This white paper is the next chapter in Euro RSCG Worldwide PR’s
commitment to the study of the future of men. Since 2003, when Euro
RSCG popularized the “metrosexual” concept, the agency has been at
the forefront of the movement of marketing to men. Most recently, it
produced a report called “Gender Shift,” which asks if women are the
new men; organized a panel on men and women featuring David
Granger, editor in chief of Esquire; and did analytical work on the
American male voter for Campaign Money Watch. The force behind
metrosexual mania, Marian Salzman, who also co-wrote the book The
Future of Men: The Rise of the Übersexual and What He Means for
Marketing Today, is now president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR.
REALITIES, ICONS AND MEMES
For a lot of countries, it’s possible to create a reasonably accurate portrait of the
average man. In Japan, for example, he has black hair, dark eyes and stands a shade
below 5 feet 8 inches.1 Until the economic crisis upset the employment market, it was
also pretty likely that he drove a white Toyota and spent not much time at home but a
lot of time with his co-workers. Japan is an exceptionally homogeneous country, which
makes it easy to talk of averages there. The situation is similar in Sweden, Italy, Spain
and many other places.
With the United States, it’s a different matter. America is the land of immigrants, the
original melting pot of hopefuls and huddled masses drawn from every corner of the
globe. Statistics say the average height of American men is around 5 feet 10 inches,2
but factors such as ethnic origin and income lead to huge variations. The same applies
to other physical characteristics.
It applies to some cultural characteristics, too. There’s a lot of diversity, from the stoic
Nordic types of Minnesota to the laid-back Cajuns of Louisiana, from high-speed urban
MALE IN U.S.A.: INTRODUCTION 3
“America is not like a
blanket: one piece of
unbroken cloth.... America
is more like a quilt: many
patches, many pieces,
many colors, many sizes,
all woven and held together
by a common thread.”
—Rev. Jesse Jackson
sophisticates to easygoing small-
town guys. And the nation is
quite divided along political
party lines (red versus blue),
faith lines and ideological lines.
But even the most diverse
American men share some
common points that distinguish
them from others. Most countries
have patriotism, for instance, but
American patriotism stands
out. It is highly distinctive
because, unlike most other
major nations, the United
States is a country created by its people rather than inherited from its history.
American children grow up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at school every
day. American media creates a constant flow of movies, documentaries and
discussion about the country’s history, its present and its future. Even far
beyond its borders, people see the United States as the land of opportunity,
the land of dreams, the land of new beginnings and constant renewal, where
self-made men walk tall and even the little guys get a second chance.
In a place where new people have been arriving since before the country was
established, Americans don’t rely on hand-me-down tradition to tell them how to
be. That would keep them tied too tightly to their individual roots. Rather, they
rely on nationally shared rituals, stories and dreams, all told through the media
and updated or even reinvented to fit the mood of the times.
More than in any other country, men in the United States are the product of
the interaction among three crucial factors: the flesh-and-blood raw
material of the people with their genetic and cultural inheritances; the
dreams and values of the nation expressed in movies, TV and other
media images; and the arguments
and debates that roll back and forth as
Americans exercise the right to free
speech that’s guaranteed by the First
To even begin to understand
American men at the beginning of
a new decade, we need to look not
only at what the numbers tell us
in terms of measured realities, but also at the male
icons that express men’s values and aspirations—
and at the memes, or “thought viruses,” that are
animating American life. This white paper is therefore
divided into sections about realities, icons and memes.
4 MALE IN U.S.A.: INTRODUCTION
MALE IN U.S.A.: REALITIES 5
In many developed nations around the world, the people aren’t changing much. Mainly
they’re gradually aging as the local equivalents of baby boomers get older. The
populations of countries such as Italy, Germany and Japan are actually declining.
Contrast that with the United States, which is now home to more than 310 million
people and counting, and has a growth rate just shy of 1 percent a year.4 A child is born
every seven seconds, someone dies every 13 seconds and a new immigrant enters the
country every 31. That’s a net growth of one new American every 11 seconds.
In the age range of 15 to 64 (66.9 percent of the population), the ratio of men to
women is almost perfectly equal, but over age 65, men account for only 43 percent.
Ethnically, the country is changing, and it’s struggling to find acceptable words to talk
about its ethnicity. In four states (Texas, California, New Mexico and Hawaii), “whites”
are in a minority to “ethnics,” including Hispanics. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts
that Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi and New York will be next. Currently, about
33 percent of the U.S. population is non-white or Hispanic, but the Census Bureau
projects that ethnic “minorities” will be the U.S. majority by 2050.5
The figures and the Census have become embroiled in an ideological controversy that is
itself a trait of this changing nation. The Census Bureau is required by the U.S.
