Bettina Arndt April 15, 2012
Making waves again ... Charles Murray.
Charles Murray is used to making waves. The American political scientist's book, The Bell Curve, linked race and intelligence, causing a huge stir almost two decades ago. Now he's provocatively suggesting we should tell unemployed males they are behaving badly. Healthy working-age males who aren't working or looking for work should be openly regarded by their fellow citizens as ''lazy, irresponsible and unmanly'', he argues. ''They are, for want of a better word, bums.''
What's surprising is that Murray's attack on these men comes despite his acknowledgment in his new book, Coming Apart, that there is now little social incentive for working-class men to try to gain work. He lays the blame for this on perverse incentives created by the growing welfare state and the increasing economic independence of women: ''As women needed men less, the social status that working-class men enjoyed if they supported families began to disappear. The sexual revolution exacerbated the situation, making it easy for men to get sex without bothering to get married. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that male fecklessness bloomed, especially in the working class.''
So the response to the dilemma faced by these men is to call them names? Naturally, Murray's proposal has irritated many men, with male bloggers leaping to the defence of their maligned brothers. ''Men, like men always do, are simply reacting to the conditions set on the ground by women,'' Heartiste (heartiste .wordpress.com) writes. He argues women's improved employment numbers, education and earning power (some of it contributed by government largesse) has shrunk their acceptable dating pool.
Given that most women are attracted to men with higher status and more resources than themselves, this means financially independent women and those on government assistance are going to find fewer men in their social milieu attractive.
Heartiste concludes: ''Men slowly discover that the effort to win women's attention via employment is not rewarding them the way it did for their dads and granddads, and that now only herculean efforts to make considerably more than women will give them an edge in the mating market.''
In Australia, it is clear these men have little chance of pulling this off. Bob Birrell and colleagues from Melbourne's Monash University have long been tracking the situation of these low-income men, following up on their 2004 paper Men and Women Apart, which clearly showed such men to be the big losers in the partnering stakes. Birrell found that 59 per cent of men earning less than $16,000 were unpartnered - compared with 29 per cent of men earning $52,000 or more. Birrell's group has tracked the economic prospects of these men since the mid-1980s, showing increasing difficulties in finding full-time employment. Although there has been some improvement in the past five years in available work, Birrell points out the capacity of these men to set up independent households has declined due to increasing housing shortages in many major cities.
Almost a third of men with incomes less than $31,000 live at home with parents.
By the time these men hit their 30s, they face an additional complication - a great many of the women in their social world are lone parents. Thirty-one per cent of single women aged 30 to 34 are lone parents, as are 44 per cent of 35- to 39-year-olds.
Given the limited earning capacity of many of these men, they can't compete with the security offered by a sole-parent pension.
''Men with limited economic resources are being hit twice,'' Birrell says.
''They do not have much to offer financially as partners and the resources they do possess do not go as far as in previous decades in meeting the costs of establishing and maintaining married partnerships.''
Marriage is simply not on the cards for many of these men and that means they miss out on one of the key incentives for male industry. Many have written about the ''marriage gradient'' - the fact that married men work longer hours, earn more money, spend less time in bars and generally keep their nose to the grindstone rather than indulging in feckless behaviour. Family life has traditionally given a man reason to invest beyond himself.
As the Nobel prize-winning economist George Akerlof put it: ''Men settle down when they get married: if they fail to get married they fail to settle down.''
It is also true that when they lose their marriages, that incentive disappears. How many married men work two or three jobs to support their children but, after losing their families through divorce, cut back on work to reduce their child support?
Name-calling hardly seems a fair response to the sad plight of these marginal single men, locked out of the incentive system that keeps other men's noses to the grindstone.