Published on Sustainable Cities

The End of Men: And the Peril of Cities

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Men at Work signThere’s been lots of talk lately on Hanna Rosin’s new book, ‘The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.” In it she outlines the long decline of ‘cardboard’ men and the steady rise of ‘plastic’ and adaptable women.

In the US, for example, for every two men who will get a bachelor’s degree this year, three women will graduate. In 1950, 1-in-20 men in their prime were not working; today it’s 1-in-5. A young black man in the US has roughly an equal chance of ending up in prison or college. In almost all countries young men are 2 to 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women, and in many countries suicide is the second leading cause of death for young men; second only to accidental deaths1.

The recent economic slow-down has been disproportionately hard on men around the world, and of the 15 job categories expected to grow fastest in the future, women mainly staff 132.

Not that I’m keeping score, but my personal numbers: one accomplished wife (who got her husband to move to her); two amazing daughters (one just finishing a business degree, the other in second-year engineering); in almost twenty years at the World Bank, I’ve had 17 bosses (11 women, 6 men); I’ve managed and mentored at least 25 junior staff (17 women, 8 men). In the last ten years, I’ve interviewed more than 100 Young Professional Program applicants; about 60 percent were women. I’ve met with about 40 graduate classes at some of the best universities in North America and Europe; in every class, women outnumbered men. With numbers like those maybe I should retreat to my man-cave and be thankful that there was no National Football League (American) players' lockout this season and look to blame someone for the current National Hockey League players' lockout.

But wait, some other numbers: women very rarely make-up more than 20 percent of any country’s government; of the Fortune 500 companies, less than 4 percent are run by women CEOs – their board of directors aren’t much better. Anyone who travels a lot is struck by the high percentage of men in airport lounges and in business class. On the last Lufthansa flight I took, there were 28 business class passengers, 27 were men. And in almost all job categories women still get paid less than men for work of equal value. Men may be dead, but they sure are hanging around.

In a recent Atlantic article Anne-Marie Slaughter3 lamented that women still can’t have it all. She argued that the upper corporate echelons remain stacked against women who try to juggle child rearing with career. She definitely has a point, but no one can have it all, or at least not all at the same time. Talk to those men sitting in business class and you will find that most miss their families dearly and that they are deeply worried about their sons’ and daughters’ futures. Or they are so insular that they flit through their careers like butterflies. One good gale and their lives and careers are completely changed.

We really are all in this together. And this is where cities come in.

Ask any mayor what he (they are still mostly men) is most concerned about. He’s likely to answer ‘jobs and the state of young men in the city.’ Young 16 to 30 year old disengaged men are most inclined to agitate, for bad and good. The Arab Spring was mostly a young man’s fancy. More than 60 percent of the Wall Street Occupiers (inside and out) are men. Personal crime is usually at the hand of young men.

A city is only as strong as its weakest constituency.  Everyone needs to feel as if they belong and are valued in the city where they live. This may not be possible for everyone all the time, but if large parts of the population disengage, everyone feels the impacts.

Men can be particularly bad at asking for directions. Cities will increasingly need to give young men a hand in helping them get to where they’re going. Youth programs, mentor-ships, organized sports and the arts, targeted jobs: no one can help young men more than cities. The really successful cities, however, will be the ones that do this without taking anything away from the special programs that young women also need.

A successful city is one where everyone can walk the streets and feel safe and secure.

Just as men need women for more than their good managerial skills, women need men for more than moving furniture and pushing them out of the snow bank. ‘Men at work’ works for all, as everyone needs a stake in the future of his or her city.


Photo source: Amy McTigue, Flickr Creative Commons


Dan Hoornweg

Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

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