How women are “taking the lead” in retirement decisions

Within a story about the large number of people who wish to move when they retire, a sociologist suggests that a shift in retirement has taken place: while men have often decided where a couple might go, women are now playing a more active role in deciding where couples should go:

“Retirement used to be a male transition that wives really just accommodated,” says Phyllis Moen, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. “Now women are taking the lead and planning what is going to come next. There’s a ‘his’ and a ‘her’ view of things.”

The “her” view catches many men by surprise. Cheryl Rampage, a clinical psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, recalls a man who wanted to retire to Palm Springs, Calif., and play golf. The wife wanted to stay in Chicago. “He took it as a huge slap in the face,” Ms. Rampage recalls. “He had developed this dream in his head without being in a conversation.” After some therapy, the couple agreed to move to a city they both liked.

I would be interested to hear a longer explanation about why this shift has taken place: feminism? More participation of women in the labor force? Changes in what retired people or people near retirement expect to experience in retirement?

Emerging adult men struggling to follow “life script”

An excerpt from a soon-to-be released book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys, talks about the sociological concept of “life scripts”:

But pre-adults differ in one major respect from adolescents. They write their own biographies, and they do it from scratch. Sociologists use the term “life script” to describe a particular society’s ordering of life’s large events and stages. Though such scripts vary across cultures, the archetypal plot is deeply rooted in our biological nature. The invention of adolescence did not change the large Roman numerals of the American script. Adults continued to be those who took over the primary tasks of the economy and culture. For women, the central task usually involved the day-to-day rearing of the next generation; for men, it involved protecting and providing for their wives and children. If you followed the script, you became an adult, a temporary custodian of the social order until your own old age and demise.

Unlike adolescents, however, pre-adults don’t know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether. In 1970, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that’s true of an astonishing 55% of the age group. In the U.S., the mean age at first marriage has been climbing toward 30 (a point past which it has already gone in much of Europe). It is no wonder that so many young Americans suffer through a “quarter-life crisis,” a period of depression and worry over their future.

This is a decent description of the category of emerging adults. This is an ongoing area of research interest among sociologists (and others) and I have some earlier posts on this topic: here is a recent posting on Catholic emerging adults, here is part 1/part 2/part 3 of an earlier series on studies about emerging adults.

It is hard to tell from this excerpt whether this author argues that the fact that women have risen in society has directly led to the downfall of young men. If so, this sounds a zero-sum kind of argument: since women have risen in society, then men must fall. Does it have to be this way – can’t both men and women find acceptable and expanded roles? And what have men done to fight back against broader social forces or to find and strengthen new roles or develop an attractive “life script”?

The counterpart to women’s studies: men’s or male studies?

Women’s studies programs are common at American colleges and universities. And in recent years, courses about men and masculinity have increased in numbers. An article in the New York Times explores this phenomenon and the split between proponents of men’s and male studies:

Male studies, largely the brainchild of Dr. Edward M. Stephens, a New York City psychiatrist, doesn’t actually exist anywhere yet. Last spring, there was a scholarly symposium at Wagner College on Staten Island, intended to raise the movement’s profile and attract funds for a department with a tenured chair on some campus. A number of prominent scholars attended, including Lionel Tiger, an emeritus anthropology professor at Rutgers, who invented the term “male bonding,” and Paul Nathanson, a religious studies scholar at McGill University, who specializes in the study of misandry, the flip side of misogyny. Both are on the advisory board of the Foundation for Male Studies, which Dr. Stephens founded last year…

The people in men’s studies, like those in women’s studies, take a mostly sociological perspective and believe that masculinity is essentially a cultural construct and that gender differences in general are fluid and variable. To Professor Kimmel, we live in a world that is increasingly gender-neutral and gender integrated and that this is a good thing for men and women both. “That ship has sailed — it’s a done deal,” he said recently, dismissing the idea that men and women are as different as Martians and Venutians.

The male studies people, on the other had, are what their critics call “essentialists” and believe that male behavior is in large part biologically determined. Men think and act differently from how women think and act because that’s how evolution shaped them. In the most extreme formulations of essentialism, men are basically still Neanderthals: violent, clannish, sexually voracious and in need of female domestication.

The article points this out but this sounds like another episode in the nature vs. nurture debate.

But the study of masculinity does seem to be a growing field of study. I don’t know much about this particular field  but it seems to me that there has been a growing recognition that there is a wide range of male experiences. And more men seem to be interested in at least thinking about this and how their lives have been shaped by cultural expectations.

What is the “typical” role for males today? Take a sector of the media like video games. These are popular among males, particularly the younger generations, and many of these games present particular views of masculinity and the world. Should one be an soldier shooting others in Black Ops? Should one be a 13th century assassin? Should one be a puzzle solver or an athlete? There are a number of roles, realistic and otherwise, that are presented. And all of this has real consequences: with terms like “man-cession” or “he-pression” being in the news recently due to the loss of certain jobs, what happens to males matters for society.

Why veterinary medicine is a female dominated field

Sociologists have long been interested in why certain career fields are dominated by men or women. A recent article in Social Forces examines why veterinary medicine is dominated by women:

More women than men are applying for veterinary school—making up as much as 80 percent of applicants at some schools. That’s not because men are avoiding perceived lower wages in veterinary medicine, says one researcher. It’s because male applicants are avoiding fields filled with women.

That’s the conclusion of Anne Lincoln, an assistant sociology professor at Southern Methodist University, whose study of the changing face of veterinary medicine is the first to look at gender in college applications from 1975 to 1995. Lincoln used decades of surveys and application information shared by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges in her recently published study, “The Shifting Supply of Men and Women to Occupations: Feminization in Veterinary Education,” in the journal Social Forces.