“Nearly all men can
stand adversity, but if
you want to test a
man’s character, give
Constitution to count everyone living in the country, no matter his or her immigration or
citizenship status.6 Exactly what should be counted is a matter of debate. Influential
conservatives such as Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and Republican
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann called for a partial boycott of the 2010 Census on
the grounds that the Constitution mandates only a head count.7 The 2010 Census
achieved 72 percent mail-in response, unchanged from the previous Census in 2000.8
It’s not just the numbers that speak of a changing nation. Watch passersby in any city, or
the cast of TV shows and movies, and you see the nation changing before your eyes.
THE GREAT WEALTH ILLUSION
For a long time, it seemed rising prosperity was raising the living standards of the many
Americans who regard themselves as middle class.The big homes, big cars and abundant
gadgets impressed visitors to the country. Even ordinary, average people apparently could
afford hot tubs, SUVs, king-size beds and massive flat-screen TVs. Apparently the money
was everywhere. In the last few difficult years, it has become clear that this was an illusion.
It’s easy to understand how the illusion continued and, in fact, still persists. Over much
of the past two decades, Americans’ spending increased consistently. In 1970, consumer
spending accounted for 64.8 percent of GDP, rising to 65.2 percent in 1980, 66.7
percent in 1990 and 67.8 percent in 2000.9 But that consumer-spending growth wasn’t
driven by growth in real income. Borrowing financed a substantial proportion of
Americans’ consumer spending during the boom years. The subprime crisis that started in
2007, followed by the financial crisis of 2008 and the economic crisis of 2009, have
made credit much harder to come by. They have made consumers leery of spending
money they don’t have or might need.
Now the economic crisis has widened the affluence gap that was previously bridged by
credit. On one side of the gap are the relatively few Americans who can afford to spend
plenty without borrowing, and on the other are the many who can’t afford to spend
much at all without borrowing. The most recent figures (2008) show the top 1 percent
6 MALE IN U.S.A.: REALITIES
of American households took about a 20 percent share (down from 23.5 percent in
2007) of the nation’s incomes.10 In terms of individuals’ earnings, 2008 Census Bureau
figures show 75.4 percent of income earners made less than $50,000 a year;
13.2 percent earned $50,000 to $75,000; 5.2 percent earned $75,000 to $100,000 and
6.2 percent earned over $100,000.11
Drilling down to gender level, in 2008, American men made median earnings of
$45,556, compared with the median women’s earnings of $35,471, according to a
Census Bureau report.12 In addition, 14 percent of working men earn more than
$100,000 a year, compared with only about 6 percent of women13 (although women’s
income is on an upward trajectory).
The numbers clearly show that a lot of the serious spending money in the United States
is in the hands of a relatively small proportion of Americans, and that it’s more likely to
be in the name of men than women. In practice, this doesn’t mean that each pot of
spending money belongs exclusively to men or to women.
THE EARNING CURVE
Although men average out making more money than women and owning more assets, the
averages reflect the impact of the outliers—the struggling poor and the super-rich. In the
middle, it’s been increasingly hard for the old-style American working man.
Women used to be at a disadvantage, and all too often they still are. But over the past
decade or so, in the data and in everyday life, women have been noticeably improving
their prospects through education and hard work. U.S. Census Bureau figures show that
the number of females enrolling in college increased by 20 percent from 1967 to 2000,
while the number of males decreased by 4 percent.14 And according to the American
Council on Education, 57 percent of the bachelor’s degrees across the United States are
awarded to women.15
MALE IN U.S.A.: REALITIES 7
“You’ braggin’ all
about the things you can
do/Every time you make
a pitch/If you’re so
smart/How come you
—Louis Jordan, singer and
Add to that the increasing use of robots for heavy labor, the shift to
information-based and service-based work, and the tendency for employers
to downsize and offshore, and American working men have had the rug
pulled out from under them. Across the bulk of the U.S. population, the
economic position of men has weakened while that of women has improved.
