It may be premature to say, but if trends continue, the American male will be a gender in decline.
Story: James Combs
There was a time when men sought to conquer the most difficult of challenges, like building the tallest buildings or climbing the highest mountains.
These days, the male species is teetering on the edge of those rooftops and mountaintops as American manhood appears to be in a sad state of affairs.
After decades and decades of social dominance, men are now entering adulthood with less education, less money, less ambition, and fewer achievements than their female counterparts.
We take a look at troubling trends of men through the lens of Healthy Living’s four pillars: body, mind, spirit, and finance.
When comparing substance abuse between genders, the following number provides a clear overall picture: just two years ago, 28,498 males died of opioid overdose, compared to 13,751 females.
In fact, men are twice as likely as women to have a drug dependence disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Part of this chemical dependence is attributed to the fact men face unique gender challenges that make them vulnerable to drug addiction.
One of those challenges, the NIDA says, is that more than half of men struggling with substance abuse have another mental illness.
“We call them co-occurring disorders,” says Karen Rogers, associate vice president of adult clinical services at LifeStream Behavioral Center, which is headquartered in Leesburg. “The very tools you need to help you overcome your addiction—your brain and your thought processes—are already impaired.”
Men suffering from depression, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—three of the most common co-occurring disorders—often avoid seeking professional treatment and instead self-medicate by turning to mind-altering substances. They do that to avoid the negative stigma associated with mental illness, Karen says. “If they have a social phobia or social anxiety disorder, they become very anxious when placed in situations where they feel they may be judged,” she says. “Some become so anxious they begin having panic attacks. Using drugs or alcohol calms and relieves those inhibitions. It also allows them to engage in activities that otherwise would’ve made them extremely uncomfortable.”
Another challenge is that men of all ages are at risk for addiction. Males begin using substances at an earlier age and more often than females, according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In fact, the survey found that 12 percent of males ages 12 and older were using illegal drugs, while only 7.3 percent of females in the same age group used drugs.
Part of that is because society encourages young men to engage in risky behavior.
“Peer pressure is definitely a factor as to why more boys use drugs than girls,” says Jorge Lopez, an advanced clinician with LifeStream who treats men with addictions. “There’s this whole standard of how a teenage or young male should be, and they feel compelled to do risky things to blend in. Some won’t refuse drugs because they’re afraid they might not blend in and will be made fun of and bullied.”
Others come from homes where drug and alcohol addiction are prominent.
“The family dynamics, family factors, and predispositions all come into play,” Jorge says. “Throw in a host of other issues—ADHD, learning disabilities, body image issues, and maturation problems—and it’s easy to see why teenage boys might turn to drugs to cope.”
Middle-aged men are not immune to substance abuse—even those who successfully said no to drugs and alcohol in their younger years. A 2015 study conducted by Princeton University researchers found that the overall death rate of white males between the ages of 40 and 64 has increased during the past 15 years due to “drug and alcohol overdoses, suicide, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis of the liver.”
Men’s testosterone levels have been declining since the 1980s, a 2007 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism states. A 60-year-old man in 2004 had 17 percent lower testosterone levels than a 60-year-old man in 1987.
“We call them the late bloomers because they started their drug use later in life,” Karen says. “Some are stressed in their careers. They begin using marijuana and eventually graduate to opioids. Others experience a decrease in testosterone and start becoming depressed. They turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with that depression. Some may feel that because they’re older and more mature, they have control over their addiction. However, it’s important to remember that if you drive a car and let go of the wheel, you go straight for a while before you crash.”
Retiring from a career can also leave men vulnerable to substance addiction. While it seems unfathomable that retirees would spend their Social Security checks and pensions on illegal drugs, there are 2.5 million American seniors with alcohol and drug problems, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
After retiring, men may feel a loss of purpose, a loss of status, and a loss of social support formerly derived from coworkers.
“We live near numerous retirement communities and have retired males come into our treatment center,” says Diane Peterson, supervisor of adult outpatient substance abuse services at LifeStream. “Many of them don’t have a retirement plan, and I’m not talking about finances. I’m talking about they no longer know what to do with themselves. When you retire and your lifestyle changes, if you don’t have a plan mapped out for what you’re going to do, depression may set in. They feel worthless. They feel less than a man. They turn to alcohol or drugs. They have lots of downtime, and I always say idle time has the potential to be your biggest enemy, especially when you’re dealing with addiction.”
