Man, Interrupted: Why Young Men are Struggling & What We Can Do About It

Man, Interrupted: Why Young Men are Struggling & What We Can Do About It

by Philip Zimbardo, Nikita Coulombe


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573246897
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 04/01/2016
Pages: 324
Sales rank: 667,618
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Philip George Zimbardo is a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became well-known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox, and Shyness. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project.

Nikita D. Coulombe is a writer and artist who worked with Philip Zimbardo for several years. Together they co-authored the TED eBook Demise of Guys. Passionate about understanding human nature, she co-founded the sex education blog,

Read an Excerpt

Man, Interrupted

Why Young Men are Struggling and What We Can Do About It

By Philip Zimbardo, Nikita Coulombe

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2016 Philip Zimbardo and Nikita D. Coulombe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63341-029-9


Disenchantment with Education

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote that the information age is liberating because it allows us to offload mundane mental chores to "cognitive servants." At some point in the future Mr. Brooks may be right. But for now, as liberating as this ability to externalize is in many ways, it is making the world — as spoken-word artist Gary Turk succinctly put it — full of "smart phones and dumb people." The problem with this notion, explains Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, is "the proponents of the outsourcing idea confuse working memory with long-term memory. When a person fails to consolidate a fact, an idea, or an experience in long-term memory, he's not 'freeing up' space in his brain for other functions." Carr argues that storing long-term memories does not bog down our mental powers; rather it increases our level of intelligence because it makes it easier to learn new ideas and skills in the future. In other words, we think we're smarter than we actually are.

As a culture, we are losing our ability for sustained attention. The more we "outsource" the less we retain, and in turn, the less we know. While 76 percent of Americans said they watched, read, or heard the news on a daily basis, less than half said they went beyond the headlines. So there's this potential illusion of knowing. It is the danger of having a superficial level of knowledge, yet believing you know everything. A retired English professor mentioned to us that toward the end of his career he noticed that although his students thought they understood something, when they were asked to describe the topic they stumbled over their words. One student even dropped the class after refusing to do revisions on his work. This example is a microcosm of the "giving up before you try" attitude that has permeated the minds of young men en masse.

Some people think it's been a case of boys not doing well in school and giving their teachers hell since the beginning of recorded history. A recent large-scale meta analysis of over 300 studies that reflected the grades of more than 500,000 boys and nearly 600,000 girls revealed that, for many decades, girls all over the world have been making higher grades than boys in all subjects. The authors suggested that this data undermines the "boy crisis," but we have to disagree. Good grades have become crucial to earning a living wage — and it is all the more reason for society to show boys the importance of doing well in school. Boys also used to have far more motivation to compete and succeed in every other aspect of life — moving out of their parents' house, getting a girlfriend or wife, setting long-term goals, and embarking on a career — which they are sorely lacking now.

For the first time in US history, boys are having less education than their fathers. Moreover, academics are now more of a female pursuit. Girls are outperforming boys at every level, from primary school through university. In the US, by thirteen or fourteen years old, not even a quarter of boys are proficient in either writing or reading, versus 41 percent of girls who are proficient in writing and 34 percent who are proficient in reading. Boys also account for 70 percent of all the lowest grades given out at school. Similar achievement gaps between the genders have been documented worldwide. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that boys are more likely to repeat school years than girls, had poorer grades, and got lower pass rates on school leaving examinations. In some countries, such as Sweden, Italy, New Zealand, and Poland, the girls scored so much higher than the boys on reading in the PISA Assessment (a global measure of skills and knowledge) that they were essentially a year to a year and a half ahead in school. Internationally, in just over half of the countries that participated in the 2009 PISA Assessment, boys outperformed girls only in mathematics, but the mathematics gap was only one-third the size of the reading gap.

In her book, The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, described even more imbalances. She said that girls not only outnumber boys in student government, honor societies, and after school clubs, but they also do more homework, read more books, and outperform boys in the arts and in musical abilities. Meanwhile, more boys are suspended from school and more are held back from advancing to the next grade level. Simply put, girls are more "engaged" academically.

More boys than girls are coming to school unprepared — without books, paper and pencil, or their homework. Twice as many boys think school is a "waste of time" and arrive at class late. Predictably, students with the lowest test scores who came to school unprepared outnumbered the unprepared high-scoring students more than two to one.

