Men and Money

I was reading an article in the NY Times a few weeks ago about the vast disparage of wealth in America. It compared the lives and social/financial construct of a number of homeless men along with the many thousands of people who make so much money that to waste time thinking about spending it costs them money. The author borrowed a "joking" phrase from a venture capitalist to describe it. He called it the F.E.U., or Fundamental Economic Unit. It is "the amount of money a person will spend without thinking about it, because shopping around would not be worthwhile." For a commuter it might be $3.50 for a fancy espresso whose raw ingredients cost 25 cents; for a techno millionaire it might be half a million dollars, for a home bought on a whim; for a homeless man it might be 99 cents for a hot cup of coffee on a cold night at the Seven-Eleven.

Where I live, in the San Francisco area, the average F.E.U. has risen so high that people bid twice the asking price for houses they haven't even seen while the homeless population continues to increase at an alarming rate. The latest government figures are for 1996 and one would have to guess, if only by their observable numbers, that it has increased dramatically in the succeeding four years. It is not surprising to find, according to those statistics, men dominate among the homeless. Among the single homeless population, the gender ratio is 23 percent women vs. 77 percent men.

It is not my intention to make light of homeless women but it is a huge subject and not really separable because may women are homeless due to the irresponsibility of some, or many, men, often men making social rules and laws. That stated, it is the masculine aspect I would like to touch on and try to look at the role money plays in the process. 

Until the industrial revolution the vast majority of the world had only enough money to purchase those items they could not grow or make themselves. Life, tough as it was, was about basic survival rather than quality of life by comparison. Today's world is a far different place and comparison of the kinds of consumable items, literally none of which are produced by the end user, is the test of a successful life. So the more money one has, the more successful he/she is seen to be. There are, of course, alternate views of reality here, but this seems the dominant one in our culture at this time.

Like it or not, correct or not, it is still the man who is perceived by our society to be responsible for this accumulation of wealth and the woman who is the primary benefactor. If the man fails to provide, the woman generally makes other choices depending on her talents, abilities, looks and position in life. This is a continuation of the kinds of stereotypes that women revolted against during the past few decades...or did they? Most research shows that, although less than forty years ago, women still consider the level of income that a man is capable of producing as a primary factor in their choice of a mate. There is a biological basis for this reality. One can find an explanation of it in Robert Wright's book, The Moral Animal (Vintage Books, 1994) and it is the essence of the field of Evolutionary Psychology. It all boils down to the idea that women are unconsciously driven by the need to procreate (whether they choose to do so or not) and that successful procreation is dependent on the choices a woman makes in selecting the man to father her children and improve the species. When unsuccessful choices are made the species deteriorates and goes extinct. Wright (and Evolutionary Psychology) argue that the choice is biologically driven and not available for social argument.

So, that's why the rich guys get the beautiful girls, and the homeless guys have no hope at all. But does it have to end with that? Perhaps if we learn to measure ourselves by the quality of our life values and the rigor of our integrity, rather than our income potential, we can also learn that these virtues can accomplish the same things in the forward development of the species...and give us an edge in earning a nice income besides. I'd like to suggest we begin to measure ourselves with the F.E.U. mentioned above but change the definition to Fundamental Evolutionary Unit which would reference how we are making ourselves better people, more aware and responsible men, more capable friends, fathers and sons and so that we can truly deserve the rich girls that are coming up fast behind us.

© 2008, Kenneth F. Byers

Other Transition Issues, Books

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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