According to Robert Reich, professor of public policy at the University of
California at Berkeley, the median male worker earns less today, adjusted
for inflation, than he did in 1980.16
After years of shrinking opportunities, the recession has made it all even
worse for the working man. Three-quarters of the job losses since 2007
have hit blue-collar workers, and two-thirds of all Americans who have lost
jobs are blue-collar men.17
The uneven distribution of money in the United States translates into a few wealthy hot
spots. Despite the title of the famous 1996 book The Millionaire Next Door, the
percentage of wealth hot spots is surprisingly small. IRS figures show that of 3,142
counties in the United States, only 130 (about 4 percent) have average per capita
8 MALE IN U.S.A.: REALITIES
incomes above $35,000. Wealthy counties
tend to be just outside big economic
centers: Nineteen of the 25 richest are on
the East Coast, and six are on the
outskirts of Washington, D.C., most notably
list-topping Loudoun County, Va. This
doesn’t mean there isn’t serious wealth in
California or Washington State. Rather, it
reflects the fact that counties (like states)
in the East are usually smaller and
therefore have less of a spread of wealth.18 There are fewer non-wealthy people to lower
the average in such counties.
Even so, the picture is likely to change. Moneyed Americans are moving south to warmer
weather and lower taxes. Florida and Texas are particular favorites.
THE SILENT (BUT WEALTHY) MINORITY
Throughout the country’s history, American men in the most aspirational power
positions in politics, media and business have been virtually all white. Sports and music
have provided more of an equal stance for icons. Recently, nonwhites have taken some
mainstream limelight, especially with Barack Obama (and Tiger Woods before his
downturn) capturing the nation’s imagination.
Despite the ever-increasing numbers of non-whites in the overall population, the
demographics of the aspirational elite are still more like the overall demographics
of several decades ago, and images portrayed by the media often reflect that. The
same applies to women. They still lag white men in aspirational image power, even
though they comprise at least 50 percent of the population and have been making
great strides in education, work and public life.
MALE IN U.S.A.: REALITIES 9
In other words, the media are lagging the reality. Behind
the public images of American men projected by the
media, non-whites are packing increasing economic
power. In particular, the spotlight has been on Hispanics
because of their sheer numbers and visibility in everyday
life. As well as growing in numbers and percentage of
the population, Hispanic Americans have also been
growing in wealth. Their spending power went from
$212 billion a year in 1990 to $862 billion a year in
2007.19 The upward trajectory, however, was hit by the
economic crisis, and it remains to be seen how that will
affect the wealth track of Hispanics.
Meanwhile, Asian Americans are emerging as a wealth
force out of proportion with their numbers. Asians
account for just 3.65 percent of households but
5.59 percent of the wealthiest fifth of households and
an even more impressive 6.46 percent of the wealthiest
5 percent of households.20 Note that the term “Asian
American” covers a broad range of ethnicities, from
East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. In terms of
national origin, that includes Asian Indian, Chinese,
Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese21, plus
other smaller ethnic groups.
According to a UCLA study, Asians Americans have the highest median and mean
household income compared with all racial groups. In terms of total net worth, however,
they have lagged non-Hispanic whites.22
10 MALE IN U.S.A.: REALITIES
Pundits and commentators use the word “icon” at the drop of a hat, and with good
reason. Historically, icons were images or painted pictures of holy figures that were
venerated by the faithful. In historic times without pervasive media, icons were the only
representations that ordinary people had of holy figures. The icons served as a focus of
worship and they also put human features on divine figures. Religious icons were, and
still are, objects of veneration. They expressed the norms, ideals and aspirations of their
cultures. For common people in the illiterate centuries before the printing press, icons
were a magical, inspirational link with divine powers.
Today’s “icons” have a comparable role. Certainly the term is overused (especially
“iconic”), but as the following pages show, today’s icons express a lot about what
modern American men venerate and aspire to.
For almost a century, Hollywood has been creating icons and transporting them around
the world. The core products are, of course, movies, but the essence of the movies is
distilled in the still images used on posters and publicity materials. The poster-boy
images communicate many layers of feeling and meaning in one brief glance. They are
indeed icons, crafted with artistry and care, endlessly reproduced and displayed in public
and private places.
The box-office returns of movies reflect which icons are touching the hearts and souls of
Americans, making movies an icon index of sorts. The changing faces of movie icons
MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS 11
“I am my ideal.
But YOU are my idol.”
—Eric Von Zipper, in Beach
Blanket Bingo (played by
through the decades give strong indications as to which qualities of American manhood
are in favor at any time. Through a circular, reflexive process, the movie icons both
reflect the reality of American male values and influence them.
Take this subjective list (above) of one male Hollywood star for each of the past eight
decades, intended to represent the spirit of the times. It’s far from exhaustive (missing
such big stars as John Wayne, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert De Niro and
Leonardo DiCaprio, among many others) but is rather meant to illustrate how male
ideals and aspirations have changed through the decades.
