© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Modern American Man, Charted

This summer, All Things Considered is looking at the lives of men in America. By some measures, not much has changed over the past few decades — girls still do better in school, and men still make more money. In other areas, the shifts are profound.

We've charted some of the more surprising changes below. It's important to note that in all instances we are depicting the generalized American man, flattened across racial and socio-economic groups. Looking at the statistics through any of those or other lenses can admittedly provide a different picture.


It's well-documented that boys don't perform as well in school as girls. It starts early — girls are more highly verbal as young children and, for developmental and socialization reasons, they tend to adapt better to the school environment, which requires sitting still and following directions.

By the time high school rolls around, boys are earning worse grades than girls. They've been behind in that regard for decades, averaging about 0.2 GPA points lower since the 1970s. (It's interesting to note that although girls perform better in science and math even throughout high school, they pursue far fewer of the so-called STEM degrees in college.)

A 2013 study found that the GPA gap, in part, stems from the fact that many girls enter high school expecting to pursue a higher education degree that will support their career goals. Meanwhile, more boys have set their sights on jobs that do not require advanced degrees and are more likely to opt for vocational programs or the military. Those early outlooks can have a big impact on their grades.

Which brings us to our next chart: Men have been getting fewer bachelor's degrees than women since the mid-1980s. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, this year marked the first time men earned fewer doctoral degrees than women.

Young Adulthood

The poor job market in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis kept more young men at home after they turned 18. Additionally, the Pew Research Center says that because men also tend to take longer to finish college and marry later than their female peers, they are more likely to stick around their parents' house. In 2012, 40 percent of millennial men (ages 18-31) lived at home, and roughly 26 percent of them resided in a multigenerational household.

An important note about our chart: Because the U.S. Census Bureau counts college students who live in dorms as "living at home," we've isolated the 25- to 34-year-olds here to provide a clearer picture of who's still at home after most people their age have finished college, if they attended.

As previously noted, men tend to get married later than women, and both groups continue to delay the milestone event. Furthermore, fewer Americans are married today than at any point in the past 50 years. The decline is especially notable for men in low- and middle-income groups whose earnings have stagnated or declined in the past few decades (more on that below). A 2012 report by The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution found that only half of the poorest men in America are married today, compared with 86 percent in 1970.


American men still have higher incomes than women and earn about 19 percent more. (However, there are some cities in the U.S. — like Atlanta and Memphis — where young, single, childless women make more than similar men, largely because those men have less education.) And across the country, fewer men are breadwinners — today 40 percent of moms provide the sole or primary source of household income.

When you break apart that median male income figure by education levels, the picture is staggering. Men with professional degrees — like doctors and pharmacists — make five times as much as those who haven't finished high school. A 2011 Brookings analysis of census data found that for men without a high school diploma, median annual earnings have actually declined by 66 percent since 1969 (after accounting for inflation).


Today's fathers are more involved parents than their own dads were. According to a Pew report, gender divides persist in work outside the home vs. housework and child care, but the gaps are narrowing. Many fathers are aware of the imbalance — 46 percent say they don't spend enough time with their children.

Similarly, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past 25 years. Like many changes for men, the phenomenon was propelled by the financial crisis — the figure hit its peak of 2.2 million in 2010. As unemployment has declined, so has the number of fathers at home with kids.

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy continues to increase for both men and women in America. A 2011 report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation concluded that men have helped themselves by smoking less, staying thinner and seeking out treatment for high blood pressure and high cholesterol more often than women. Side note: It also doesn't hurt to live in Hawaii.

(An interesting aside: The dips in this chart during 1936 and 1943 reflect large influenza outbreaks. Once antibiotics and vaccines became the norm in the 1940s, life expectancy smoothed out and steadily grew.)

And just as women are slowly narrowing the wage gap with men, so too are men closing the life expectancy gap with women (although there is still some doubt that they'll ever close it entirely).

Serri Graslie is a producer for NPR.org and All Things Considered.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Up North Updates
* indicates required