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165 of 183 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating points often overwhelmed by sample bias, September 9, 2012
This review is from: The End of Men: And the Rise of Women (Hardcover)
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Hanna Rosin's "The End of Men" is an interesting but not fully satisfying look at the economic progress of women, the relative economic decline of men, and the societal effects of both. While the book treats the first two subjects quite thoughtfully, Rosin doesn't do as well when she explores the broader implications of this shift. A troubling and repeated tendency towards sample bias weakens many of her arguments, and even the author admits that her initial thesis probably isn't correct. Still, it's an interesting read, but not nearly the landmark work that has been suggested in some quarters. 3 stars.

Despite the claims of the well-oiled marketing push behind the book, many of the topics here aren't novel. Goldberg's The Hazards of Being Male was among the first to notice a relative decline for men back in the 1970s, Faludi's Stiffed was referenced by Rosin as motivation for her Atlantic article of the same title (although oddly, that controversial reference nearly disappears in the book), and Save the Males and Manning Up have been more recent, albeit openly polemic, entries. On the economic rise of women, the far-less hyped The Richer Sex is a recent general release covering much the same territory, and there is a wealth of academic material on many of the subjects.

The originality of "The End of Men" is in how it combines the overt economic and social gains made by women with the contrast of the relative economic decline of men. Summarizing much of her book in a sentence, women are at parity in many professions, have moved ahead in education, and the younger generation of men are falling further and further behind. Rosin's work on this is insightful, and had she stayed on this topic this would have been a much shorter, 5 star review.

Unfortunately, the author goes off track during her projection of societal changes caused by this economic shift. Many of her guesses appear reasonable, but in the course of trying to make her points the author repeatedly cherry picks data. The result is a far weaker book.

One instance where this makes a chapter miss badly is on how economic parity has affected mate selection and sexual choices. Much as Stepp does in Unhooked and Bogle does in Hooking Up, Rosin notes that many young women play the hookup culture just as viciously as their male counterparts. Building off Baumeister and Vohs' theory of "sexual economics", Rosin then adds a reasonable and interesting twist to the debate: perhaps women's new found academic and economic equality may have a role in their sexual behavior.

However, as she attempts to advance "may have" to "does", Rosin loses the objective reader as she ignores arguments that might not fit her point. For instance, there is nary a mention of what both epidemiologists and economists believe is a major factor in the rise of casual sex: the perception of lower consequences for acquiring STIs versus a generation ago. A pithy but accurate cultural snapshot of this view are Nirvana's "I'm so horny, but that's ok, my will is good" versus Girls' "All adventurous women (have a couple different strains of HPV)".

In a strange turn, although Rosin has hired controversial sociologist Mark Regnerus to write several Slate articles on the subject, she doesn't address one of his main conclusions in what is the most robust work on the sex lives of young Americans, Premarital Sex in America. To Regnerus, the data suggest that the "hookup culture" is less prevalent in overall society and more a function of limited time and potential mates at elite schools rather than a massive societal change. As it turns out, the most egregious practitioners of this culture are neither elite nor particularly concerned with education and economic equality. Instead, they're young Americans who aren't college educated, and he pointedly warns about Stepp's results being biased by her selection of elite university students.

Despite this, Rosin is undeterred and proceeds directly to Yale for interviews. Her focus group for the dating behavior of "hard hearted" professional women becomes Wall Street traders, a curious choice as even their colleagues in finance consider that group as rather spectacular (to put it mildly) outliers of social behavior regardless of their gender. The dating behavior of men is largely ignored save for their desire for sex. As such, they are summarily divided into "player" and "loser" classes, which allows Rosin to conclude that the "free agents" of the player class are uninterested in relationships. To the author, the combination of their interests combined with women "dominating campuses" clearly result in the "Girls Gone Wild culture". This disappoints on both the practical level - an exploration of her later observation that women have continued to use traditional criteria like income and career prospects for selecting their partners and have firmly resisted "marrying down" would have been far more relevant to the overall picture she's painting - and is disturbingly poor scholarship.

