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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Edsall Explores the Roots of Discontent Among Working Class Males

In his essay, “‘It’s Become Increasingly Hard for Them to Feel Good About Themselves,’“New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall shares insights which shed light on the political attitudes of working class males.

Edsall quotes UCLA economist Melanie Wasserman, who notes,

Although a significant minority of males continues to reach the highest echelons of achievement in education and labor markets, the median male is moving in the opposite direction. Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.

He also interviews Berkeley sociologiest Arlie Hochschild, author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” who observes,

Since the 1970s offshoring and automation have hit blue collar men especially hard. Oil, coal — automating, manufacturing, off-shorting, and truck-driving about to go down. Non-BA males are in an especially vulnerable place. I saw it in Louisiana, and again where I’m interviewing in Appalachia. It’s become increasingly hard for them to feel good about themselves.

Edsall notes, further,”In a 2018 essay in The New York Review of Books, “Male Trouble,” Hochschild described the predicament of less well educated men:”

Compared to women, a shrinking proportion of men are earning BAs, even though more jobs than ever require a college degree, including many entry-level positions that used to require only a high school diploma. Among men between twenty-five and thirty-four, 30 percent now have a BA or more, while 38 percent of women in that age range do. The cost of this disadvantage has only grown with time: of the new jobs created between the end of the recession and 2016, 73 percent went to candidates with a BA or more. A shrinking proportion of men are even counted as part of the labor force; between 1970 and 2010, the percentage of adult men in a job or looking for work dropped from 80 to 70 while that of adult women rose from 43 to 58. Most of the men slipping out lack BAs.

“While many of the men Hochschild writes about see a future of diminished, if not disappearing,” Edsall writes, “prospects, men in elite professions continue to dominate the ranks of chef executives, top politicians and the highest paying professorships.”

Edsall reviews some of the science regarding developmental differences of males and females, then quotes from a paper by Wasseerman and M.I.T. economist David Autor, which notes “Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.” Looking toward the future, they write,

The stagnation of male educational attainment bodes ill for the well-being of recent cohorts of U.S. males, particularly minorities and those from low-income households. Recent cohorts of males are likely to face diminished employment and earnings opportunities and other attendant maladies, including poorer health, higher probability of incarceration, and generally lower life satisfaction.

…A growing body of evidence supports the hypothesis that the erosion of labor market opportunities for low-skill workers in general — and non-college males in particular — has catalyzed a fall in employment and earnings among less-educated males and a decline in the marriage rates of less-educated males and females. These developments in turn diminish family stability, reduce household financial resources, and subtract from the stock of parental time and attention that should play a critical role in fomenting the educational achievement and economic advancement of the next generation.

Edsall adds, “They warn that “a vicious cycle” may be emerging, “with the poor economic prospects of less-educated males creating differentially large disadvantages for their sons, thus potentially reinforcing the development of the gender gap in the next generation.” Also,

Another reflection of this pattern, according to Autor and Wasserman, “is the growing divergence in high school girls’ and boys’ expectations of obtaining a four-year college degree.” Among cohorts of high school seniors interviewed between 1976 and 2006, “a gap opens between boys’ and girls’ expectations for BA attainment starting in the early 1980s and cumulates thereafter.” They add that “growing up in a single-parent home appears to significantly decrease the probability of college attendance for boys, yet has no similar effect for girls.”

In addition, Edsall quotes University of Louisville political science professor Adam Enders, who “sees the troubles of young white men in particular as an outcome of their partisan resentments.” Enders notes, “My take is that lower class white males likely have lower trust in institutions of higher education over time. This bears out in the aggregate,” he wrote, citing a Pew Research Survey.

Part of the reason for this — at least among some conservative males — is the perception that colleges are tools for leftist indoctrination — a perception increasingly fueled by the right, including top Republican and conservative leaders. Indeed, there is a hefty split between Democrats and Republicans in their orientations toward the education system. Republicans became more negative than positive about education since around 2016.

Edsall concludes that the key issue “is how the country should deal with the legions of left-behind men, often angry at the cataclysmic social changes, including family breakdown, that have obliterated much that was familiar. In 2020, white men voted for Trump 61-38. Many of these men have now become the frontline troops in a reactionary political movement that has launched an assault on democracy. What’s next?”

2 comments on “Edsall Explores the Roots of Discontent Among Working Class Males

  1. Martin Lawford on

    “Indeed, there is a hefty split between Democrats and Republicans in their orientations toward the education system. Republicans became more negative than positive about education since around 2016.”

    In general, Democrats on college faculty outnumber Republicans by 10-1. (Source: National Association of Scholars) Of 51 liberal arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News and World Report, two out of five had no Republicans at all on their faculty. In their chemistry and economics departments, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 5.5 to 1. In their engineering departments, the colleges had 1.6 Democrats for each Republican, while in their anthropology departments Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 133-1. Why wouldn’t Republicans feel negative toward colleges and universities, since colleges and universities shun Republicans.

    Reply
    • fred sims on

      How do colleges shun Republicans? Last time I looked anyone with a high school diploma and some students who don’t yet have one can attend college. But if one sees no value in higher education/training, will be left behind no matter who is in power. These men must have missed the last 40 years of wage stagnation aided by union busting and the
      failure of a certain pollical party to fund higher education and the 24/7365 drone of ” be afraid white people” from FOX and other right wing media sources. Should these men one day wake up and ask the question “who are those guys who are really screwing us and why do we vote for them”? America might see a much better future.
      who is screwing them

      Reply

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