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Thursday, May 19, 2011



James R. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D.
© May 19, 2011

A generation ago, when the Feminist Movement was in full stride, women came to view life through the feminist prism.  They campaigned for an Office of Gender Equity, insisting there was a gender bias favoring men, especially with regard to education.  What now seems like ancient history, in 1970, it was then observed:

  • While boys get higher scores in mathematics, girls get higher scores in reading and writing;
  • Boys in eighth grade are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, while boys in high school constitute 68 percent of the special education population;
  • 67 percent of female high school graduates go on to college, compared to 58 percent of male high school graduates. 
  • Women were only 41 percent of all college graduates. 

Regarding graduate education, in 1970:

  • Women receive 40 percent of all master’s degrees;
  • Two thirds of all master’s degree candidates and more than half of all master’s degree holders today are women;
  • Women earned only 6 percent of all first professional degrees; by 1991 that figure had increased to 39 percent, and now hovers around 50 percent;
  • Only 14 percent of all doctoral degrees went to women; by 1991 that figure was up to 39 percent, while today it is pressing 50 percent. 
  • The medical degree earned by women between 1970 and 1991 jumped from 8 percent to 36 percent.  By 1993, 42 percent of first-year medical students were women; today more than half of all medical students are women.
  • In 1970, 5 percent of women earned law degrees; by 1991, that figure was up to 40 percent, and today is around 50 percent;
  • In 1970, women earned 1 percent of dental degrees compared with 32 percent in 1991, and today more than half first year dental students are women, and more than 40 percent have earned dental degrees;
  • Women today earn the majority of doctoral degrees in pharmacy and veterinary medicine. 

The gender imbalance is even more pronounced for African American and Hispanic women.  In 1990, fully 62 percent of all bachelor’s degrees to African Americans went to women, while 55 percent of Hispanic students receiving bachelor’s degrees were women.  In 1990, the white student imbalance was 53 percent to 47 percent in favor of women.  It is even more pronounced today. 

*     *     *


On April 4, 2011, I wrote an article in longhand on my observations on men who refused to work and the women who support them.  I wrote it while waiting for my daughter at the eye clinic where she was operated on for a detached retina.   

On May 11, 2011, New York Times columnist wrote an article on the very same subject, not speaking from empirical data but economic statistics.  Brooks insisted in his piece that energy define us, and that we are becoming less energetic insofar as American males are concerned.

In 1954, 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 were actively engaged in some kind of regular work.  Today, that number has slipped to 80 percent, whereas women, once only allowed to enter the workforce in small numbers in menial tasks have steadily increased in the last half-century. 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States now lags behind all other G-7 nations in prime age men in the workforce.  Brooks quips,

“More American men lack the emotional and professional skills they would need to contribute.” 

Most startlingly, however, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 35 percent of those males are without high school diplomas whereas only 10 percent of college degreed men are out of work. 

Brooks becomes something of an apologist for me relating to the structural changes in the economy, which although relevant, fail to get inside the fact that there are more idle men walking the streets of the United States anytime since the Great Depression.  Brooks sees the problem in terms of economics when it seems clear to me it has been a natural progression of the Feminist Movement as many American males feel emasculated by soaring prominence of women “to forget their place.” 

James Burke and Robert Ornstein presented a conceptual framework for such perturbations in The Axemaker’s Gift: A Double-Edged History of Human Culture (1995).  They argued that with each cultural change something is gained at the expense of something lost, never to be experienced again.  Half the world’s population is women.  Yet, prior to WWII, they had been given secondary and subjugated roles.  It was evident ten-years after WWII, that society wanted to put the genie back in the bottle as displayed in Good Housekeeping Monthly (May 13, 1955):

The Good Wife’s guide:

