One of my student’s pointed out this post by EconLog’s Bryan Caplan which attempts to explain the increased incidence and duration of the guy phase (or in Bryan’s terms, the man-child) in purely economic terms:
Specifically, what happens in the mating market when women start earning money of their own?… If higher wages for men lead to higher quality of life for women, we’d expect higher wages for women to lead to higher quality of life for men. And what do most men see as a “higher quality of life”? Among other things: Less commitment, lower maturity, and lower expectations of financial support. In short, the chance to be a man-child…
Women are more economically successful, but increasingly dissatisfied with male behavior. Men are less economically successful, but pay a surprisingly small price in the mating market. There’s no big puzzle here. A simple supply-and-demand story, with no mention of “feminism” or “family values,” fits the facts rather well…
Women’s demand for men isn’t just higher than ever; the composition of their demand has changed. Income and income potential still matter. But women now focus more on looks, machismo, coolness, and other “alpha” traits. Holding charisma constant, working harder just doesn’t attract women the way it used to. The result: Less desirable men often give up on women altogether – further tilting the effective male/female ratio in favor of the remaining men. And both kinds of men act like boys: The less desirable men have little to lose, and the more desirable men can get away with it.
It’s hard for me to disagree, though I can spin the story another way. A “family values” explanation seems to satisfy Occam’s Razor much better: the spread of contraception, abortion, and sexual progressivism seems the much more likely culprit for men to exhibit “less commitment, lower maturity, and lower expectations of financial support” than women’s success in the workplace.
Indeed, if one can easily separate the procreative and the unitive dimensions of sex, then “beta” traits like trustworthiness, responsibility, and loyalty can be cast off in favor of the “alpha” traits of the “bad boy” since “bad boys” don’t get punished for their lechery.
To reduce man-childishness, should we reduce women’s earnings? Artificially inflate men’s earnings? It seems a much more fruitful approach would be to reacquaint our culture with the virtue of chastity.