We All Want To Change The World

James argues, among other things, that one consequence of the (overall clearly good) sexual revolution is that women increased their participation in the "sex market" and lowered their "prices," and men responded by shifting from the "long-term committed relationship (LTCR) market" to the sex market.  Accordingly, because "[t]he characteristics that lead to success in the sex market do not overlap perfectly with the characteristics that lead to success in the LTCR market," the sexual revolution differentially changed the levels of sexual success of different types of men.

This seems obviously true to some extent, and obviously to what extent is the rub.

But James also argues that men responded to the sexual revolution by "investing less in suitability" for an LTCR.  In support of this view, he links to a report indicating that men's participation in the labor force has been decreasing since the 1950s.  The report is consistent with James's view, of course, but it obviously doesn't prove it.  For instance, the report itself notes: "This decline has resulted from various factors.  For example, the Social Security Act was amended in 1960 to make individuals under 50 years of age eligible for disability payments."  Also, James himself points out, but I think downplays, the high rate of incarceration of men (insanely high among certain demographics), which is not a result of men choosing to invest less in suitability; rather, it is primarily a result of powerful social forces such as the drug war and America's decreasing investment in education.  So, on balance, the government certainly seems to invest less in men's suitability than it used to.

That said, is James's view correct?  Do men invest less in suitability than they used to?  I'm inclined to think not, for two main reasons.  (Like James, I'm ignoring gays to simplify and focus my argument.)  To help me articulate these reasons, I want to draw a distinction between "suitable" and "unsuitable" men (given the crudeness of this distinction, you can guess which one I am).  Basically, a suitable man is one who a reasonable woman would marry even if she didn't feel culturally or economically obligated to get married, and an unsuitable man is one who a reasonable woman would only marry if she felt culturally or economically obligated to marry him.  (So I'm ignoring men who are so repugnant that no reasonable woman would ever feel culturally or economically obligated to marry them.  You know who you are.)  With this distinction in mind, here are my two reasons.

On balance, men have more of an incentive today to invest in suitability than they did before the sexual revolution.  Before the sexual revolution, most unsuitable men were able to get married despite their unsuitability, because the vast majority of women were dependent on men for economic support.  In addition to the various cultural pressures to marry, women had to marry in order to meet their basic needs, because they were systemically excluded from the labor force or grossly underpaid.  Consequently, unsuitable men had no sharp incentive to rise to the level of suitability.  Of course, they could increase their status in the marriage market by bettering themselves in relevant ways, but they didn't have to make themselves suitable in order to get married; sexist society took care of this for them.  In contrast, most unsuitable men today would have to make themselves suitable in order to get married, because the vast majority of women are no longer economically dependent on men or culturally compelled to marry.  Perhaps unsuitable men invest more in succeeding in the sex market, relative to succeeding in the LTCR market, than they used to, but the fact is, if they want to get married, they have to make themselves suitable.  And presumably most of them do want to get married -- marriage is still part of the normal life path, perhaps especially so among the cultures is which most unsuitable men grow up.  So, in sum, unsuitable men seem to have more of an incentive today to invest in suitability than the did before the sexual revolution.  What about suitable men?  I'm not sure, but I'm also inclined to think they have more of an incentive.  On the one hand, I agree with James that suitable (and unsuitable) men have more opportunities in the sex market than they used to, so they have more of an incentive to increase their chances of succeeding in the sex market, and these increases may come at the expense of increases in their suitability (e.g., putting more effort into sports than school).  On the other hand, women can afford to be more choosy than they used to be, so the suitability threshold for men has increased since the sexual revolution -- men who would have been suitable back in the day no longer are now, and presumably most women's individual suitability thresholds have increased.

On balance, the qualities that lead to a man's success in the sex market are not that different from the qualities that lead to a man's success in the LTCR market.  James is correct that "[t]he characteristics that lead to success in the sex market do not overlap perfectly with the characteristics that lead to success in the LTCR market," but I think there is still quite a bit of overlap, especially for higher-class men.  Certainly, I don't think many of these characteristics are antithetical.  For instance, being in shape or being smooth may be more important in the sex market than in the LTCR market, but it's not like either of these qualities ever reasonably hurt someone's chances in the LTCR market.  Of course,  resources spent working on a quality that's more valuable in the sex market cannot be spent working on a quality that's more valuable in the LTCR market, so there is some tradeoff, but it's not necessarily significant.  Furthermore, there's the possibility that men today invest more in both their suitability and their desirability in the sex market, relative to men before the sexual revolution, because women are more selective in both markets due to their empowerment.