  • Has dinner ready, plans ahead, even the night before to have a delicious meal on time for her husband’s return.  This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking of him and are concerned about his needs. 
  • Prepare yourself.  Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he comes home.  Touch up your make up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking.
  • Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him.
  • Clear away the clutter.  Make one last trip around the house before he arrives.
  • Gather up schoolbooks, toys and papers and run a dust cloth over the furnisher.
  • Over the cooler months of the year light a fire for him to unwind by.
  • Prepare the children.  See that they are clean, are not noisy, and eliminate all noise from vacuum cleaners to dryers.
  • Be happy to see him.
  • Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
  • Listen to him.  You may have dozens of important things to tell him, but this is not the moment.  Remember, his topics of interest are more important than yours.
  • Make the evening his.  Never complain if he comes home late, or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you.  Try to understand his stress.
  • Your goal is to make your home a place of peace, order and tranquility.
  • Don’t greet him with complaints and problems.
  • Don’t complain if he’s late or stays out all night.
  • Make him comfortable.  Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
  • Arrange his pillows and offer to take his shoes off.
  • Don’t ask him about his actions or question his judgments or integrity.
  • A good wife always knows her place

The retinue of this fading fantasy is evident in 20 percent of American men ages 25 to 54 who aren’t working, or if working, not doing what they were trained to do.  I know: 

  • An attorney with several degrees including a doctor in jurisprudence that refuses to practice law, or when he does practice it, gives away his services to friends, while his family suffers mightily for the indulgence, forcing his wife to work as a freelance model driving fifty, sixty or more miles for auditions while still being mother, housekeeper, and taxi service for her husband and children.  
  • A father of two who sits at home strumming his guitar when he is able bodied except for the carpal tunnel syndrome, a disorder from overworking the hands performing the repetitive task of strumming the guitar all day long.
  • A number of college graduates who have given up the effort to find work while living with and off wives or girlfriends.
  • Women who work at the expense of time with their children when there husband makes a good living, but feels the wife should be working as hard as he is bringing in money, when he forgets her full-time non-paying jobs is wife and mother, and primary nurturer of the children. 
  • Of a couple that has four preteen children in which the husband is a high school graduate and the wife a college graduate.  She is a dedicated mother feeling she cannot afford to take on a full time teaching position, but substitute teaches and cleans houses to make ends meet, while her husband refuses to leave a job that, at best, is only part-time and never brings in much income.
Women described here are treated in the manner of this 1955 Good Housekeeping guide although none of theme was yet born.  They subscribe to the 1955 dictum, “a good wife knows her place.” 

*     *     *


Humorous James Thurber wrote a short story in 1939, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which touched the collective American psyche denoting the ineffectual male who spends his time in heroic daydreams paying little attention to the real world. 

Many of the men described above fit into the Walter Mitty Syndrome as they live in the “what if” world:

  • Had I gotten the breaks I would have made something of myself.
  • Had I been born into a better situated family I would be better off now.
  • Had I gotten the breaks writing a song I might have had a career.
  • Had I married the right woman I would not have been dragged down to this.
  • Had I not had children I would not have had to struggle.
  • Had I gone into the military or the government I’d be retired by now with a great pension.

Men who don’t work are great daydreamers, which is consistent with Thurber’s short story.  Walter Mitty would spend his day in a deep state of daydreaming imagining himself a fighter pilot during WWII, a world-class doctor, always someone far removed from what he was doing. 

It was why in that eye clinic waiting for my daughter that I wrote this missive, which follows.

*     *     *


People in the 1970’s watched their families disintegrate as women increasingly carried the economic and emotional load.

Since then, women not only do most of the work, but they are a taxi service for the demands of their mate.  They carry their children to and fro, go to the grocery store, and dry cleaners for their husbands, and suffer the aggravations as well as the joys of their children. 

They are the silent partners in the marital relationship, and never in the know, until their husbands need a signature on a second or third mortgage.  Husbands make deals and then tell their wives after the fact.  It would never occur to them to ask for counsel and in put from their wives.  They are always in the know, and often to the family’s ruin.   

Husbands scheme and daydream, and find no need to consult their wives for ideas on the matter thinking they have the superior minds and information.  

The nostalgia for the way it was hangs on.  Men are involved.  Their women are treated as maids, housekeepers, nannies, chefs, dishwashers, launderers and supervisors of their children, keeping order and avoiding chaos with little allocated down time.

