The Man-Child: Contraception’s offspring

The Man-Child: Contraception’s offspring

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.

Man-child outside of crib. Pic by kjmatthews

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.


  1. Men are not the only ones behaving like this these days. Thanks to contraception, women also now emulate the worst behaviors of men as well. And the results are devastating on our next generations. We need to inoculate our whole society with a massive pro virtue campaign through TV ads, slogans, and rallies. If we can shame people for drinking and driving, maybe we can do the same with other reckless behaviors. Never been a fan of shamming before, but perhaps there’s a legitimate place for it.

  2. Some would claim that it is Christianity that has produced this phenomenon. You glorify weakness as strength, the poor as rich, etc.

    • These concepts are not to be held prima facie as you have illustrated them. A person is strong when they are weak because it is in their weakness that God’s grace supplements them – a grace that is stronger than any human strength.

      • “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3

        • Which has to do with purity of heart and humility and trust, not with acting artificially helpless as might a child.

  3. Many years ago, I heard this puzzling statement from a girl (and her friend who nodded in agreement):
    “Paul, you’re the kind of guy I’d want to marry, not the kind of guy I want to date.” Then 14-year-old me was so confused by the irrationality of that statement that I managed to express incredulity, laughter, and anger all at the same time. Long after, I realized this was the best complement I could receive at the time.

    • Story of my life.

  4. It’s so sad! I know a number of truly sweet, winsome, good Catholic late-20s/early-30s ladies who would make wonderful wives and mothers, but have been unable to find any men worth considering. They’ve been using Catholic Match, which broadens the search, but there are still no guarantees. So far, only one has found a husband. They lament: How can we turn around the declining birth rate and build a better society in the next generation without husbands??

    • My suggestion: stop looking for men who don’t need a good wife to help them in their weakness. Find men who have great potential for growing in strength, but who need a good wife to help them get there. And then there will be true love.

    • Well, I found a wonderful woman on CatholicMatch, and I have been setting aside money for a ring.

      Good, mature men do exist.