or embarrassment, "seemed to revolve around me."

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