Men and women in the 21st Century

The ratio of men to women at university is now forty men to sixty women. Thirty years ago it was eighty men to twenty women. There are many changes in the developed world over a generation but this must be one of the most profound in its implications for relationships between the sexes, the upbringing of children and how society looks and feels - but nobody seems to be talking about it.

The objection to the revolutionary tag is that university is not life – that this ratio does not imply a pattern that will run through life with women ascending to the best jobs and opportunities. There is also the view that girls develop and mature earlier than boys and that as the boys catch up a greater equality will manifest itself. Others say that biology will out – that most women have a maternal instinct that will trump ambition and career and that though they might surge in those earlier laps, they will fall back as they chose to focus on children for at least part of their lives.

All of this is true – up to a point. But it still feels like a big change from my own middle class generation  - and an even greater leap from that of my parents where almost none of my parents’ women friends either went to university or worked. They were the last of a way of life that had not changed significantly for many centuries with the exception of the two world wars when women were forced into the labour market by extraordinary circumstances. In both cases fertility control did not happen at the same time and in the aftermath social norms reasserted themselves. We are now in a very different place.

If the statistics play through into real life women will become the major breadwinner. Also they will have to compete  hard for a mate of similar status – the implication being that many will have to make do with someone who is not. If women are the major breadwinner then the role of house-husband will be come the norm rather than the exception. Women will probably expect less from men.

I think that this is something that is happening already in my own generation where I know dozens of intelligent, nice and attractive women in their fifties who are on their own. There are no decent men they say.  The typical explanation is that the men have gone for younger women – but I don’t think this is the answer. It seems to me that their have set their sights too high. The pyramid is narrow at the top and the number of men that tick ten out of ten boxes  - good friend, good lover, good stepfather, solvent, attractive, not too much baggage, healthy, etc is very small. Maybe it is just the statistics reasserting themselves in that there are simply sixty women ticking the ten boxes - but only forty men doing the same.

But back to the current generation, generation Y: will this new social order bring happiness? How will men adapt to the new order and will women welcome it? Will it just be ‘the way things are’ – strange to us and more so to our parents, but the norm for our children? Life will be different – it always is – but I think it will be more different in this generation than in previous. I’m afraid there will be much unhappiness as current expectations and stereotypes adapt to the new reality.

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