Americans’ appetite for interesting male figures has long since outstripped the capacity
of the movie industry to supply them. The media are constantly on the lookout for men
with the power to attract consumers and hold their interest. Through the ’90s and into
the early 2000s, there was a craze for celebrity CEOs such as Jack Welch of GE. That
bubble has burst, along with the craze for stocks and investment.
Then came the era of the metrosexuals (a word that Euro RSCG’s Marian Salzman and
her trendspotting unit ushered in to the popular culture in 2003)—“straight urban men
willing, even eager, to embrace their feminine sides,” in the words of The New York
12 MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS
(Gone with the Wind)
The avenging loner
The all-American hero
(Saving Private Ryan)
(It’s a Wonderful
(Indiana Jones) Johnny Depp
(Pirates of the
1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
(The Wild One)
Today, the American men who are most widely
featured in the media have a distinctive mix of
strong personality, high intelligence and,
increasingly, diverse ethnic backgrounds. They
are men who have achieved a lot, who embrace
principles and put them into practice—but they
are also complex and not without flaws.
Below is a list of today’s iconic men. Again, the
list is subjective and could be two, three, 10 or
even 20 times as long. Its purpose, though, is to
look at what these icons represent for American
Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple. Maverick genius of Silicon Valley who
dropped out of college and started a world-beating business in a garage. After having
been ousted from the company he co-founded, he returned to save it and take it to new
Sergey Brin, co-founder and leading light of Google. Smart young Ph.D.
candidate who dropped out of his doctorate program to pursue a new business idea. Like
the even younger Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Brin embodies a combination of
idealism (“Don’t be evil”), intellectual prowess and business acumen.
George Clooney, actor, director and liberal activist. Heartthrob handsome,
intelligent, articulate humanitarian activist and a true-blue liberal in the tradition of
Glenn Beck, conservative media personality. The Fox News stalwart has become
the media magnet of the American right. His story of overcoming alcoholism and drug
addiction and finding faith (Mormon)24 resonates deeply with sections of the American
public, as do his outspoken Libertarian-conservative views.
Barack Obama, president of the United States. The first black American in the
Oval Office (although the TV show “24” paved the way with a black American
president—David Palmer, played by Dennis Haysbert—through the middle of the 2000s).
Nouriel Roubini, economist. Previously shunned as Dr. Doom, a gloomy-looking
academic with a foreign accent who repeatedly warned Americans about the economic
problems to come. Roubini went from media outcast to media darling when events
proved his analysis horribly right. As with Steve Jobs in technology, Roubini won by
sticking to his guns.
Don Draper, lead character in TV’s throwback drama “Mad Men.” Draper
was voted most influential man of 2009 in a poll by AskMen.com. So how can a
fictional character be included in the same list as Steve Jobs or President Obama? As
the poll commented: “Most of us are just as likely to have a beer with Don Draper as
with anybody else on this list.”
MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS 13
DON DRAPER: MODERN MAN?
“Mad Men” is no “Happy Days,” harking back to simpler, happier times, and Don
Draper is no two-dimensional ’60s stereotype. “Mad Men” throws new light on today’s
issues by tracing them back through the decades. The show might have scored its initial
success with the quality of the acting, the stylish sets and the intriguing plot lines, but a
lot of its cult status can be distilled to Draper’s fully rounded, complex character. Like
Tony Soprano before him (and unlike most American TV characters), Draper is three-
Don Draper lives almost 50 years ago, but he’s a modern man in a period of transition, a
complex figure for complex times when men are pulled in many directions by inherited
values, new values, urgent desires and vague longings. The way the ad man looks and
acts sometimes stands in sharp contrast to modern norms, but sometimes they’re
He’s impeccably groomed in a way that virtually no American man is today, and he
smokes and drinks too much, as few American men still do—at least not in public. He’s
ambitious and successful in his work, but it comes at a cost. He’s trim without going
near a gym, he’s masterful, manly and in control, but he’s also a depressive. He’s clear
about what being a man involves, but he doesn’t like it. He’s principled, earnest and
driven, but also deceitful, sexist and hedonistic. He aims high and falls low.
Draper’s world is full of style and luxury cues that modern viewers can understand, even
though they’re now history and will never return. The “Med Men” attitude toward
women is history, too. Although modern women find Draper fascinating, most would not
put up with him. More than 40 years of social progress have made women more
powerful and less tolerant of casual sexism and buttoned-up, old-style male behavior.
And the scope of Draper’s responsibility is a lot narrower than for modern American
men. Thanks to the efforts of the media, activists and marketers, American men now
know that every purchase decision they make has potentially wider implications for local
employment, people in far-off places and the ecology of the planet.25
14 MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS
“I’m living like there’s
no tomorrow, because
there isn’t one.”