This situation is independent of socio-economic status, education, or social standing.  Families with the advantage of affluence, education, cultural enhancement, travel and social engagement are just as likely to have this male attribution.  .

The only time attention is brought to this matter is when women are coming apart, in failing health, and are forced to slow down or stop this demanding schedule.  Women persevere, for the most part, in the most trying circumstances.  . 


Cultural bias would imply that I am addressing the dregs of society.  Not true.  Men who won’t work can be physicians in their forties who won’t practice medicine, attorneys who won’t practice law, carpenters who won’t apply their craft, and yes, poorly educated men who have lost their safe jobs in automobile manufacturer, chemical processing, oil refineries, or other previously safe jobs for the unskilled and undereducated.  These workers refuse to suffer the embarrassment of going back to night school or junior college to learn twenty-first century skills.

These men could be teachers who are no longer up to engaging students who challenge their methods and authority, engineers unwilling to adjust to the digital demands of new engineering, managers who refuse to adapt to the shift in power from authority to knowledge now possessed by the professional workforce.

These men are caught in a time warp in which their authority was infallible, and whether they were a doctor, teacher, or manager no one had the gumption to challenge their views.  They bask in nostalgic pride and excuses for why they have given up and given out.

*     *     *

Men across society at every socio-economic level have been dropping off and dropping out of the workforce because it has changed and they cannot or will not change.

They read self-help books, attend self-help workshops or seminars, daydream, write music, strum guitars, or do anything to avoid looking for work.  They are Walter Mittys looking for the quick score, the perfect franchise, standing on acres of diamonds – their own inherent ability – looking for answers in all the wrong places.

Others eat and drink themselves to a state of permanent inertia depleting their energy to the point that they couldn’t look for work if their lives depended on I, retreating into some kind of real or psychosomatic illness. 

Still others spend the little money they have gambling, following their favorite professional sport teams, or supporting a girlfriend.

Men born after the Good Housekeeping 1955 guide for the “good wife” are the spoiled brats of our culture and their inculcators are their mothers.  In a paradoxical way, mothers continue to enslave their daughters and liberate their sons from responsibility. 

Yet, these same women that are nursemaids to their husbands and children, taxi service and maid service to the family, housekeeper and sergeant at arms in maintaining order, are often ridiculed rather than appreciated.  Men often resent when these women use their limited free time to go back to school to better themselves when they not so inclined.


The generation of the Great Depression entered maturity in the 1950s and survived because they were small in number with unlimited opportunity in a post-World War II climate.  They had been schooled in scarcity, and learned to live with little.  When they came to maturity, they failed to teach these same lessons to their children.  Not only were parents guilty of this, but also teachers, the religious, managers, and leaders.  Insouciant society developed without guidance or direction, and therefore without wisdom 

The irony is that children had more freedom then, more creative license, more natural selection and survival of the fittest, more a climate conducive to developing leaders, more palpable identity and integrity as nothing was written in concrete but assumed the natural flow of things. 

The generation of the 1950’s, essentially pre-television era, lived within their means, didn’t buy expensive houses, or drive fancy cars, nor did they dress or attempt to mimic the rich and famous, but lived within themselves, and prospered.

The societal train went off the track in the 1960’s when it attempted as parents to deny children the pain of struggle that had made them, and instead pampered them to the extent that they made school a war zone.  Sons of WWII veterans burned their draft cards, refused to serve their country, created chaos on college campuses, or retreated to Haight Asbury in California, and into psychedelic drugs and hedonistic lifestyles in defiance of established mores.  The generation that felt sexually repressed looked for liberation in free love, but instead gave birth to the United States of Anxiety, and the burgeoning psychotherapy industry that is still with us.


People who came to maturity in the 1950’s, now parents, were not prepared for a world that had caught up with the United States economically and technologically. 