The top reason for disability filings for children is now mental illness, "representing half of all claims filed in 2012, compared to just 5 to 6 percent of claims twenty years prior," says child psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley. Rates of ADHD diagnoses increased 5 percent every year between 2003 and 2011; boys are between two to three times more likely than girls to have ever been diagnosed in their lifetime, and therefore are more likely to be prescribed stimulants, such as Ritalin, even in primary school.

On top of this, boys are far more likely to drop out of school. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) notes the ripple effects of this trend:

Dropouts ages 25 and older reported being in worse health than adults who are not dropouts, regardless of income ... Dropouts also make up disproportionately higher percentages of the nation's prison and death row inmates. Comparing those who drop out of high school with those who complete high school, the average high school dropout is associated with costs to the economy of approximately $240,000 over his or her lifetime in terms of lower tax contributions ... higher rates of criminal activity, and higher reliance on welfare.

The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a study that began in 1997 and ended in 2012, found that by twenty-seven years old a third of women had received bachelor's degrees compared with one out of four men. By 2021, in the US it is estimated that women will get 58 percent of bachelor's degrees, 62 percent of master's degrees and 54 percent of PhDs. Abroad there are similar trends. In Canada and Australia, 60 percent of university graduates are women. Fewer than three boys apply to university in England for every four girls who do, and in Wales and Scotland, 40 percent more girls apply than boys, a gap that widens among those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Two-thirds of students in special education remedial programs are boys. It's not a question of IQ — young men are just not putting in the effort, and it translates into a lack of career options. These gaps are much greater for males from minority backgrounds: only 34 percent of college bachelor's degrees awarded to black students go to black men, and 39 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded to Hispanic students go to Hispanic men.

It is obvious to us that it is time for a loud wake-up call, to be sounded in every nation around the world where young males are failing to perform adequately in academic domains. The consequences for them, their families, their communities, and even national destinies could be catastrophic unless dramatic corrective actions are taken soon.


Men Opting Out of the Workforce

Where has the Protestant work ethic gone these days in the minds of young men? In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the percentage of American teens and those in their early twenties who participated in the workforce dropped dramatically; and male employment between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four has declined steadily since the late 1960s. Around the world there are similar trends, which means millions of men are not working.

The growing interconnectedness of the world's economies means that modern boom and bust cycles have further and deeper reaching consequences for all nations. The global recession of 2009 was the worst recession since the Second World War, causing male unemployment to double. Half of the 6.5 million US jobs lost since the most recent recession were in manufacturing and construction and many of those kinds of jobs aren't coming back. Manufacturing industries that de-emphasize manual and technical skills in favor of technological advances — such as the car industry — mean that many developed countries no longer make things, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty for many men. Even having a higher degree is no guarantee of employment.

Health care — a major female-dominated industry — was relatively insulated. Personal care and home health aides are projected to be the fastest-growing occupations, and women are predicted to fill a large portion of these new jobs. So while this new landscape of opportunities offers a bright future for many young women, it offers a rather grim harvest for bright young men, compared to what would have been available to them only a generation or two ago.

But there's more — an entitlement curse. Although the adverse state of the Western economy has contributed to fewer men in the workforce, a highly educated female colleague alerted us to a new phenomenon. Some males now feel a sense of total entitlement simply because they exist as males. And they do not have to do anything to earn that special privilege. Many now seek long-term shelter either with Mom and Dad or within their marriages or relationships with a live-in partner. A surprising amount of men don't seem to want to work at jobs that will bring in money or even help out with household chores that will keep their living space tidy. One out of six men of prime working age who are not working willingly admit they don't want a job, and nearly half said the jobs that are available are beneath them or don't pay enough to "improve their lives" These guys are content just to hang around doing "their thing" but perform nothing that traditionally resembles work.

Some of these men have even reframed dependency to make it look like an accomplishment and not a social failure, and they feel it is their right to absent themselves from having to make money or do drudgery around the house. In a sense, they are like old-fashioned gigolos, attractive men who were taken care of by older women in return for being charming dates or sexual adventurers, except this new breed of males want it all while giving little in return. Consider a couple of the vignettes that our colleague shared with us:

A physical therapist I know married a guy who basically quit his job once they got married. She did all the work and all the housework. She would come home after a long day at work, schlepping her heavy equipment through the rain, and he would not even come out to help her carry anything. When she got in, he would ask her what was for dinner, and she would have to go back out to the store and come home and cook. He sat on his ass all day and did nothing. Nice guy, handsome, but did not work or want to work. She divorced him after four years of marriage.