—Don Draper, on “Mad Men”
(played by Jon Hamm)
In the 1960s, the Communists were the bad guys and the Americans were the good guys,
and that was the sum of the ideological issues for most people. Since then, the so-called
culture wars have opened up ideological divides in the United States and pitted
Americans against each other. Modern American men are rarely neutral on ideology, and
they’re not afraid to say it.
BIG MOUTHS, STRONG VIEWS
Throughout history, many icons of American manhood have been strong, silent,
brooding types—men of few words and plenty of action. They were in tune with
Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”
But successful modern American men don’t keep their thoughts to themselves, and
they don’t care much for moderation. In today’s sharp-elbowed media landscape,
the microphones and cameras just aren’t interested in men who speak too softly.
The imperative to be bold and loud has played itself out in the media
networks, too. The brash, opinionated Fox TV has pulled in viewers with
strident, partisan personalities, while CNN has seen
viewers deserting its more measured, balanced approach
in droves. Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has
blustered his way to becoming an opinion leader with
nationwide clout in conservative circles. Liberal
loudmouth Michael Moore has applied his no-holds-
barred activism to filmmaking, creating four of the 10 top-
grossing documentaries of all time.26 Contrast that with
President Obama. He has found his cool, reasoned approach
leaves even his own supporters cold and doesn’t win over his foes.
(And this just in: On the AskMen.com 2010 poll of most
influential men, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert bookend the
top 11; Obama dropped to No. 21 from No. 3 last year.27)
The changing balance of media ownership and control has made
big personalities, strong opinions and a loud voice much more
MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS 15
important for men. TV, radio, film and print used to be in the hands of a few
gatekeepers, who gave the breaks to guys with the right looks, contacts or chutzpah. It
was an insiders’ game. Now anybody has a shot at getting noticed through the Internet.
Social media encourages men to have an opinion and put it out there for the world in
blogs, podcasts and videos. Good looks and impeccable grooming are optional extras.
What is an American man if he doesn’t drive a serious car with a
V-8 throbbing under the hood? Big cars have been a defining part
of American-ness for many decades. Choreographed car chases are
obligatory in action movies. “Detroit muscle” used to be shorthand
for American industrial power and an expression of what
American men wanted from their cars—and wanted their cars to
say about them.
American men have also always liked to push their cars to the
limit: drag racing and NASCAR for speed lovers, demolition derbies for those who like
naked aggression, and monster trucks for sheer muscle. On the road, the love of
automotive muscle took the form of trucks and SUVs through the 1990s and into the
2000s, with the Hummer taking street-legal muscle about as far as it could go. Its
military origins, exaggerated wide stance and road-dominating presence were an extreme
expression of the American male aspiration to tame the wilderness with technology and
sheer physical power. “Sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself,” said the
advertising, paradoxically combining the nature-loving spirit of Thoreau with the muscle-
bound swagger of Rambo.
16 MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS
based on one thing:
happiness. And do you
know what happiness
is? Happiness is the
smell of a new car.”
(played by Jon Hamm)
Then soaring fuel prices, a surge in
climate concern and the economic
crisis killed the Hummer, which is
now out of production. At the
same time, Toyota’s hybrid Prius
went from being an indulgence for
tree-hugging celebrities to a smart
choice (at least until Toyota’s mass
recall took some of the shine off it).
It would be misleading to say American men have
turned 180 degrees on the muscle-car tradition,
though. Now they can get their fix of SUV ruggedness
with intelligence and a conscience, thanks to a raft of new hybrids coming from most of
the main brands, such as the Ford Escape. But for the ultimate in high-end brains and
brawn, look to Tesla Motors with its sleek battery-electric vehicles. The Tesla Roadster
accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds and is making headway in the
Some men have a difficult relationship with money, but not Americans. Money itself
never goes out of style, only how they make it and what they do with it. That’s part of
what makes the United States such a magnet for ambitious, go-getter men.
Until 2007-08, American alpha males seeking wealth, power and prestige went into
investment banking and finance. Those who made the big time could regard themselves
as what author Michael Lewis called “BSDs,”28 men who flaunted their manly prowess
with conspicuous earnings (massive bonuses), conspicuous consumption (massive co-ops
and summer homes) and conspicuous philanthropy (massive plaques).
MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS 17
In the harsh light of the Great Bust, a lot of financiers looked greedy and selfish. Some
looked dumb, and a few, such as Bernie Madoff, turned out to be villains. Now finance is
back to making big money, but financiers themselves are out of style. They’re no longer
heroes or aspirational figures for American men.