1950 style parents were drunk with success, and had little time for child rearing. Their offspring were allowed to be their own parents as birth parents were seldom home.  Children invented their own play, but the world of 1960 was a very different world than the 1930’s, something parents refused to acknowledge.  It was a much more dangerous place. 

At the same time, the inchoate power shift to women was underway.  Men were being pushed aside in leadership, scholarship and professional acumen, as women climbed up to eventually become the majority in college, whatever the ethnicity or profession.  Women have not allowed the fact that they make only 75 percent as much as men for the same work to slow them down.

Women, once biased for being baby factories, are working their way up the corporate pyramid to the boardrooms and into the highest offices of government

*     *     *


In this digital age, we are finding the right brain, the so-called “feminine brain” is a powerful and necessary complement to the left-brain, the so-called “masculine brain.” 

The key to the problem solving is not only aggression action, but also appropriate response to the chronic problems.  Likewise, the key to economic health is not only the competitive verve, but also the spirit of cooperation. 

Although rational cognitive thinking is still important, intuition and the use of the affect have come into new prominence (see David Brook’s “The Social Animal,” 2011), as the personal are an important match to the cerebral in the successful discharge of business.  In that same vein, analysis need not lead to paralysis if balanced with suitable attention to synthesis. 

No one has been more energetic in exposing the limits to pure Socratic thinking, or linear logic than Edward de Bono in such books as “Lateral Thinking” (1977) and “Parallel Thinking” (1994).

Women are inclined to problem solve conditionally when dealing with contradictory situations, which are common to experience today.

Aware of their biological clock, delayed gratification is programmed into their psyches as well as genes.  The necessary investment of time, patience and care are familiar territory.  Stated another way, women have their feet solidly on the ground while men prefer to soar to avoid the detritus and normal obstacles of everyday life, while women preserve the race by pruning the good earth. 

The decline and fall of men has been accelerated by women as mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and teachers, who make excuses in perpetuity when they won’t work, won’t study, won’t get off their behinds and do something useful.  These women instead attempt to support and carry them as if they were still dependent children suspended in terminal adolescence at the age of twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or older.

Women have complicated the picture of carrying men who refuse to work by taking physical, mental, and emotional abuse from these same men as if they deserved it.  If the situation were reversed, chances are the men would walk out on their women, something that seldom happens with instinctual women. 


The short answer is for women to tell their men to get off their behinds and look for work or get out.

Better would be to understand the spinelessness of such men, and from this understanding find a way to tap their diminished capacity by directing their attention and interest to some activity which might land to employment. 

Everyone has interests.  Few men follow their bliss but instead chase the buck doing what pays the most or something that has very little appeal to them.  Women have been locked in this prison for centuries, and continue to thrive despite repressed bitterness.  Men are not made of such firm substance.  Interest may be kindled in volunteering at school, church or in a community project, or around some favorite activity such as music, sports, or some other social arena.  In this age, men could find a way of making a living at home surfing by surfing the Internet. 

Another possibility would be cut off giving them money for beer and cigarettes, tickets to sporting events or other incidentals without them doing something specifically for the money.  They could be cleaning the house, painting, doing the grocery shopping, going to the cleaners, doing the laundry, taking the kids to and from school, and to youth events.  The shoe is on the other foot, and the person who has the coin has the power. 

These men often keep their women out of the loop as to how they spend their money.  Now, they can experience a little of their own medicine. 

Here is the rub.  I’ve talked to countless women who never had a clue as to how their husbands spent the family income, never understood why they had to sign papers without prior conversations on the investment, or second or third mortgage on their house, never were asked if they would like to go to this or that event, but assumed they would go because they were obliged to go to satisfy their husband without question or protest. 

Now, these men who won’t work and are not bringing in the bacon have wives who feel obliged to get permission from them to do this or that with their hard earned money, something they never experienced when their men were making the majority of the coin.

Moreover, women are reluctant to take legal action against deadbeat husbands and fathers, blaming themselves for the anxiety in the family.  Deadbeat dads are good at assuming the offense against their wives and mothers of their children.