In addition to men’s “preemptive flight” from female-dominated colleges, Lincoln also attributes veterinary medicine’s gender shift to women’s higher graduation rates from college as well as the landmark 1972 federal amendment that prohibited discrimination by gender in college applications. Women have been enrolling in college in greater numbers since 1972, according to Lincoln.

I would like to hear more about this argument and the idea of “preemptive flight”: so men who are interested in veterinary medicine go to class or the department, see it is dominated by women, and then choose another field. How did this happen in the first place in this particular field – was there an important tipping point? What fields do the men who wanted to go into this field then go into because of the surplus of women in veterinary medicine?

It is also interesting that Lincoln suggests the trends in this field are likely to occur several decades down the road in the fields of law and medicine. If this idea of “preemptive flight” is pervasive in any field dominated by women, what happens when there are fewer and fewer careers where men can flee to?

Masculinity throughout American history

Newsweek provides a photo overview of changing ideals of masculinity throughout American history. The gallery is based on the work of sociologist Michael Kimmel and his 2005 book Manhood in America: A Cultural History. According to the gallery, we are now in the era of “The New Macho (2000s-2010s)”:

Beta Males–younger guys who treat masculinity as a winking, ironic act–are probably the most noticeable variation on masculinity today, but this piece is about the future, a time when, weirdly, Brad Pitt looks a lot like the New Macho, at least from a parenting perspective. He and his wife (Angelina Jolie) are co-breadwinners, alternating movies while the other one parents the brood. Nannies help, of course, but earlier this year, when asked to explain how she balances work and family, Jolie credited Brad as “the word that makes it possible.”

It is interesting to trace how the ideal has changed over time and how it has been influenced by larger social forces.

Women now earning a majority of PhD degrees

A recent report from the Council of Graduate Schools shows that women now earn 50.4% of all PhDs in the United States. This is a change even from 2000 when the figure for women stood at 44%.

Of course, the figures vary widely by discipline: women dominate in the health sciences (70%), education (67%), public administration and services (61%), and social and behavioral sciences (60%). Men dominate in the fields of engineering (women earn 22% of the PhDs, math and computer science (27% women), physical and earth sciences (33% women), and business (39% women). These figures by discipline are not surprising given the stereotypes present in American society about what work men and women should do.

h/t Instapundit

Comparing male and female drivers

A recent study by New York City shed some light on gender differences in driving and traffic behavior:

80 percent of all crashes in a five-year period in which pedestrians were seriously injured or killed involved men who were driving. The imbalance is far too great to be explained away by the predominance of men among bus, livery, taxi and delivery drivers, said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the city’s Transportation Department…

The males of the species are not only more dangerous as drivers, they are more likely to be hurt while walking, the city’s study found. More men than women were killed or injured as pedestrians in every age group except among those over 64 (perhaps because women live longer and were overrepresented). Boys 5 to 17 years old ranked first in the absolute number of pedestrian deaths and serious injuries, with 785, more than twice the number of girls in that age range, though elderly people were more vulnerable as a share of the population.

The article suggests that boys and girls learn these behaviors at a young age: boys think it is okay to be more aggressive around the street.

So where exactly do boys pick up this information? From their fathers/role models, the media, watching people drive or walk around? This socialization process would an intriguing one to delve into.

The ill effects on men of competing for a spouse

A study in the August issue of Demography found “guys who lived in areas where there was more competition for women wound up dying younger.” The findings were based on data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (a fantastic data source: “a long-term study of a random sample of 10,317 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957“) and Medicare and Social Security records.

According to the authors, there are multiple reasons why this might occur:

Perhaps the increased competition to find a wife made them feel more stress, which can have negative consequences for long-term health.

The men might have had to wait longer to get married, which could be bad for their health. A number of studies have shown that spouses (especially wives) play a role in contributing to one another’s health and survival.

In places where men outnumbered women, the men (on average) had to settle for what the researchers described as a “lower-quality spouse,” which could translate into less coddling and pampering from the wife and thus worse health.

This study is part of a growing body of research that suggest social factors, like the weight of our friends, have a profound influence on our well-being and lifespan.

Also: will the calculators of RealAge add this to their formula?

Skin-whitening cream in India

Yahoo reports on a controversy in India over an ad for Vaseline from Unilever. The campaign was based around having men lighten their Facebook profile pictures.

The ad campaign has drawn attention from around the world as people have both attacked and defended it. The issue is a long-running one in India as it is tied to the caste system and lighter skin people sitting at the top. Skin color has social consequences:

A 2009 poll by an online dating company of 12,000 participants living in Northern India found that they rate skin tone the most important factor in choosing a romantic partner. “Fair skin is generally associated with beauty, greater affluence and increased employability,” writes Riddhi Shah at Salon, who copped to using the creams herself even while criticizing the country’s racist ideas about beauty in her work.

It is interesting that this campaign is targeted toward men as the article suggests this is a recent development in the skin-whitening market in India.

Modern careers more amenable to women?

Hanna Rosin writes in the July/August 2010 issue of The Atlantic about the rise of women in many career fields and the consequences for society. Rosin argues that in addition to women holding “a majority of the nation’s jobs,” dominating higher education, and having a majority in 13 of the 15 job categories predicted to grow the most in the next ten years, more and more jobs today seem suited to women and men have not yet adapted:

The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true.

The list of growing jobs is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes and habits.

Some of this has been more visible lately with the effects of the recent economic trouble, dubbed by some a “man-cession” or “he-pression” due to a disproportionate loss of jobs in male-dominated fields. The loss of manufacturing and manual labor jobs in the last five decades has been severe and men, unlike women, have not yet jumped on the higher education bandwagon.