(WGHP) — Times ain’t what they used to be.
In just the last 60 years or so, much of the working world and higher education have opened to women in a way their ancestors never knew. It’s produced a lot of great outcomes but one that social scientists say is just now emerging is the way it has affected men.
“Gender in general has definitely changed over the past several generations in terms of how people are socialized in terms of expectations for themselves,” said Arielle Kuperperg, a sociology professor at UNC-Greensboro. “I think in some ways, those expectations have changed more for women than for men. So women have opened up a wide range of roles that they could go into that they previously weren’t able to go into. With men, I think the emphasis is still on being more of a financial provider. But ideas of ‘you should marry a man who can provide for you, and you should marry up’ are still there, right? ‘You shouldn’t marry down in education. ‘Those ideas are still lingering, and young men can’t fill these roles, but the idea of the roles are still there.”
This is leading to some serious issues. The Pew Center recently did a study that showed that 63% of men 30-and-under are not even interested in having a romantic relationship, though Professor Kuperberg says there may be other issues helping drive that, including the fact that 43% of women in that age range say they are also not interested in dating.
“I think there’s a lot of despair among younger generations or a sense of kind of hopelessness about the future or worry about the future,” Professor Kuperberg said. “And I think in order to settle down with people and have kids, you have to have faith that the future is going be there and kind of be a stable place for you to raise your kids. A lot of young people today…want to have children, but they feel like they can’t afford it. I don’t think childbearing rates are plummeting because everybody hates kids all of a sudden.”
Cone Health psychologist Jenna Mendelson says these trends should not be taken lightly.
“There are real physical and mental implications of not having meaningful social connection with other people,” Mendelson said. “We know there’s research that shows prolonged periods of loneliness is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So there are real physical and mental implications of not having meaningful social connection with other people.”
But Mendelson sees those same trends that Professor Kuperberg sees and realizes the challenge society has.
“If this shift towards men being more lonely has to do with women raising their standards or being more independent…it’s kind of a problem if you have to force people to be in a relationship with you…maybe it’s a bit of a crucible, forcing a change that might be healthy for everybody,” Mendelson said.
She remains optimistic, especially in teaching boys how to handle the anger that comes with social isolation.
“I think this is kind of the early sign of a longer-term change, and we’re noticing this, and I think there is kind of a sense of what to do,” Mendelson said. “We can teach little boys how to identify their emotions and talk about them and allow them to be vulnerable, and this can change.”
Professor Kuperberg thinks things will get better, too.
“I do think people have the capacity to figure things out. I think we’re in a particularly bad time right now where it’s kind of hard to see that, and we haven’t figured things out yet,” she said.
See more on this phenomenon in this edition of The Buckley Report.