Stuck in the Old Country

Hanna Rosin’s new book The End of Men–a shorter version of which I read in The Atlantic two years ago–theorizes why women are out-performing men in various economic and employment categories. A recent NYTimes column by David Brooks provides a brief overview of the facts:

In elementary and high school, male academic performance is lagging. Boys earn three-quarters of the D’s and F’s. By college, men are clearly behind. Only 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees go to men, along with 40 percent of master’s degrees.

Thanks to their lower skills, men are dropping out of the labor force. In 1954, 96 percent of the American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today, that number is down to 80 percent.

Why? Here is Brooks’ brief summary of Rosin’s thesis:

Women . . . are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.

This theory has less to do with innate traits and more to do with social position. When there’s big social change, the people who were on the top of the old order are bound to cling to the old ways. The people who were on the bottom are bound to experience a burst of energy. They’re going to explore their new surroundings more enthusiastically.

My unscientific anecdotal experience is that female students constitute about 60-75% of my office visits, send about 60% of the emails I receive with questions about course material, and are more receptive to seeking advice about how to improve their course performance.

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