It's a dressed up version of an old argument: that young men are not what their fathers were; that they aren't accepting adult responsibilities; and that they are forcing young women to give up in disgust on the idea of marriage and to turn to sperm banks.
What has brought this about? Part of her argument is that the modern knowledge economy forces young people to extend their educations and to travel around the country, thereby delaying the opportunity to settle down.
But she hints too that the modern ideal of self-defining autonomy leads people to favour solo career pursuits rather than family commitments:
They write their own biographies, and they do it from scratch. Sociologists use the term "life script" to describe a particular society's ordering of life's large events and stages. Though such scripts vary across cultures, the archetypal plot is deeply rooted in our biological nature ... For women, the central task usually involved the day-to-day rearing of the next generation; for men, it involved protecting and providing for their wives and children. If you followed the script, you became an adult, a temporary custodian of the social order until your own old age and demise.
Unlike adolescents, however, pre-adults don't know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether...
Given the rigors of contemporary career-building, pre-adults who do marry and start families do so later than ever before in human history. Husbands, wives and children are a drag on the footloose life required for the early career track and identity search.
That's liberal culture for you: family roles are downgraded and delayed as being a "biological destiny" whilst priority is given to a self-authored identity connected to careers.
Hymowitz then argues that without a commitment to family, young men lack depth:
What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.
She finishes on this note:
Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do.
They might as well just have another beer.
Some of this she gets right. She's right that 20-something women are increasingly doing better than men in jobs and education. She's right that the focus on self-defining autonomy leads to a delay in family formation. She's right that modern society has left men without the family responsibilities that might encourage a commitment to more adult concerns in life.
But she still gets it mostly wrong. I was there when the changes started to kick in. My generation of men still expected to go to uni and then soon after get a job and marry. That was still the "life script". So why did it change?
It wasn't significantly because the economy required us to spend extra time at university or to travel around. That wasn't the issue we faced. The problem was that women had changed. They had been raised to put careers and independence first. Marriage and children were a long way down the female checklist - there was a time when many university women might have answered that such matters were to be left to their late 30s.
So men weren't required as husbands and fathers until some impossibly late stage in life. Furthermore, if marriage were to be deferred that long, then women didn't have to select for family men. They could let rip a preference for bad boys or have flings with unsuitable men or reject decent men because they weren't ready for stable commitments yet.
The truth is that if women in the 1980s and 1990s had selected for traditionally masculine qualities, then that's what would have remained dominant within male culture.
It's probably the case, even today, that if the majority of women selected for depth of character in men then that's what men would be encouraged to adapt to.
My criticism of Kay Hymowitz, therefore, is that she prefers to explain the changes she discusses as being the result of impersonal economic forces rather than the deliberate efforts of feminists and liberals and that she overlooks the role of women, particularly in what women select for in men, in changing the male culture.
I'd also take exception to her claim that:
husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete
If husbands and fathers are optional to any degree at all it's because the state has stepped in to artificially create this situation. And, anyway, few middle-class women want to raise children alone through a sperm donation.
Nor are the masculine virtues obsolete. If a man wants to succeed in his career and in his family life, he will still need fortitude, stoicism, courage and fidelity.
These virtues are obsolete only in the sense that they aren't being selected for by young women. So a man shouldn't expect that by cultivating these qualities he's going to gain an advantage in the dating stakes. He should cultivate these qualities instead because he recognises them as virtues in their own right and because they are important qualities to draw on in other aspects of his life.