The XX Factor

Young Men are Still Expected to Be Providers

Newsweek has a big feature on the “Beached White Male ,” their moniker for middle-aged, college educated professionals who have been out of work during the recession. Five percent of these white men ages 35 to 64 are jobless now-twice the pre-recession rate, Tony Dokoupil and Rick Marin report.

Dokoupil and Marin consult a number of cultural experts who say that the BWM is generally confused, depressed, and impotent. Stephanie Coontz, contributor to DoubleX and the author of A Strange Stirring , had this to share:

This is a generation caught between two ideas of manhood, says Coontz: “Old enough to have been brought up with a model of male breadwinning. Young enough to feel they shouldn’t be threatened if their wife has a job.”

I would argue that the pressure to be a provider extends to the men under 35 as well. While the majority of Americans say the best marriages involve two breadwinners, according to a Pew surevey from late last year (PDF), 67 percent of people said that it’s important for a man to be able to support a family before he gets married. Only 33 percent of Americans said the same for women. High earners, like the BWMs, were particularly likely to say that men should be able to support a family before they get married.

Anecdotally, I would say that rather than educated young white men are not feeling any less pressure to succeed than their slightly older forebears, and many still define themselves through their work. The shift is that young educated women are now feeling that stress in equal measure.