Today, this old bargain has come undone, and no state intervention will restore it. Indeed, the U.S. economic stimulus package no longer bears much resemblance to a New Deal-style public-works program. Despite early talk that the stimulus would stress shovel-ready infrastructure projects, high-speed rail lines, and other efforts that would bolster heavily male sectors of the economy, far more of the money is going—directly or indirectly—to education, healthcare, and other social services. Already in the United States, women make up nearly half of biological and medical scientists and nearly three quarters of health-industry workers. No less an authority than U.S. President Barack Obama has weighed in on the shift of power from men to women, telling the New York Times that, though construction and manufacturing jobs won’t vanish altogether, “they will constitute a smaller percentage of the overall economy.” As a result, he said, “Women are just as likely to be the primary bread earner, if not more likely, than men are today.”
What this all means is that the problem of macho run amok and excessively compensated is now giving way to macho unemployed and undirected—a different but possibly just as destructive phenomenon. Long periods of unemployment are a strong predictor of heavy drinking, especially for men ages 27 to 35, a study in Social Science & Medicine found last year. And the macho losers of globalization can forget about marrying: “Among the workers who disproportionately see their jobs moving overseas or disappearing into computer chips,” says sociologist Andrew Cherlin, “we’ll see fewer young adults who think they can marry.” So the disciplining effects of marriage for young men will continue to fade.
Surly, lonely, and hard-drinking men, who feel as though they have been rendered historically obsolete, and who long for lost identities of macho, are already common in ravaged post-industrial landscapes across the world, from America’s Rust Belt to the post-Soviet wreckage of Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the megalopolises of the Middle East. If this recession has any staying power, and most believe it does, the massive psychic trauma will spread like an inkblot.