The widely considered to have begun in the

The UK’s economic shift from a Fordist to a
post-industrial, services-based economy is widely considered to have begun in
the early 1970s. (Harvey, 1989) (McDowell, 2014) For the
remainder of the twentieth century, and into the next millennium, the UK’s
economic profile was drastically altered by shifts in occupational
distribution; not only in terms of the geographical distribution of work, but
also in the nature of labour carried out by workers. (Bell, 1971) The decline
in UK manufacturing coincided with significant growth in a range of service
sector industries.


Firstly, the predominant occupational and
social conditions of Fordist Britain will be outlined, with a brief description
of the shift towards a services-based economy. Secondly, the implications of
this new services-dominated economy for male working opportunities will be
examined; consideration will be made of the nature of shifts in male occupational
and habitual employment, and the factors contributing to these changes. (McDowell, 2001) Finally, the
consequences of the UK’s service economy for relative male experiences will be
explored. Interpretations of experience here will be located in terms of
‘masculinity’, and labour’s role in forming this marker of male identity will
be examined (McDowell, 2014); the ways in
which masculinity has changed temporally in response to British economic
restructuring will also be examined. Additional consideration will be given to
media portrayals of men, particularly the young, in the UK, along with a
discussion of an alleged “crisis of masculinity” for British men.  (Charlebois, 2013) (Howker & Malik, 2010) (McDowell, 2014)

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The Fordist era, heralded by some as the
“golden age of capitalism”, is widely considered to have followed the end of
the Second World War and continued until the early 1970s. (Chang, 2014) (Harvey, 1989) (McDowell, 2001) Taking its
name from Henry Ford’s methods of mass production, this was a period of almost
full employment in the UK, with the majority of men employed in manufacturing;
typically, this labour was full-time, and it was commonplace for men to work
for a single employer throughout their working life. (McDowell, 2001) This was a
pattern repeated across the Global North, and it is possible to identify
parallels in the experiences of Britain’s manufacturing workers and the
automobile workers of America’s Midwest, or the devoted employees of Japanese corporations.

(Charlebois, 2013) (Osterman, 1999) An
essentially patriarchal relationship existed between employer and labour, with
the place of work providing a familial dynamic. (Osterman, 1999) This period
was marked by a significant demand for young, unskilled male labour: Fordist
production line methods necessitated little in terms of worker education,
flexibility or interactivity. (Thompson, 2003) With
full-time work and a steady wage secured, men enacted their role in the Fordist
Sexual Contract. (McDowell, 2014) This
patriarchal bargain involved the full participation of men in the labour market
in exchange for a family, or ‘breadwinner’, wage; women exchanged their
domestic labour, along with any earnings they accrued from part-time work, in
exchange for a share in this wage. (McDowell, 2014) This defined
the familial dynamics for millions of people during the Fordist period, and the
breadwinner role existed as the traditional marker of adult masculinity. (McDowell, 2014) In terms of
femininity, women’s working lives were routinely dictated by life cycle
employment patterns, whereby their engagement in the labour market was defined
by two participatory peaks: during their mid twenties, after which
participation would decline before peaking once more around the age of 40. (McDowell, 2014) The life
cycle model of female employment existed as a direct consequence of the
domestic services (in this case, childrearing) that women were expected to
perform. The Fordist Sexual Contract “reinforced the intersections between
market, family and the state that characterised the Fordist era in the 20th
century.” (McDowell, 2014)


David Harvey considered 1972 to be the year
in which Fordism ended. (Harvey, 1989) This
cessation was a consequence of a broad range of socio-economic factors, which
ultimately led to the steady rendering of Britain as a less attractive location
for manufacturers than emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. This
economic restructuring was dominated not only by the decline of the UK’s
manufacturing sector, but also by a steady rise of middle class occupations in
addition to exponential growth in the service economy, particularly at the
lower-end consumer level. (McDowell, 2014) Female labour
participation increased across almost all levels of employment structure. (McDowell, 2014) These economic
shifts have reconfigured labour-specific gender relations, with subsequent inequalities
at multiple levels of the economy. (McDowell, 2014)


The shift to a services-dominated economy had
multiple effects on masculine working opportunities. (McDowell, 2001) The economic
participation rate of working age males decreased from 91% in the late 1970s to
84% by the late 1990s (McDowell, 2001); however,
whilst this represented an absolute decrease of 3.5 million British men in
waged employment, it is important to note that the impact of this decline was
disproportionate across social, racial and age ranges. (McDowell, 2001)


This decline in absolute employment can
partly be attributed to increasing female participation in the labour market; a
significant proportion of this rise was the consequence of growth in service
sector roles that are commonly deemed more suited to women. Increasing numbers
of women are also employed in professional services; middle class women now
populate the traditionally male-dominated fields of law, medicine, finance and
higher education. (England, 2010) (Perry, 2016) As modern
norms and expectations increasingly favour universal labour market
participation, the significance of the Fordist Sexual Contract has diminished, contributing
to the declining relevance of the life cycle pattern of participation, once the
defining factor of feminine economic activity. (McDowell, 2001) Is it
possible that declines in masculine economic participation are, simply, a
consequence of women rising to an equal level of economic power? (Perry, 2016) Whilst a
possible contributor, it is nevertheless important to highlight the role played
by economic restructuring in reconfiguring male working opportunities.