Another academic I know gets together with this guy who quits his job to go back to graduate school. He incurs a $100,000 debt and is not able to get a steady job. She supports him although he is not willing to get married nor help with any house chores.

Why do women stick it out with such guys? Even their mothers might call them slackers. As we'll explore in more depth in Chapter 20, the depressing alternative for these well-educated women appears to be no man at all, so they stick with their bad decision until it gets so unbearable that they decide to dump the deadbeat.

In the years following my (Phil's) Demise of Guys TED Talk, many talented and attractive young women came up to me at my various lectures around the world and shared their experiences. These professional women in their midtwenties to early forties all echoed the same theme: it is difficult to find a man of similar age and with a similar background to theirs who knows how to carry on a basic social conversation or understands the social etiquette of interpersonal communication with a new acquaintance where there appears to be some social attraction.

The standard script is the guy describes in great detail his background, his current job, the new app he is working on or new website he plans to develop, and then he glazes over, maybe orders a drink, or worse, pulls out his phone mid-conversation and stars checking his emails and texts. There is no hint that he wants the woman to share her personal or professional story. "And what about you?" They don't ask.

When I first lectured on the topic, my focus was on young guys in their teens and early twenties. These women agreed that it starts there and snowballs. Whatever the cause, the cure is obvious: men who want to attract, date, and maybe even mate with women in their common talent pool have to learn how to talk with them. They need to take time to practice being social animals, to be more sociocentric, and be able to find common ground.

Aside from not understanding that all relationships involve a negotiation of rights and obligations, what this entitlement suggests to us is the abandonment of a sense of having to work for anything. The stigma of unemployment still exists, but isn't even close to what it used to be. These men don't make the connection between responsibility, paying dues, and success. Some of them don't care. Others are acting as if one gets what one wants just by being at the front of the line when the doors open or the party starts.

A young man told us this in his survey comments:

It is my belief that entitlement can help shape men. What they are entitled to is responsibility. The achievement is fulfillment of responsibility that will let the world trust them to shape the future. Yes, men can be strong if they care about others. Responsibilities — such as being gentle and a gentleman, manners to others to show courtesy, to take on duties to reassure others, being selfless-will help a young man find himself ... The key to being a man lies in responsibility. The responsibility to care about oneself and not ruin or abuse oneself, to care about others and not ruin or abuse them.

We could not agree more. But it seems to us that this new sense of male entitlement is different from what it may have been in the past. It is more generalized, spreading to more settings and activities that tend to undermine any meaningful social or romantic relationships. These men seem to be emulating successful media celebrities and personalities such as basketball star Michael Jordan, actor Ashton Kutcher or entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg, who appear to have it all; but they see and admire only the desirable outcomes and products. What is missing from the analysis is any appreciation of what goes into any kind of success: a lot of hard work, trial and tribulation, practice and failures that are part of the process of trying to attain a goal. The good things in life usually take a commitment to success, to delaying gratification, to putting work before play, and to understanding the importance and vitality of the social contract — not expecting more than what is being put in.


Excerpted from Man, Interrupted by Philip Zimbardo, Nikita Coulombe. Copyright © 2016 Philip Zimbardo and Nikita D. Coulombe. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Note to Readers

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction xv

Just Drifting

Part I Symptoms

1 Disenchantment with Education 3

2 Men Opting Out of the Workforce 7

3 Excessive Maleness 11

Social Intensity Syndrome (SIS)

4 Excessive Ganung 19

Mastering the Universe from Your Bedroom

5 Becoming Obese 23

6 Excessive Porn Use 27

Orgasms on Demand

7 High on Life or High on Anything 33

Over-Reliance on Medications and Illegal Drugs

Part II Causes

8 Rudderless Families, Absent Dads 39

9 Failing Schools 63

10 Environmental Changes 77

11 Technology Enchantment and Arousal Addiction 83

12 Sour Grapes 133

Entitlement versus Reality

13 The Rise of Women? 143

14 Patriarchy Myths 161

15 Economic Downturn 179

Part III Solutions

16 What the Government Can Do 187

17 What Schools Can Do 195

18 What Parents Can Do 199

19 What Men Can Do 209

20 What Women Can Do 223

21 What the Media Can Do 231

Conclusion 237

Appendix I TED Survey Results 241

Appendix II Social Intensity Syndrome-Scale and Factors 251

Notes 255

Recommended Resources 309

Index 311

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