If the age of men has ended, nobody told Asia. True, across the continent women are obtaining degrees at higher rates -- in some cases outpacing men -- and bucking traditional gender roles. Yet the past few decades have brought significant setbacks as well as breakthroughs. Men's wages are now growing faster than women's wages in China. Japan and South Korea have famously thick glass ceilings. Men dominate demographically as well: China has an estimated 20 million to 30 million surplus men, and India is not far behind. In 2020s China and northwest India, men of marriageable age will outnumber their female counterparts by some 15 to 20 percent. Together with Albania, the two countries rank dead last in the World Economic Forum's 2011 Global Gender Gap report's health and survival index. The very continent on which women are pushing boundaries and excelling at higher education is also a place plagued by workplace discrimination, child brides, and sex-selective abortion.
So what to make of The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin's provocative new book proclaiming a global shift in gender dynamics? Rosin charts a fascinating trend in the United States -- and then stretches to make the case that in Asia, too, patriarchy is on the verge of being upended. As University of Maryland, College Park, sociologist Philip N. Cohen is chronicling in a series of blog posts, The End of Men is riddled with misleading statistics and analysis. (Because only about half of the book's figures are sourced in the endnotes, a full fact check will be a serious undertaking.) Many of those statistics concern women in the United States, where a rise in single-mother households, believe it or not, has not made women any richer -- and where the proportion of married couples in which the wife outearns the husband is not nearly as high as Rosin suggests. But it's in Asia where the "end of men" meme -- as well as the data backing it up -- is particularly problematic.
Early in The End of Men, we learn that the average age of marriage for women in Asia is 32 -- a fact, Rosin writes, that shows that women are delaying marriage at unprecedented rates. Later in the book, 32 resurfaces as the average age of first marriage for women in South Korea in 2010. Neither is correct.
Women in India typically marry at 18 -- and perhaps I should say girls, because half get hitched before then. In Indonesia, the average age of first marriage for women was 20 in 2008, according to the World Health Organization. In China, demographers estimate it at 24 -- and many rural women might tie the knot earlier if not for a high government-mandated minimum marriage age. In Malaysia, it is 26. The actual average age of first marriage for women in South Korea in 2010? Twenty-nine, according to a report by the government agency Statistics Korea. Thirty-two was, in fact, the corresponding figure that year for South Korean men.
That botched statistic -- which immediately jumps out to anyone who has spent a bit of time in Asia -- might be a metaphor for The End of Men. Rosin takes an interesting phenomenon, one that is reshaping our ideas about love and career in radical ways, and pushes it too far. In doing so, she makes a politically dangerous argument about the status of women in Asia and beyond. A partial leveling of the playing field in some spheres does not equal total and complete takeover. One might as well write a book titled The End of White People.
I'm sure Rosin knows this. She acknowledges that a gender wage gap persists, in the United States and abroad; that women are still burdened with the bulk of child care; and that "the upper reaches of power are still dominated by men." But such occurrences are, she contends, "the last artifacts of a vanishing age." That argument misses just how bad the situation is for many women around the world.
If one leaves aside statements like "shrinks are unheard of" in South Korea and "61 percent of single Japanese men between ages eighteen to thirty-four said in a government survey they have no girlfriend" (it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that many single men don't have girlfriends), The End of Men overlooks the complexity, the start-and-stop progress, of gender relations in Asia. The entrance of women into higher education and the labor market, for example, has not been entirely smooth. South Korea, Rosin's most extensive foreign case study, may have a new breed of "über-competitive" female undergrads, as one English professor tells her. But it ranked only 97 out of 135 countries in educational attainment in the Global Gender Gap report -- behind Algeria, Peru, and Tunisia. Many Korean women who earn degrees, moreover, do not find jobs afterward. Rosin concedes that only 60 percent of college-educated women in South Korea work -- fewer than in any other OECD country. (In Japan, meanwhile, women account for almost half of graduate school students but occupy only 9 percent of senior leadership positions.)