Boston University School of Law

January, 2013


Evolution of Breadwinners Debated at End of Men Conference

An interdisciplinary array of professors from across the U.S. traveled to BU Law for two days to debate journalist Hanna Rosin’s claim that women are adapting well to the post-manufacturing economy while men are not. Hanna Rosin thanked participants for helping her to “refine her thesis” with response papers to her 2012 book The End of Men and the Rise of Women. The scholarship generated for the End of Men Conference will be published in the BU Law Review in the May 2013 issue.


Keynote address

Hanna Rosin acknowledged her contentious choice of words that places men at their “end” under a high earning “matriarchy.” The data show that women comprise half of the workforce with less earning power than men in the same positions. But the story Rosin set out to tell moves beyond economics into relationship dynamics within couples where women are earning more than men. “Breadwinner wives” received particular attention during the Great Recession when three-quarters of the lost jobs had belonged to men. Rosin shared reflections from working class men in post-manufacturing Alexander City who ultimately lost the provider role that gave them their identity—“suddenly, it’s us relying on the women” instead of taking care of them.

Rosin also listed social consequences of changing gender roles. She sees a drive in women that is common for marginalized groups who must “move forward or fall through the cracks.” Many single women on college campuses are “actively avoiding being pinned down” in long-term relationships, which might distract them from becoming “independent and secure.” The advent of “seesaw marriages,” in which spouses trade breadwinning, reveals that women coming into power is not necessarily linked with men coming out of it. These marriages join two economically independent individuals. But the trend toward “consolidation of knowledge and wealth” may turn marriage into “something that’s reserved for the educated and the elites.”

Responses to keynote address

Professors Ralph Richard Banks of Stanford Law School and Michael Kimmel of the Department of Sociology at SUNY Stonybrook commented in response to the opening keynote. Banks noted that after graduating from elite schools and entering professions on equal footing with men, many highly educated women leave those professions in ten or fifteen years under the demands of childcare. The result is that “women best positioned to transform their education into income” often don’t because they can choose between work and staying home. But men work under the “persistent expectation” that staying home is not an option. Kimmel added that only the “economic, political, familial and sexual” entitlement of privileged men ends under the rise of women. Everyone benefits if the acceptance of women as breadwinners relieves pressure on men, allowing them “to become as three-dimensional as women have become.”

Professor Joan C. Williams of the University of California-Hastings College of Law later shifted the focus from gender to class by quoting Rosin—“What dried up was a path to the middle class and all the familiar landmarks that went with it.” Williams said that the Great Recession “eviscerated” the middle class who already struggled to pay their bills on a single middle class salary. Rosin’s book “documents the absolute humiliation” of today’s working class men because one in five cannot find work. Meanwhile, only 15% of partners at law firms are women, and their annual salaries average $237,000 less than men in the same positions. Elite professional men appear to be breadwinning as usual.

Panel presentations

Twenty-eight professors across six panels presented original papers on historical perspectives, employment, family, education, international perspectives, and continuing inequality. The comprehensive exploration of gender in society provided support, critique, and extensions of Rosin’s analysis.

Panel 1


Panel 1 examined historical end-of-men concerns 1) within the women’s anti-suffrage movement, 2) during the reversal of Reconstruction gains, and 3) following the Moynihan Report. In the first case, women of Boston Brahmin families argued that empowered women would take men’s jobs. Elite women of the time did not want their political power as leaders of charitable groups to be watered down by lower class women’s votes. In the second case, Black men asserted masculinity in church governance to counteract their “feminization” by discrimination and racial violence. In the third case, Black feminists spurred victories in gender equality cases of the 1970s by questioning whether “a male breadwinner female homemaker model was the gold standard for family structure generally and for racial progress in particular.” End-of-men concerns may arise from economic pressure on traditional gender roles, but the solution is not women as “one half of the 1%”—an egalitarian elite.