At a time of financial (and overall) insecurity, money still matters a lot, but so does
doing the right thing and being respected. The sweet spot for American men now is
figuring out how they can make a good living in ways that they can feel all-round proud
of in the post-bust, newly mindful era. There’s also the added complication that women
have made huge progress in the workplace, especially in jobs requiring study and
qualifications. The upper echelons of finance were one area where high levels of
testosterone were an advantage and old-style male behavior was not uncommon. So
what’s next for American men who want to make money and be manly without becoming
Fortune magazine’s top corporations are mostly old-economy stalwarts: oil
companies, banks and retailers.29 But the products, corporations and leaders that fire
the imagination of American men these days are in technology—especially now that
investment banking is in disgrace. Technology is the new frontier.
Silicon Valley is the cradle of dreams, and technology is the language that all self-
respecting American men must speak, whatever their BMI and political leanings.
Whether they have an eye for Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt or XXX-rated
celebrities, all American men lust after the latest gadgets. And they admire those who
make them, and especially those who make money from them.
18 MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS
An added bonus is that technology is still a man’s world. Women have shown their
mettle in most domains, but not as much in the technology business. It’s still an area in
which men’s competitiveness, obsessiveness and love of gadgets give them the edge. It’s
the frontier where they can range freely and do heroic deeds. And there are plenty of
high-profile wealthy technopreneur role models for American men of all ages: genomics
guru Craig Venter, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Linus Torvalds of Linux are just the tip of the
And don’t forget Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Evan Williams of Twitter, and Dennis
Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai of Foursquare. Social media is to today’s millennial
generation (people aged 18 to 25) what rock ’n’ roll was to baby boomers: a new and
powerful mass cultural phenomenon that is defining and shaping attitudes, behaviors and
generational self-perception. It has eclipsed politics, corporations and consumer power as
the greatest agent of change, according to a summer 2010 survey by Euro RSCG
So IT and social media have generated the first and second waves of technology icons.
Now venture capitalists are looking to fund new technologies to take over outdated
energy and transportation systems. Chances are that as with IT, the icons of these new
technologies will be American men. Despite the advances made by women, power
generation, cars, boats, trains and planes still tend to be guy things.
MALE IN U.S.A.: MALE ICONS 19
“Don’t live to geek;
geek to live.”
A SECOND CHANCE
For many Americans, the Great Bust was one of the most shocking experiences of their
life, like being woken with icy water after a massive party and being presented with the
bill. With layoffs, foreclosures and stern talk from the authorities, it has been a time for
Americans to think hard about their values and behavior. To hear what American men
are thinking now, Euro RSCG Worldwide surveyed 752 of them in late spring 2010.31
Bottom line: The “live for today” attitude is over. The
economic shocks that started in 2007 have shown that
there are no guarantees that tomorrow will be better
than today, or even as good as today. The ever-climbing
lines on the graph have stopped climbing. Nearly half
of American men (49 percent) feel more anxious now
and more worried about having enough for their
retirement (50 percent). A large minority (40 percent)
are worried about getting out of debt.
It’s been time for some hard questions, and they have
produced some worrying conclusions about where
things are now and where they’re headed. More than
20 MALE IN U.S.A.: MEMES
“When things are bad,
we take comfort in the
thought that they could
always get worse. And
when they are, we find
hope in the thought that
things are so bad they
have to get better.”
two-thirds of American men (70 percent) think that in many ways, society is moving in
the wrong direction. Almost as many (64 percent) think people aren’t willing to consider
others’ point of view. Even more (75 percent) worry that society has become too
shallow, intellectually lazy (75 percent) and physically lazy (83 percent).
But retreating in despair is not the American way. There’s no doubting that the economy
is still tough, that people have made mistakes and that changes are needed. The plus side
of this is that in the land of new beginnings and second chances, this difficult situation
has the potential to become a new beginning, too. Almost two-thirds of American men
(63 percent) think the recession has had the beneficial effect of reminding people of
what’s important in life. A big minority of 44 percent are actively trying to figure out
what makes them happy. Some might even argue that this is a patriotic duty, to honor
the famous phrase in the Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of
CHANGING IT UP
Since 2007, it has seemed as if everything has been out of control: debt,
spending, deficits, waistlines, prices, jobs, finance, government, morals. A lot
of the chaos has been “out there,” but American men also have a sense of it
being much closer to home.
Weight is the most visible issue. Compared with the “Mad Men” era,
today’s American men are an inch taller and 25 pounds heavier.32 In
fact, 72 percent of American men are overweight, including 32 percent
who are obese.33 Yet how many iconic American men are pear-shaped or
apple-shaped? Physically, at least, the male icons in the media rarely
reflect the country’s reality. Maybe instead it’s up to American men to
change the way they are?
