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Man Down

The future isn’t rosy for American males
  • February 17 2012

The outlook for men in America is bleak.

Not only have male serum testosterone levels dropped by 20 percent over recent decades (New England Research Institute, 2007), but the gender is also less likely to do well in high school, to graduate college, or to find a job. Not just by a few percentage points, but by a landslide.

According to Department of Education data, in 1975, men earned about 60 percent of all college degrees. By 1985, there was equal distribution by gender. But by 2009, the pendulum had swung in women’s favor. Of the more than 3 million college degrees for the Class of 2009, women earned close to 60 percent of those degrees (1,849,200), or almost 149 degrees for every 100 degrees earned by men. By 2017, Department of Education forecasts suggest that women will earn more than 160 degrees for every 100 earned by men.

The future isn’t rosy in the employment arena either. As recently as 2008, around 3 million more men than women had jobs, but that difference was closer to 1.5 million by the end of 2011 (having flirted with parity at the trough of the recession in 2009, at which time 82 percent of all job losses were male), according to Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics stats.

At Draftfcb, we have studied the decline of males extensively for our clients, particularly for Dockers, the casual pants brand owned by Levi Strauss and Co. We’ve pored through the hard data (some of it is very hard – or certainly hard to take as a man). We’ve talked to men, young and old about it; we’ve talked to women about what it means for them (they’re not happy either); and to sociologists and gender specialists. At their best, men are coping but confused.  At their worst, it appears they have given up, delaying maturity and responsibility as long as they can.

We are in the throes of profound change. The practical shifts in gender roles—and in how men and women deal with what is essentially a decline in the value of men—affects American society from top to bottom. It is often cited as a key driver in the decline we are seeing of that very American institution called marriage.

How this changes the fabric of American society is a bigger deal than what it means for the world of brands and marketing. But marketers who ignore these changes do so at their peril. They must understand this new reality in order to work out how it affects their objectives, and how they connect with men.

Traditional male values may be important, but be careful that you don’t use them in ways that makes your brand appear to be from a different era. Equally, showing “evolved” men who are happier and more competent changing diapers than changing tires may reflect a reality of the new American man’s life rather than answering an instinctual and emotional need state. Perhaps a better approach than evoking a nostalgic male ideal or reflecting a current reality is the opportunity for brands to become an ally to males in these challenging times.

When we asked Lionel Tiger, Darwinian Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers and author of Men in Groups and The Decline of Males (he coined the phrase “male bonding”) how a brand could be helpful to men and their predicament, his succinct reply was, “Tell them how to get useful again.

This is exactly what we have tried to do with our Dockers “Wear the Pants” campaign. See for yourself.


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