When it comes to men and women in the working world, it’s often assumed that the latter get the short end of the stick. As such, a great deal of time and attention is devoted to helping women break any and all glass ceilings that stand in their way.

But what if women have already achieved parity with the men and are in fact surpassing them?

Although it seems absurd given the cultural mantras we’ve been fed, research is beginning to show that such is the case. One recent NBER paper finds that college-educated men are struggling to stay in the “cognitive/high wage” workforce much more than women. Another NBER paper produced a similar result, finding that young men between the ages of 25 to 34 are specifically the ones in trouble. Richard Reeves and Eleanor Krause of the Brookings Institute elaborate on this trend:

“For all the worries about middle-aged men, it is actually men at the younger end of the prime-age years who have seen the sharpest drop in employment rates:”

Young men, working less

“These are not older men who have been dislocated from traditional manufacturing jobs after years of service. They are younger men who seem to be struggling to connect to the labor market at all.”

As the chart below shows, these young men are not the type who have chosen to bypass college, either. Rather, it is the young men who have put a number of years toward higher education that are suffering. Reeves and Krause explain:

“The negative impact of low levels of education on work rates is significant – and essentially the same for men and women. The employment rate among young adult women with just a high school diploma has dropped by 8.9 percentage points. For men of the same age group, the fall is 9.6 percentage points. Since there are more men with less education, this explains some of the gender difference in employment rate changes.

But it is actually among the better educated that the gender gap emerges. Among those aged 25-34 with a college degree, the male employment rate has dropped twice that of women:”

Young men going to college, but not going to work

According to Reeves and Krause, any number of circumstances may be driving these numbers, including living with parents, being stay-at-home dads, or even entertainment interests like video games.

But what if there’s a deeper, more encompassing problem underlying these circumstances? Is it possible that today’s young men are suffering from a malaise created by current societal norms?

As social psychologist Roy Baumeister explains in his book Is There Anything Good About Men?, manhood and respect has been earned through the centuries by a continual striving and fight for honor. This honor included being able to provide for oneself and for others:

“[T]he culture is just a system that is supposed to provide its members with what they need to survive and, ideally, with some of what they want beyond that minimum. If the culture can convince most or all of the men to produce more than they consume, then the culture will be rich. It will have a surplus, at least, that it can use to take care of many who cannot care for themselves, including the children, the elderly, the sick and injured. It can use the surplus to make favorable deals with other cultures, thereby enriching itself. It can use the surplus to support more children, thereby increasing the size of the next generation. It can use the surplus to support expensive male undertakings too, like military ventures. The surplus food and money can also be used to support soldiers on the march, so they can fend off invaders and perhaps even conquer some rich lands to add to the culture’s revenues.”

But what happens when that masculine desire to be protector and provider is shunned – as it often is today – as a remnant of the patriarchy? Is it possible that today’s young men have picked up on this scorn, and as a result, are less enthused about being an active member of the workforce? And if such a malaise continues, will the culture at large soon kiss its surplus food, money, and protection goodbye?

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