One obstacle men of all ages face in overcoming substance abuse is the tendency to bottle up their feelings. “There’s a lack of instruction in our society in how males are supposed to express their feelings,” Jorge says. “They have a hard day at work and assume drinking is the best coping mechanism. Nobody has ever instructed them to talk to someone about that hard day of work or figure out why they’re feeling angry about that hard day of work. As a result, when they continue enduring difficult times, they keep turning to the one thing they know. That’s when occasional drinking turns to a full-blown addiction. In my experience treating men, emotional health and the lack of expressing emotions has been the biggest factor why men become addicted to alcohol and drugs.”
Absence of fathers
One in three children live without their biological father in the home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Children—and boys in particular—with no father in the home are more prone to be aggressive, suffer depression, perform poorly in school, and endure low self-esteem.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC says 85 percent of all children who exhibit behavior disorders come from fatherless homes. Moreover, boys without fathers are twice as likely to drop out of high school and four times as likely to need treatment for behavioral problems, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
“If you don’t have a good male role model, then you don’t have a model to determine what it means to be masculine,” says Dr. W. Steven Saunders, a licensed psychologist and owner of Central Florida Psychological Consultants in Clermont. “Boys need father role models to learn what to do with all their energy. Masculinity is a natural force just like femininity is. If you use it in a positive way, then you can achieve a lot. It’s a conquering kind of energy and an energy to help you act in the world. Without role models, then what do you do with all this energy? You will create an internal self-concept that makes you begin to hate yourself.”
No matter how great a single mother may be, she cannot replace what fathers provide their children. While mothers are nurturing and comforting, fathers teach children how to be risk-takers and challenge themselves. Boys need that balance of protection and reasonable risk-taking.
“I think our society in general is over-mothered and under-fathered,” Dr. Saunders says. “When I think of what the positive side of men are, I think of my two heroes, Mr. Rogers and Captain America. Mr. Rogers exemplified the kind, nurturing, compassionate part of masculinity that I think men should aspire to. Captain America represented masculinity in the sense of its heroism and the ability of a man to want to face danger and conquer evil.”
The number of young adult men saying that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in life decreased from 35 percent in 1997 to 29 percent in 2012.
Source: Pew Research Center
A statistic from CDC: 77 percent of U.S. suicides are men. However, it is important to put this number in perspective. One big reason for gender disparity in suicide rates is that men choose more lethal means to kill themselves.
“Men have a higher completion rate of suicide,” Dr. Saunders says. “Women actually have more attempts, but their means of suicide is often overdosing with pills, which is not as lethal. When a man decides to kill himself, he’s usually going to use a firearm or hang himself. Surviving a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head is extremely rare.”
Often, family members and friends are naïve about a male contemplating suicide. That’s because men tend to bottle up their feelings and suffer in silence.
“Women will often cry out for help and make suicidal gestures,” Dr. Saunders says. “Men have an inner world that’s very private and can be very difficult for others to access. Men need to understand it’s OK to reach out for help and vent their frustrations and problems.”
Looking at incarceration rates by gender, there is no escaping the fact that men are imprisoned more than women—and it’s not even close. According to data released by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in March 2018, 93.1 percent of inmates are male, while only 6.9 percent are female.
There are several reasons for that, says Dr. Steven Saunders.
The genders process their inner worlds differently. Men often act out, while women shut down.
“There’s a private part of men that is only accessible by ourselves—it’s our own subjective understanding of who we are,” he says. “A man’s inner world is a collection of thoughts, good memories, and traumatic events of what has happened to him in his lifetime. They all connect and create a sense of self-concept. A man’s inner world can be extremely tortuous. They may have a series of traumas that nobody knows about, and they’re struggling with that or carrying it with them. It can be really difficult to manage and may force men to lash out.”
Men also commit a higher percentage of serious and violent crimes, such as murder, aggravated assault, and robbery. Moreover, he says, women often receive shorter sentences for the same crimes. “Men receive 63 percent longer sentences on average than women do, and women are twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted,” Sonja Starr, a University of Michigan Law School professor, writes in a research paper titled, “Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases.”
“Even in a situation where you have a man and a woman who commit the same crime together, it’s the man who takes the fall for it,” Dr. Saunders says. “This is especially true if they have children together. The justice system takes it easy on the mother because they want her to remain in her children’s lives rather than have them orphaned. I used to work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and saw this type of gender disparity all the time.”
