“I CAME TO WIN,” RIHANNA SINGS in “Fly,” her recent hit with Nicki Minaj: “To fight, to conquer, to thrive; I came to win, to survive, to prosper, to rise. … ” She doesn’t exactly sound like Bruno Mars’s dream date, does she?
“Men are lagging behind young women in the push forward,” says Barbara Ray, co-author of a book, Not Quite Adults, based on research conducted by the MacArthur Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. “Women are surpassing men in a lot of indicators of success.” Men, the network’s research suggests, have become marginalized: The skills women have—they’re better listeners, they work better in teams—are what’s needed in the modern work-world. “Women see a clearer fit for themselves,” says Ray, “and employers do, too.”
When Barry Schwartz started teaching at Swarthmore in the ’70s and would pose a question to a class, “Someone was always interrupting before the question was finished,” he recalls, “and it was always a male.” Now, he says, guys aren’t doing that. A lot of observers say male disengagement in colleges and schools is a result of the “feminization” of our educational system: Boys are told to sit down, shut up and drill to the test; if they can’t, we put them on Adderall.
“Women are really motivated by the idea of school achievement,” says Bogle. “They’ll say, ‘I’ll get a master’s degree next!’ They want to climb that ladder.” But men who are into school are seen as wimpy and nerdy. That helps explain why current college enrollment nationwide is about 60 percent female and only 40 percent male. “Young men are having trouble at institutions of higher learning and in the labor force,” says Temple psychology professor Laurence Steinberg, who just published an updated third edition of his classic You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10-25—with the age range extended from 20 in the prior edition. “There’s more competition from women.” What happens when women outperform men? Men withdraw from the field. Women, Schwartz says, are invested in economic success, but it doesn’t define them: “The stakes are still higher for men. If you lose your job, you’re a failure.” And what if you can’t get a job in the first place, like so many young men?
“The world tells us that white American men are extremely powerful,” says Harper. “Statistics show they are disproportionately advantaged in all sorts of ways. But individual white men don’t feel privileged or advantaged. People pay more attention to women, to minorities, and white men feel, ‘Nobody is paying attention to me.’”
That’s where video games come in. Like porn, they provide a sense of mastery. Research shows males prefer games in which they feel “emotions that sustain dominant masculine identity”—in which they drive fast, blow things up, kill things, and sometimes batter women. But it’s not the content that’s the biggest problem; it’s the time commitment. Half of all college students say video games keep them from studying “some” or “a lot.” A few years back, a disgruntled co-ed told the New York Times she’d sworn off gamers for good because “they’re choosing to do something that wastes their time and sucks the life out of them.”
Something, it seems, is sucking the life out of guys quite literally. One-third of male college students say they’ve experienced erectile dysfunction. Leonard Sax, a family physician for nearly 20 years who authored the book Boys Adrift, saw more and more of them in his Maryland office, asking for Viagra and Cialis. Constant access to porn has desensitized them; they can’t get it up with live girls. “We’re seeing the replacement of penile sex with oral sex,” says Sax, “with the girl on her knees, servicing the boy. Boys and girls both end up losers.” One in five men ages 18 to 25 are now classified as “sub-fertile” because of low sperm count and quality, both of which have been dropping in the developed world for the past 50 years. Curiously, 50 years ago, around 64 percent of all college students were male.
You’d think boys would be feeling bad about their lack of puissance. They’re not, especially, because we’ve painstakingly taught them never to be judgmental. When the authors of the book Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood polled young adults, 47 percent agreed that “morals are relative, there are not definite rights and wrongs for everybody.” If you want to lie in bed all day and beat up virtual hookers—dude, hey, that’s cool.
Irvin Schorsch is the founder of Jenkintown’s Pennsylvania Capital Management, which provides investment advice for 160 wealthy families. More and more of those families have offspring who are failing to launch into successful lives. He worries about the ramifications: “The most important asset any investor has is time. If you want to save a million dollars, I can make that happen—with enough time.” With no head start, the men—and families—of tomorrow will always be playing catch-up. Schorsch takes a hard-core approach to emptying the nest. Many of his clients have children who are in their 50s and still living at home: “People say, ‘It’s for their own good. I can afford it.’ But has that child done well?”