Ross Douthat and Matt Yglesias are going back and forth on why so many men have turned into emasculated, worthless sacks of X-box playing crap.
But the world Yglesias is describing is a world where the short-term rational self-interest of both sexes — the understandable female desire to have children without taking on the burden of husbands who are often basically children themselves, and the understandable male desire not to take a steady but low-paying job when they can work part-time, goof off on the XBox, and still find willing sexual partners — conspires to keep some of the crucial ingredients of long-term happiness out of reach for a larger and larger share of the population. So yes, it’s a good thing that many working-class women can make enough money to support themselves and raise a child without a husband, rather than being forced into destitution instead. But it isn’t “condescending” to these mothers (as Kate Roiphe implausibly suggests) to note that raising a child is personally and psychologically stressful like almost nothing else in life, that raising a child alone or semi-alone compounds the stress, and that many if not most single mothers would probably be happier and more secure, both in the work lives and their home lives, if the males in their social circles seemed reliable enough to marry. Likewise the men: The fact that being a slacker and a layabout in your 20s and 30s is easier, more fun and more economically rational than ever before doesn’t change the reality that men who don’t make the effort to make themselves marriageable are missing out on an institution that’s generally good for their health and well-being in the long run.
If the assumption is that men have just become lazy, emasculated slackers because they can, I think I’d have to disagree.
Men are inherently rational, they respond to incentives, and the primary interest of men is women. You ever heard people say, “Follow the money?” Well, when it comes to men and why they do what they do, a much better rule is “Follow the women.”
So, why are some guys behaving like this? There are different reasons for it…
1) Maybe some of them are getting laid ANYWAY. Given the number of kids being born out of wedlock, there are obviously a lot of women having sex with men they don’t consider marriage material. So, if you can play video games, work a part time job, live in your mom’s basement and STILL find lots of willing partners, well, you know, why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?
2) If you go back 50 years, what men want out of a woman they marry is probably roughly the same while many women want a lot, lot more out of men. The old social contract was that a man used to work 40 hours a week, take care of his wife and kids, and he wanted her to be pretty, give him sex, take care of the family, and be nice to him. The woman wanted a man whom she found attractive, was nice to her, and took good care of her and the family. There was the basic social arrangement.
Now, men seem to generally want the same things, but a lot of women have careers and there are more college educated women than men. Women like that don’t need a man to take care of them. They also don’t want to “marry down.” A CEO might marry a maid, but Maureen Dowd probably ain’t marrying a janitor. So now, a lot more women want a man who’s attractive, nice, is more successful than they are, supports them in their career, is okay if they decide not to have kids, views them as the “co-king” of the house, and they want to marry for love, not because they need to be taken care of. Is it a much better deal for women? Yes, it certainly seems to be. Is it a much worse, much more demanding deal for men? Again, yes, it sure does seem to be. If you’re the type of guy who used to have a high school education, went to work in a factory, married a woman and had 2.5 kids, your marriage prospects have dipped tremendously in the last 50 years and some of them may just be saying, “Screw it, I give up and I’ll play video games instead.”
3) The ideal female fantasy has always been to find a man and settle down while the ideal male fantasy has been to get laid a lot. That’s not to say that men don’t want long-term relationships, because a lot of them do. It’s just noting that the natural ideals of both sexes are a little different.
However, the problem is that marriage has become much less attractive to men over the last 50 years. They’re often no longer needed to take care of a wife and family the way they used to be. Divorce is much more common and the court system is heavily stacked against the man. The man can do nothing wrong, end up with a no-fault divorce he didn’t want, and have to pay a big chunk of his check to a wife who did nothing to help his career, ruined their marriage, and to help kids the court doesn’t allow him to see nearly as much as he’d like. Meanwhile, even if everything goes well, because of Social Security, Welfare, and the extreme increase in the cost of raising a child, children are much more of a financial burden and much less financially necessary after you get old. In other words, kids used to be an economic necessity, but now they’re more of an expensive option.
None of this is meant to be anti-marriage. It’s just an explanation. People don’t do things for no reason. They respond to incentives and in our society, there have been a lot of incentives put in place that make marriage much less attractive to men and so it’s no surprise that it’s impacting their behavior.