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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Women on the Rise

Across the western world, women are getting better educated, having more economic clout, and are far more prominent in top management in business and politics. Over the long term it is increasingly clear that the 21st century economy is a place where women will often be holding the cards.

This does not appear to be a short term trend to me. Demographically, things are in place in the United States for women to increasingly gain more economic power going forward. The first and most telling place to look is in our colleges and universities.

Figures vary slightly but it appears that women are approximately 58% of the enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities. And, women have significantly higher graduation rates than men. Some 60% of students in masters degree programs are women, and law schools and medical schools currently have an even split between the genders. MBA programs are 40% women today. In 2010, we had a first where there were 28,962 newly minted women PhD’s in America and 28,468 males with new doctoral degrees.

Why is this happening? Some sociologists claim that schools are more geared toward women these days and they value the self control and focus along with verbal skills that seem to come earlier to girls rather than boys. Maturity certainly plays a role as well. Virtually all educators agree that women seem better at time management than men of the same age. Culturally, there have been shifts as well. Today’s women are taking advantage of opportunities that earlier generations did not have. They work harder at an earlier age as many still believe that to succeed they have to be more focused and more productive than their male counterparts.

Men, on the other hand, seem kind of stuck. Jobs that used to attract high school educated men here in the states and provide lifetime employment are but a memory. Increasingly, boys are dropping out of high schools and colleges. Forty years ago, 34% of men went into industrial jobs; now it is 11% and dropping. Men are not adjusting to the knowledge based economy while women, on a relative basis, are thriving. Young men seem to be the last casualities of the end of the era of US manufacturing. There are declining male voting rates in the U.S. No one seems to be encouraging, motivating, or preparing men for their now inescapable future. As more boys fall to the wayside, what can be done?

Colleges are very sensitive about gender imbalance. Few administrators or admissions officers want to talk on the record. While the truly great schools will likely have gender parity as they can pick the best of the best, lesser schools have a real issue. If they move toward parity, are they really engaging in “affirmative action” toward men? Off the record, administrators sometimes confirm that they fear academic standards will be lowered if each new class is approximately 50% male.

Now, let us fast forward about 10 years. In 2010, 51% of people in the US with managerial titles are now women. That number has to be higher in 2020 given the emerging education gap between men and women.

On a social basis, the education gap will cause some discomfort as well. Traditionally, most of us date and eventually marry people who have approximately the same level of education or intellectual curiosity. The common statement from young adults generally is “I want to meet someone on my level.” If, in a few years, 10%+ more women will be vastly better educated than men of their age, how will many women find a soul mate? Today, many successful women say that it is often hard for them to find men who are not threatened by their intellect, impressive jobs, or lofty income. What happens when there are millions more of these women and the available men of the same age seem way behind?

Demographically, people are marrying later than they did 40 years ago and fewer are marrying period. It would seem that fewer professional women will marry as time goes on in the U.S. And, those who do may face some unique problems. Can fragile male egos deal with a wife who earns two or three times what they do? Right now, in two earner households, the wife usually stays home when a child gets sick. That will not happen going forward if the wife is the member of the couple with the high powered job. Big earners will have husbands who will work part time or not at all in some cases.

Interestingly, in countries such as Denmark and Norway where the state provides extensive day care as well as maternity and paternity leave, men seem to help out a lot more in the household. And, they are having larger families than countries like Italy where men do little household chores after work. So, something will have to give in lots of households in the U.S. It is very unlikely given our financial stress and center right political tendencies in the U.S. that America will move toward a Northern European style provider state. Men, then, will have to get more involved in the homely aspects of family life if things are to run smoothly.

Have you thought about these changes that are in motion and cannot be turned around for at least a generation? Can young men become academically competitive with women? Importantly, how this will affect the advertising business? Messaging will have to be different. Right now, a great deal of advertising is aimed at housewives even though relatively few still exist. If men start doing the laundry far more often than now, will Tide start advertising on ESPN aggressively and maybe during the day as millions more men may be at home? Financial advertising will shift as they will aim more at women. If she is earning the money, she will want a huge say in where it should be deployed. It is likely that auto advertising will likely change significantly as well.

Demographics are destiny so these changes are set in motion and will occur. Be ready for them and if you have a son, give him a little extra encouragement and preparation.

If you would like to read more about the topic, there are two recent sources that you might find interesting:

1) “The End of Men”, from Atlantic Magazine, July/August, 2010
2) Influence by Maddy Dychtwald, Voice Publishing, 2010

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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