The occupational redistribution of the modern
economy has transformed the UK’s employment structure. (England, 2010) The fastest
growing segments of the labour market are in the service sector, incorporating
both the high paid occupations in the UK’s information economy and also the
poorly paid, unskilled service roles in care, retail and hospitality. Whilst
female participation is increasing in these higher status jobs, male dominance has
been maintained. (Bosworth & Kersley,
(Perry, 2016) However, in
the unskilled service sector men are now commonly employed as ‘women workers’,
in roles deemed as feminised. (McDowell, 2001) The
expectations of men in the labour market have changed significantly: with the
disappearance of the ‘breadwinner’ wage and declining job security, employers
demand occupational and geographical mobility. (McDowell, 2001) (Sennett, 1998) Whilst the
work and residential ‘spheres’ once existed as distinct and separate locations,
their connections are now much more fluid and complex. Contemporary employment
practices, such as informal and home working, have changed the nature of the
work available to men. (McDowell, 2001)


Fluxes in male working opportunities vary
along social lines. The decline in employment for over 50s males was addressed
politically and in the media, with Gordon Brown in 1999 referring to this group
as a “lost generation”. (Allen & Ainley, 2010) (McDowell, 2001) This idea of
a ‘lost generation’ can also be extended to the young working class men of the
modern UK economy. (Allen & Ainley, 2010) This
demographic, once the backbone of the Fordist manufacturing workforce, are
today a disadvantaged group within the unskilled service sector, which require values
typically regarded as ‘feminine’. (McDowell, 2014) Young men may
be uncomfortable with the embodied workplace performances typical in these
roles, and view them as a challenge to their masculinity, an identity that is deeply
rooted in the traditional gender relations generated by Fordism. (McDowell, 2014) Whilst
‘definitions’ of masculinity vary both spatially and temporally, it is common
for male interpretations of gender to be firmly rooted in Fordist principles. (McDowell, 2014) These men are
not only excluded from high status jobs due to their lack of educational
capital, but also find themselves disfavoured in those manufacturing jobs that
are still available: the increasing inclination towards ‘Toyotism’ rather than
Fordism requires higher levels of skill and flexibility from secondary sector
workers; consequently, today’s manufacturing sector is generally unsuitable for
the unskilled labour that once made up the majority of its workforce. (Dohse, et al., 1985)


In the post-Fordist era the experiences of
young men and women have changed significantly. (McDowell, 2014) It is now
increasingly difficult for working and middle class men to achieve regular waged
work, which was traditionally the benchmark of adult male independence. (McDowell, 2014) Furthermore,
not only has there been a decline in the means of men to achieve the
traditional ‘breadwinner’ role, but the need for men to perform this role in
the modern economy has diminished, due to the increased labour market
participation of women, which has enhanced female financial independence. The
Fordist sexual contract, once the defining link between employment and marriage,
has largely disappeared. (McDowell, 2001) With this
decline, a restructuring of familial customs has occurred, ultimately shifting
men’s domestic experiences. (McDowell, 2001)


Performativity dictates masculinity. (Gibson-Graham, 2008) Masculine identity is constantly enacted and
re-enacted via bodily performance and the post-Fordist shift, towards an
economy that demands effective embodied performance as a vital aspect of the
product sold, has realigned what it is to be a man. (Gibson-Graham,
Irrefutably, this is markedly different today than it was in 1972. Despite
this, there remains a tendency to maintain contact with old Fordist gender
relations: McDowell’s interviews of young working class men in Swindon and
Luton highlighted the desires of these men to provide financial assistance for
their mothers, with their childhood homes existing as the single fixed point in
their lives in the flexible modern economy. (McDowell,
& Malik, 2010)
Whilst immersed in difficult life situations where working opportunities were
usually not in line with their desires, these men still sought to experience
the power of a patriarchal familial relationship. (McDowell,


The uncertain location of men and masculinity
in the modern economy has led to suggestions of a “crisis of masculinity” (McDowell, 2001): the nature
of modern employment, increasingly flexible and precarious, impacts
significantly on men with regards to their expectations of their own masculinity.

(McDowell, 2001) Growing
feelings of uncertainty and isolation are fuelled by media attacks upon young,
working class men; rarely are these men regarded as the victims of economic restructuring,
but instead as the architects of their own economic inertia and deprivation. (McDowell, 2014) Much of this
media attention refers to men statically, an approach that only acts to blanket
blame to all men; a discourse approach to masculine consideration would be more
accurate. (Gill, 2003) In the modern
UK the emergence of such ‘characters’ as the ‘new lad’ and ‘new man’ has been
documented; whilst overtly contrasting concepts (one brash and extroverted, the
other sensitive and reserved), both movements can be considered as oppositional
forms of masculinity, and as attempts by young men to carve out their own impression
of masculinity and power, in an economic climate that is shifting towards an
equal gender division of influence. (Charlebois, 2013) (Gill, 2003) In a media
climate where they feel increasingly victimised, it is possible that these
movements exist as fight (new lad) and flight (new man) responses to the
negative considerations of their gender.



The sectorial shift from manufacturing to
services dominance has resulted in a significant realignment of the gender
divisions of labour in the UK economy, and whilst these changes have been
distributed inequitably across the full labour market in spatial and social
terms, it is irrefutable that the working opportunities available to men have
altered substantially (McDowell, 2001); these shifts
in labour opportunities have transformed the experiences of British men, both
at home and in the workplace. (McDowell, 2001) In the UK’s projected
economic prospectus, great emphasis is routinely placed on the importance of
service sector growth and productivity for future prosperity. (Giles, 2013) Whether men
and women are to be equal beneficiaries of this sector-specific growth is open
to question.