Eventually, given the stress and strain of carrying these men, given it is unlikely the situation will change, these women have to decide if it would be better for the family without these men, or worse? 

I have known families who have gone through more than one generation of deadbeat men, men who would work only for premium wages or not at all, men who were alcoholics and abused their wives and children psychologically, and women who were willing to accept such treatment because they knew no other. 

In the last quarter century, the plush jobs in the automotive and steel industry have evaporated.  Generation after generation of workers with high school diplomas or less were conditioned to make $50,000 to $75,000 a year in unskilled jobs, and to retire with pensions of $40,000 with full medical benefits.  The boilerplate for this workforce still exists but the jobs are essentially gone. 

Then there are men who soared during the booming 1990s, and have suffered major setbacks, finding themselves in deep financial trouble, unable to cope much less work.  They need help but they are unwilling to seek it.  Many are well educated in law, medicine, engineering and education.  They are the walking wounded that are part of this problem and need help not criticism. 

The world of the Big Easy, be it Detroit or Gary or Seattle, or somewhere else is gone.  We are a declining nation in a world that has not only caught up with us but is passing us.  We cannot complain our way back to prominence, or deny the reality.  I’ve known engineers making near six-figure incomes who were surplused when high tech companies downsized dramatically.  Some started new businesses using their skills, many waited for the downturn to end, and of course they are still waiting.  I know of one engineer who was given a quarter million separation package from IBM, and went through it in two years, and has never had a stable income since.  I would like to think this an isolated case, but I don’t think so.

Men who won’t work are not a mirage.  I am confident everyone reading this has someone they know who fits the profile.  We are aghast that unemployment hovers around 9 percent, when I think it is close to 18 percent, when you take in part-time workers, and workers working far below their skill levels, if working at all.

One day soon there will be an eruption of attention to this issue, and the focus will be on economic dimensions of the problem, when I see the problem more basically a behavioral and psychological one. 

These are not bad men that won’t work.  These are men that need help.  I’m not sure we have the societal tools to do the job.  The psychological and psychiatric professions are mainly explanatory models that develop and interesting vocabulary to explain the problem, but have little impact on changing behavior or ameliorating the malady.

For wont of being misunderstood, I would suggest it is mainly a spiritual issue that our culture far from enhancing our spirituality and dampened it by retreating into biological and mathematical paradigms to explain our lethargy when it is our soul that is sick.

We have lost our moral compass, and the ideals of our forefathers, and thus our way.  We need help to crawl out of the ditch of despair, that the answers to this dilemma are not “out there” but inside waiting to be explored. 

*     *     *


  1. I was a woman who did this for years, I stopped but I had to take responsibility for my part in it. This isn't a part of the world where you have to be with a man or else, I made a choice. I know why I did what I did but it is a very hard thing to stop doing. All the men I was involved with still don't really work much to this day & have found other women to put up with them. Sad.

    1. Anonymous2:25 PM

      I did this too, but since I already had a son, it didn't last long. QueenG - I'd love to chat with you sometime! How can I contact you?

  2. Anonymous7:49 PM

    Many think the simple solution is to throw the deadbeat out, but fail to realize the courts now protect the dead beat husband. Lazy unemployed husbands are rewarded with alimony, part or half of the hardworking wife's IRA or 401(k), investments, home equity and savings account. So much for the women's movement of the 60s, there are always unintended consequences.

  3. Anonymous10:24 PM

    This is so baffling to me. I know women like this...but I'm trying to figure out...how or why? Is it that some women think they have to do this? I have the pleasant aspect to be raised by my father and I remember being told at 3 years old....a man that will not work is a man you do not want. My mind is blown.

  4. I divorced my 1st husband after a yr of marriage and realized he was not working more than he was...while I was going to work steadily. My next husband and soulmate worked until an accident affected his health but he still contributed doing all the shopping, housework, cooking, lawnwork and car maintenance. Now my daughter is married to one of these guys that will not work outside or inside the home and what he calls babysitting is minimal care. How can these men look in the mirror and not be overcome with guilt!