The Euro RSCG survey shows that a massive 75 percent of American
men now say they are making an effort to improve the way they live and
73 percent are making an effort to improve the person they are. This
MALE IN U.S.A.: MEMES 21
includes paying more attention to home life. The notion that it is very important that a
family eat at least one meal a day together is supported in principle by 72 percent of
men. In the most affluent 10 percent of households, 80 percent of families are now
eating at least four meals a week together, compared with 16 percent five years ago.34
Traditionally, American men have had an adversarial relationship
with nature. Their forebears were pioneers in a big, wild country of
extremes, and a big, wild country called for big, tough men. Out in
nature, iconic manly American pursuits have involved hunting
animals, shooting guns, felling trees, rounding up cattle and drilling
Concern for the environment had (and still has) ideological associations with
effete liberals and naive tree-huggers. Yet events such as Hurricane Katrina, the
Gulf of Mexico oil well disaster and lots of extreme weather have shifted
perceptions and prompted even manly men to rethink their attitudes. The rising
generations of men are less locked in to old attitudes and more tuned in to a
bigger-picture understanding of the environment.
With their endless inventiveness, American men are finding new ways to measure
themselves against their wild country: backcountry hiking, mountain biking, rafting,
canoeing, caving and free-climbing.
KEEPING IT REAL
Americans have lived a growing disconnect for some time now. Ratings-sensitive media
present ever-more sanitized, plasticized, cosmetically enhanced, media-trained
celebrities. Yet between these visions of ideal lives and media clones, Americans respond
powerfully to authenticity. There’s a growing hunger for people, things and experiences
that have the tang of “real” about them.
22 MALE IN U.S.A.: MEMES
Tony Soprano, the mixed-up mobster from unlovely New Jersey, became an
American favorite precisely because he seemed so gritty and real. TV star David
Letterman overcame blackmail by being straight and real about his sexual
infidelities. “Keep it real” has become a new rallying cry across the nation. For
American men, the search for authentic ways of being is a real and ongoing
challenge in a world of media spin.
A symbolic moment came in the 2008 presidential election. Out on the stump in Ohio,
candidate Barack Obama faced questions from a man concerned about tax hikes. The
Republican camp quickly dubbed the bald, burly, straight-talking working man “Joe the
Plumber” and talked of him as an example of a real American man just trying to live
the American dream. Yet in reality, it turned out his name wasn’t Joe, he wasn’t a
plumber and he was more likely to get a tax rebate than a tax bill.35
LOOKING FOR LOVE
To keep it real, you’ve got to know who you are and what you want, and more men than
ever are trying to figure that out, especially with the renewed focus on individual
achievement and satisfaction.
In the generation of young adults in the United States, according to a brand-new study
from Euro RSCG Worldwide of people aged 18 to 25, their big issue and objective is
happiness—how to define it, how to gain it, how to keep it. When asked what happiness
means to them, this is how young American men answered:
• Love: 42 percent
• Freedom: 24 percent
• Friendship: 20 percent
• Money: 12 percent
• Power: 3 percent
• Having children: 2 percent
As the white paper concluded: “It appears that men and women are moving away from
what have long been considered the coveted prizes at the end of the rat race—namely,
money and power—in favor of love and friendship, which perhaps earlier generations
took for granted.”
MALE IN U.S.A.: MEMES 23
“Love is a many
splendored thing. Love
lifts us up where we
belong. All you need is
—Christian in Moulin Rouge!
(played by Ewan McGregor)
GAY IS OKAY
Until recently, the United States and many Western nations regarded homosexuality as
an aberration, a crime and even an abomination. Any man who was openly identified as
being homosexual risked losing everything. Not surprisingly, through most of American
history there are no prominent, influential men who identified themselves as homosexual.
Change arguably started when the towering all-American heartthrob Rock Hudson
publicly confirmed in 1985 that he was dying of AIDS. Gradually, Americans learned
that the Rock, and many other apparently hunky icons, were actually gay. Since then,
sexual orientation has continued to be a hot topic, inevitably being picked up as an issue
in the culture wars.
The issue of homosexuality in the military was accommodated with the 1993
compromise bill dubbed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There have been plans to repeal the bill
and allow gay people to serve openly, but it hasn’t happened yet.36 Nevertheless,
Americans are gradually coming to terms with gay issues.