As she continues exploring the new cultural landscape, the problematic trend of selection bias continues and becomes especially troubling during her discussion of dysfunctional men and their even more dysfunctional relationships in Alexander City, a former mill town that has seen better days. Troy spends his days sitting around in a trailer with a child while his stripper girlfriend Shannon pays the bills and complains she has "two babies at home", Charles files his unemployment claim with two of his former subordinates while his executive wife complains about his "brooding" and tells him to "get over it", and in a broad swath of stereotyping seemingly all Japanese men are more enamored with virtual girls than real ones.

It's easy to believe that social structures in places like Alexander City have been upended in the debris trail of economic displacement, and that it's entirely possible more women than men have adapted to the new reality of what jobs are actually available locally (as the author notably doesn't explore the lives of the ex-Russell employees nicknamed "transients" who commute to jobs elsewhere.) However, Rosin's repeated selection of interview subjects that seem to be bottom-of-the-barrel brings up the suspicion that perhaps one reason they were chosen was because a more representative sample wouldn't have produced quite the results she wants.

One of the most egregious examples of this arises in her chapter on the "balanced" see-saw marriage of the educated class. Steven, the male half of the example, is still trying to figure out how to complete law school in his late 30s and is a stay-at-home-dad - and his interpretation of the latter role seems to include letting his child smear feces on the wall until his wife comes home to clean it up. There are tens of millions of alternating dual-career couples who have been a lot more successful in balancing things out, millions of stay at home dads who raise children more conventionally, and a decent amount of academic work on how they do so; surely one or two of them could have been found to be brought into her narrative. Rosin's choices repeatedly smack of selection bias for even those otherwise sympathetic to her overall point, and it's a real disappointment.

This is probably linked with the book's final problem. As Rosin admits in the introduction, she began her work with the belief that "womanly" traits were becoming more important in this new era than "manly" ones, but found this answer wasn't supported by what she'd researched. Despite this, the author clearly struggles with the temptation to try to push her original thesis. Many problems arise as a result; the weak chapter on the rise of female violence and the odd claim that changes in a factory she visits are from the adoption of non-patriarchal values rather than 30 years of refining industrial management are but two of several examples where the book gets sidetracked. Rosin is certainly within her rights to choose how to raise her children as she sees fit - she concludes the real problem here is that males aren't "flexible" enough and that she should be raising her sons with the "womanly" trait of "bending" - but as a writer she would have been far better off if she'd employed a little flexibility of her own in giving more leeway to an editor to clean this up.

All this is a shame, because even some of Rosin's more controversial points are worth considering. 3 stars. Worth a read, but not nearly worth the hype.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 29, 2012 12:20:03 AM PDT
I couldn't agree more! You elaborate clearly the reasons for all the vague misgivings I'm having while reading this book. Ms. Rosin is a literary person with the panache of an employee of The Atlantic . . . that does not give her the qualifications nor inclination of a social scientist, and it's very frustrating for the discriminating reader.

Posted on Nov 19, 2012 12:51:17 PM PST
L. Orr says:
How well I remember the days and hype of the Feminest Movement. My father-in-law predicted the FM would cause the destruction of the American traditional family, that a two-income family would cause prices to escalate and the male species would be left to wander in the desert trying to find out "who he was".....stripped like a skinned rabbit of his integrity and manhood. Way to go "girls"...you finally found your "bliss" and what a price America has paid for your equality....an equality you had all along.

Posted on Jan 16, 2013 2:28:24 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 16, 2013 2:29:12 PM PST
Star Bux says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 16, 2013 2:32:27 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 16, 2013 2:34:06 PM PST
Star Bux says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on May 25, 2013 8:29:49 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on May 26, 2015 11:13:04 PM PDT
MagicSinglez says:
"millions of stay at home dads who raise children more conventionally"

Actually, O magazine reported just a few years ago that only 3% of stay at home spouses are male. Another source quotes this number at 15%, but I suspect this second number also includes men who are disabled and receive disability payments.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 30, 2015 4:38:17 AM PDT
Jane Doe says:
You must be a guy.....sorry.
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