The Economy and Changing Gender Roles

I opened the Atlantic this week to read the cover story, with the subheading “In today’s economy, men are falling apart. What that means for sex and marriage.” The article includes personal anecdotes, historical notes on the history of marriage, sociological examples of on-Western cultures, and theories on marriage and love. Particularly interesting were theories on how sex and gender roles shift when a society has either a surplus or men or a surplus of women, a “crises in gender.” The article notes that monogamy increases but traditional roles of women staying in the home are found when men outnumber women. However, when men are in short supply, men often have several choices in a partner, and rates of settling into monogamous relationships decline. Some real life examples were cited that seem to support the theory presented (the American South following the Civil War, modern day Siberia), but all focus on situations in which the actual sex ratios have been altered, usually by war or some other disaster. According to the Guttentag-Secord theory, the surplus sex is less dependent on their partner, changing the game in favor of their priorities. The implications are potentially related to a world in which women may not outnumber men in actual counts, but in status. Women are now the majority graduate and bachelor degree holders, and are increasingly becoming the bread-winners in homes struck by the recession. The article cites that there is a growing short-supply of “desirable” men, meaning well educated or financially secure, in order to match up with the women of the same status. The conclusion the article makes is that women now have to choose between playboys or deadbeats, given the statistics out there. I doubt that is the full story. It is, perhaps, a controversial issue, but thinking about supply and demand in our sexual pairings, and the potential downstream effects on society (via decreased marriage rates and increasing numbers of children born in single parent households), is one worth giving some thought.