6 comments:

  1. I don't think it's true that most men want to get married. At least, if it is true, their behavior is difficult to explain. Bear in mind, the marriage market has been hit with adverse selection - these days, the women who want to get married are disproportionately women who need to be subsidized in one way or another. Why should men sign up for that when it is so easy to get laid without committing to anything?

    And so if men aren't trying to get married, then it's hard to see why they would have a particularly strong incentive to be suitable for marriage.

    As for whether sexual attractiveness is largely coextensive with suitability, I am not so sure. A good, steady job with modest income is not going to get you laid, but it might make you excellent husband material.

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  2. Although, actually, to the extent attractiveness and suitability are coextensive, isn't the sex market almost strictly dominant? I can only think of a few circumstances in which a man would want to get married - for instance, if he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and knows he will need financial support, then he may do better in the marriage market (since the casual sex market will not provide him with financial support). Kids make things complicated, but a large number of men seem to be comfortable remaining unmarried to their children's mothers.

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  3. The issue of whether most men want to get married is an empirical one, and I haven't researched it, so I'm not very confident in my view. But I get the impression that most men do. The tradition certainly seems alive and well among higher-class men, especially those who want to have children (look at your colleagues, look at your neighborhood, look at your jury). And I think lower-class men also feel a lot of cultural pressure to get married, especially in conservative areas. This may not be true of men at the very bottom of society, but I don't think they were investing very much in their suitability before the sexual revolution either. Basically, I think men today are still generally inclined to get married for a number of reasons, such as children, social expectations, religion, tax and insurance benefits, and, yes, pressure from women seeking to be "subsidized." I agree that men tend to care about sex more than these things, but I think it's crazy to believe that men would only want to get married under "a few circumstances" (such as terminal illness!) if they could satisfy their sexual desires equally well outside of marriage. Most men are not Houellebecq protagonists/Houellebecq. Accordingly, I think the main reason why the marriage rate has fallen since the sexual revolution is that women no longer feel nearly as economically or culturally compelled to marry unsuitable (or insufficiently suitable) men.

    I also want to note that it's important to distinguish between qualities that are investment-amenable and those that really aren't. For example, a guy who's naturally physically attractive and sociable may spend more time today transacting in the sex market relative to the LTCR market than he would have pre-sexual revolution, but this obviously doesn't mean he is investing less in his suitability than he would have before -- he didn't obtain his physical attractiveness and sociability at the expense of his suitability; he just happens to be physically attractive and sociable. So he may still invest at least as much in his suitability for other reasons (such as a desire to eventually get married).

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  4. Well, in any case, I think you go off the tracks when you assume that the sexual revolution opened up career opportunities for women. Perhaps as sex workers, but that is a tiny fraction of the labor market. Real progress came when women were able to pursue non-sex-worker jobs, and that has no obvious connection to increased promiscuity.

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  5. I don't assume that. I never said the sexual revolution deserves credit for women's greatly expanded economic opportunities. But I think the sexual revolution was largely temporally coextensive with women's general liberation (and largely a result of the same trends), which obviously did open up career opportunities for women. And the issue of credit doesn't matter to my argument; all that matters is that women are more economically empowered today than they were before the sexual revolution.

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  6. Just to clear things up, I think I was off track when I implied that it's irrelevant whether the sexual revolution and women's empowerment are causally related. I was too caught up in the issue of men's investment in suitability before and after the revolution, but really the only thing I should be talking about are the effects of the revolution on men's investment in suitability. My bad.

    That said, I think my argument is totally fine, because the sexual revolution is inextricably intertwined with women's economic empowerment. Basically, among other things, contraception decoupled sex and procreation, so women could afford to invest in good careers without worrying about getting pregnant and having to leave the labor force (and enter the labor force). In other words, contraception was a primary common cause of both the revolution and women's empowerment. And this is just one aspect of the causal linkage between the two phenomena.

    So the sexual revolution was inherently about more than just loosening sexual mores; it was inherently, to some extent, about women's empowerment (per More's Law, mores don't just loosen on their own). So it doesn't make sense to exclude women's empowerment from an analysis of the sexual revolution. It makes sense to exclude increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and I'm not sure where exactly to draw the line, but I feel like women's empowerment shouldn't be treated as part of the "all else" in an all-else-equal analysis.

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