For those who are finding that everyday life is just a little bit too easygoing at present, here is a new crisis to help wake you in the early hours with an attack of the horrors. There is a terrible decline in the supply of what the press call “traditional husbands”. It is not a small matter, according to researchers here and in the United States: marriage itself is being redefined. David Willetts, the government minister whose job seems to be to worry about such things, has described what is happening as “a significant trend”.
To appreciate the depth of the husband crisis, it is helpful to put aside a few inconvenient facts . We should forget for a moment that men are still paid quite a lot more on average than women for one example , and also that the vast majority of the directors of our large companies happen to be male.
Further down the food-chain, apparently, it is all very different. More women than men are graduating from universities, and are then doing better at work during their twenties. The problem is that when, in their thirties, they look around for someone to share their lives – that “traditional husband” – they discover that men are trailing hopelessly behind them.
The Pew Research Center in America has tracked the relative incomes of men and women over the past 40 years. In 1970, a mere four per cent of women earned more than their husbands. By 2007, the figure was 22 per cent, and has kept on rising.
“A lot of the men I meet aren’t really of the right calibre,” a financial manager called Claire Davis confided to the Sunday Times. Heartbreakingly, Claire has resorted to using an introduction agency in order to raise the quality of her dates. On one occasion, she actually went out with a trainee stuntman and had to pay for their dinner.
“A new cohort of highly ambitious, educated women… are redefining marriage and what they expect from it,” an expert on these things has pronounced. It is “the toy-boy effect,” says David Willetts. “These highly qualified women are marrying hunks or supportive types.”
There are two ways to respond to these reports, the first of which is: “Don’t be so bloody rude”. If a government minister airily referred to “the bimbo effect” and spoke with approval of how men are now looking for babes or housewife types, there would quite rightly be something of a fuss.
It is also an odd business that women who have at last achieved career superiority are now complaining that the men they date earn less than them. One would think, with their much-vaunted education and intelligence, they might be able to work out that one tends to lead to the other.
As for Claire Davis having to lower her conversation a notch or two when out with her trainee stuntman and then pick up the tab, some might say that she is only doing what many men have done for generations. It is excellent news that the gender balance is at last being redressed, but slightly undignified for successful women then to whinge about its personal side-effects.
The second response to this report is to congratulate the men. At last, they are free of the grim yoke which once would descend upon their shoulders when they reached their twenties. They no longer have to be, or pretend to be, “of the right calibre” or potentially “traditional husbands”. While the women pursue their careers , get on the property ladder and generally behave in a grown-up manner, they can enjoy an interestingly experimental youth.
That trainee stuntman may have had to put up with martyred sighs as his finance manager date reached for her credit card at the end of the evening but, deep in his manly heart, he will know that he is getting the better of the deal.
If you’re happy and you know it, tap your hedonimeter
A small, niggling mystery of modern life is why the busy professional people who use the social network Twitter so often mark their escape into moments of tranquillity by typing a message about it into their smart phone.
This compulsion to authenticate personal experience by sharing it with as many other people as possible has now reached a new level, thanks to a device called the “hedonimeter”. Part of the burgeoning happiness industry, there is a new scheme to map the times when the nation is most contented with the help of an app on mobile phones. The “Mappiness project” involves people recording their emotional state five times a day into a hedonimeter, giving the experience marks out of 100.
The results so far contain few surprises. We are at our happiest while making love, followed by playing sport, going to the theatre, singing and – local councils, please note – going to a library. At the bottom end of the scale is being ill. What strange vision of our world the Mappiness project presents. Even as they enjoy moments of intimacy, the British are busy keeping score. Where there was once a post-coital cigarette, there is now the busy tapping of a happiness update into the hedonimeter.
Independent, 8 November 2011