Among the general population, a majority of Americans (52 percent) now find gay and
lesbian relationships morally acceptable, while a minority (43 percent) finds them
morally wrong. The biggest increase is among American men. In May 2006, far fewer
men than women found gay relationships morally acceptable (39 percent vs. 49 percent),
but by May 2010 the gender skew had switched (53 percent of men vs. 51 percent of
Despite all the furor and moral outrage still stirred by homosexuality, the signs clearly
point to its becoming a non-issue in real American life. Even so, it’s far from being a
routine part of the hyperreality of American media. The 2005 gay western Brokeback
Mountain turns out to have been more of a one-off than a trendsetter. Gay men are still
not a mainstream phenomenon in American media, and gay-themed storylines are
unusual and often still stereotyped.
24 MALE IN U.S.A.: MEMES
“Men in the United States
[aged 18 to 25] were most
likely to cling to gender
stereotypes, with nearly six
in 10 believing men should
be masculine and women
should be feminine.”
—Euro RSCG Worldwide
“Gender Shift” study
There can be no simple definitive angle on more than 150 million American males spread over a vast country. On the other
hand, Americans love a challenge and love to wrangle things down to basic principles. So here is a checklist for
understanding the mythical, elusive and possibly illusory male in America today. As with previous lists in this paper, and all
lists, it’s subjective, selective and by no means authoritative.
1 Whomever and wherever, American men are Americans; they’re not European men in denial.
2 “Classic” for American men embraces a big, wild country heritage.
3 On the surface, American male icons lag the demographics, but mentally they’re more multicultural.
4 Success is important, and money is still a key indicator of success in a rainbow nation.
5 Technology is one of the crucial common denominators of American men.
6 Physical prowess and sport are areas in which American men can still express their manliness.
7 Keeping it real is an attractive principle but a challenge in a media-mirror world.
8 American men want to change and do better, but on their own terms, at their own pace.
9 American men need new aspirational models in tune with the needs of the age.
10 Doing well by doing the right thing in a smart way and getting recognized for it is the ultimate.
MALE IN U.S.A.: CONCLUSION 25
This white paper is the fifth in a series of thought leadership pursuits by Euro RSCG Worldwide PR.
In October 2009, Euro RSCG Worldwide commissioned a survey to map the trajectory of social life and social media
usage in the United States, quizzing 1,228 Americans. A white paper looked at the macro developments in social
media and drew conclusions and implications for marketers and their clients. Our company conducted an additional
survey of 600 Americans about social media and health care. We presented our findings at an FDA hearing on
promoting FDA-regulated medical products online and through social media. To get a copy of the white paper, please
go to our Social Life and Social Media website.
Shortly thereafter, seeking to better understand how teen girls spend, socialize and communicate, Euro RSCG
Worldwide PR commissioned a survey of 100 teenage girls nationwide aged 13 to 18. A March 2010 white paper
presented the proprietary study’s findings in the context of today’s communications and business worlds as they are
increasingly dominated by social and other digital media. We used the information we gathered to launch The
Sisterhood, an agency within an agency that is an insight group to help define the teenage female consumer’s ideas in
fashion and beyond. To get a copy of the white paper, please go to The Sisterhood website.
Euro RSCG Worldwide PR and Euro RSCG Life, the health-focused communications network of Euro RSCG
Worldwide, commissioned the online “mood monitor” survey of 386 Americans in February 2010 that also led to a
white paper. The survey showed that people’s interest in a raft of weighty matters had grown in the previous 12 to 18
months. And on many points, particularly related to money, Americans tended to net out far more pessimistic than
optimistic on subjects such as quality of life, employment, real estate and schools. Euro RSCG commissioned a similar
poll in the bellwether state of Connecticut. For a copy of the reports, please go to the White Papers page of the Euro
RSCG PR website.
In summer 2010, ERWW PR took part in a five-country study by Euro RSCG Social that looked at how millennials
(people aged 18 to 25) are making themselves felt in the workplace, consumer markets and politics. The biggest
bottom line in the survey: Young people across the world think the world needs changing, and they’re confident social
media will give them the power to accomplish that change. To download the report based on the study, please go to
our Social Life and Social Media website. A new report built on the same study, discussing differences between
genders in that age group, launched this fall.
And for this paper, we drew on the results of some of these proprietary studies and others, plus independent research
and insights we gain through our global trendspotting network, connecting the dots between all of them.
Through such research and analysis, we are addressing topics that are not only imperative to our clients and our own
growth but are also driving news about the future. The studies are places to listen and learn. They’re propelling
momentum for companies, brands and causes. They’re satisfying the new value exchange, where consumers want
brands that listen, converse and enable them.
Please join us in the conversation.
Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America
200 Madison Avenue, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10016