Men lagged behind women seeking higher education for four decades, and the gap widens each year, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Females outnumbered males in U.S. college enrollment every year since 1979. NCES estimates for this fall show that about 11.7 million women will enroll in college compared to just fewer than 9 million men. Projections through 2026 indicate the number of women enrollees will rise at a faster rate than the men’s.
Locally, the University of Central Florida has the highest public college enrollment in the country. Current enrollment breaks down to 36,324 women and 29,859 men, including more women than men in graduate studies (5,163 to 3,563); the numbers in medical school are split about evenly, according to the school’s website.
International studies by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development examined gender differences in education. One study suggests girls get an early advantage over boys in reading, and boys never catch up, leading to a general “anti-education” attitude that’s embedded well before college age.
Some male teens see college as a high-cost, low-benefit risk, and prefer to jump into the workforce and make money immediately. Many male-dominated vocations, such as electrician, mechanic, and plumber, are high-paying and don’t require college.
When they do attend college, men graduate at a lower rate (56 percent) than women (62 percent), the NCES reports as of 2015-16. Overall, about 34.6 percent of the female population in the United States had a four-year degree as of 2017, compared to 33.7 percent for males, according to statista.com.
During 2015-16, women also received 59 percent of all master’s degrees, and 53 percent of all doctor’s degrees, which include doctoral, medical, dental, and law degrees in the NCES
In the 25-34 age group, 37.5 percent of women have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29.5 percent of men.
Source: Census Bureau
Mass shootings have infiltrated American culture like toxic sewage. Mental health is often fingered as the main culprit. Interestingly, a 2013 Oxford University study found that women are 40 percent more likely than men to develop a mental health condition. Yet, between 1982 and April 2018, females initiated only three mass shootings.
So, why are most mass shooters male? One big problem stems from societal expectations of how men are supposed to react to stress. Men are trapped in an outdated model of masculinity, and they don’t know how to express how they feel being trapped.
“Our society has never been good at giving men a place to feel and express their emotions and the range of those emotions,” Dr. Saunders says. “Men are taught to suck it up and walk it off. I have an emotion chart that I give to men to help them identify how they’re feeling and name what these different feelings are.
The more you’re able to name your different emotions and feelings, the more access you have to them, the easier they are to control, and the more likely you are to express them. If you’re able to express those emotions, you are healthier psychologically.”
IQ test results
Historically, men have scored higher than women on IQ tests, but yet again, this is another changing trend. Women are scoring higher than men on IQ tests, according to data from New Zealand researcher James Flynn.
Based on a “substantial and long-sustained increase in both fluid and crystallized intelligence test scores” from various parts of the world since 1930, everyone has been getting higher IQ points, but women are gaining faster than men. Evidence indicates it’s the result of modern living and women assuming larger roles in all parts of professional and home life.
Median weekly earnings for men were $965 while women received $783, according to an April report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, indications in professional areas and white-collar jobs are women do make more money. Statistics say there are more women in managerial positions than men.
Young adults living at home
Since 2007, the number of young men living at home increased significantly—from 14.2 percent to 18.6 percent, according to the Population Reference Bureau. However, young women still living with parents remained steady at 10 percent. This is the highest level of young men living at home since the Census Bureau began tracking this measure in 1960.
She’s passing the guys
There are more female drivers on the road than men for the first time since the automobile was invented, according to a study by Edmunds, an auto information service. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found this after a study of driver’s license statistics.
The assumption is this will affect everything from highway fatalities to car design, as more women than men tend to buy smaller, safer, fuel-efficient cars. These statistics are consistent for age groups from 25 to 55 and rise even more for women over 70, a Frost & Sullivan marketing report indicates.
While women seem to have surpassed men in educational pursuit, communication skills, social skills, and emotional recognition, it would be inaccurate to say a man’s worth in society is endangered.
There are still plenty—plenty—of men who financially support their family, raise their children properly, and treat their wives like royalty. Unfortunately, it seems these men are largely ignored by society.
“I teach at a university and we did a study one time on how commercials during prime time television portray men,” Dr. Saunders says. “One of them had a man tied to the porch with a leash and collar on him. A car goes by and he starts running toward it before getting snapped back. His wife laughs at him. Whenever a commercial or sitcom depicts a father, he’s always inept, like a Homer Simpson or Al Bundy. Those kinds of stereotypical negative images about what fatherhood is, in and of itself, to me, are part of the decline of men in America and how the culture views men.”