Panel 2

Panel 2 examined whether the economy works differently for women and men. Long-term unemployment is a problem for both genders, with 43% of unemployed women and 44% of unemployed men unable to find jobs for more than twenty-seven weeks. Women dominate twelve of the fifteen top-growing occupations. But these occupations may not confer economic security. The two top-growing occupations are personal care aids and home health aids with median annual earnings below $20,000. Many men are impeded in career shifts to the growing occupations by their sense of male breadwinning—it’s “not a masculine performance if you’re working as a nurse or as a teacher.” Despite the persistence of gender associations in occupations, personnel decisions based on stereotypes are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Panel 3

Panel 3 examined economic stressors on marriage and childrearing. Divorce rates have decreased to 1960s levels for college graduates who build life around two incomes. For everyone else, divorce rates are increasing. Marriage may be a bad deal for women who “earn money and take care of kids and still are socialized to defer to men” who may not be “stable, reliable, good partners.” The current reality of Black women—outpacing Black men’s educational achievement two to one and forgoing childbearing in favor of work more than any subset of women—may be the future reality of middle-class White women. For low-income earners, the feminization of poverty in the 1970s continues to penalize poor fathers if they fall short on economic provision. These fathers cannot vindicate themselves by insisting, “I’m not a paycheck, I’m a dad.” Photographs in Rosin’s New York Times article, Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?, capture male failed-provider anxiety by showing unemployed husbands “propped up” by their breadwinning wives. Nobody is smiling about the arrangement.

Panel 4

Panel 4 examined educational outcomes. Compared to girls, boys make less eye contact, hear the human voice less acutely, and fidget more in the womb. These differences set up “the perfect storm of developmental problems as soon as these little guys hit school” where they are confronted with “let me see your eyes,” “you’re not listening,” and “please sit still.” Anti-bullying policies focus on direct communication in relationships, which may be in tension with the nonjudgmental acceptance of boys as “rough and tumble players with attention issues.” Single-sex classrooms in co-ed schools overcompensate—a warm tone of voice for teaching girls versus shouting at boys, classical music and reading to start the day for girls versus physical exercise for boys. But the impressive outcomes of single-sex schools such as The Young Women’s Leadership Schools may not be “a gender story in particular” given the reality that “a school with an idea and with energy does better than a school without an idea and without energy.” Women’s “gains [in school] have not translated into money and influence” after school due to a higher standard—“women are hired on performance, men are hired on potential.”

Panel 5

Panel 5 examined gender equity under religious and secular regimes. Under Orthodox Judaism in Israel, women are in the workforce supporting men who “pursue the supreme life activity—learning.” Secular law provides a parallel authority to challenge the religious orthodoxy that decries gender equality as a “violation of God’s law.” Under the Catholic church in Western Europe, the Vatican influenced a recall campaign for French schoolbooks referencing gender as partly a social construct. The rationale of the campaign was that “sex distinctions are what enables human reasoning.” Under the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Guardian Counsel disqualifies women from election candidacy and universities bar women from over seventy disciplines. Women are segregated into health and education careers. Within terrorism discourse in Ireland, women’s presence in the traditionally male space of violence against the state may be “a deeper form of patriarchal reinvention” because women often adopt “the very masculinities that drive the violence.” Under the European Commission, a gender balance rule for corporate boards safeguards against either gender subordinating the other in an economy where women may outcompete men.

Panel 6

Panel 6 examined whether end-of-men concerns obscure broader, entrenched inequality. Female breadwinning and male unemployment were cast as symptoms of Black family pathology in the Moynihan Report. But the same developments for White families now bring accolades to women and empathy to men. One difference may be the fear of female-headed Black families turning to the state for support. In response to that fear, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) may encourage these families “to become independent of the state by becoming dependent on a wage earning man.” That approach reinforces traditional gender roles. But poor educational outcomes and hyper-incarceration narrow the field of economically secure Black men—one half of Black boys will not graduate high school and two thirds of poor Black men will serve jail time. Meanwhile, five men are vying to replace the first woman mayor of post-manufacturing Alexander City as she completes her tenure.

The end of men may not be the panoramic view of our time, but Rosin gives a revealing snapshot of a popular unease “at the level of values.” In a recent Spiegel interview, Rosin explained, “one young man . . . put it very well when he told me that theoretically and politically he believes in the idea of a househusband 100%—he just doesn't want to be one himself.”

Reported by David Linhart ('12)


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