The problem with Hymowitz's argument, however, is not one that behavioral economics can solve. Rather, it is an error in applying the H. economicus model. She substitutes for "self-interest" her own normative ideas about male aspiration--for instance, that "a life of shelf stocking" is unworthy.
The real revelation comes in the first paragraph, wherein Hymowitz laments nonelite boys' diminishing "chances . . . of becoming reliable husbands and fathers." To be sure, this columnist is acquainted with any number of men who fit that description, and by and large they report that family life is a source of great happiness. But we can't recall ever hearing such a man describe himself, nor can we imagine one describing himself proudly, as a "reliable" husband or father.
Hymowitz would like men to organize their lives around maximizing their usefulness to women and children. Hey, what woman wouldn't? But in invoking H. economicus, she ends up equating the goal of serving others with individual self-interest--an outright inversion of the latter concept.
Helen Smith states the issue more clearly:
There’s a chapter in Hymowitz’s book about Child-Man in the Promised Land and it’s looking at how men just have so many options and this is why they’re doing what they’re doing. My point in my book is that men are not going to participate in a society that is not going to reward them for that behavior. In other words: if you’re a good father, a good husband, and you do all of the things you’re supposed to do, society still will go after you if you step out of line in any particular way. [Emphasis added.]
Incentives matter. I don’t dispute that. Frankly, I favor government policies that give greater familial power to fathers, and I would definitely prefer a family court system that favors fathers over mothers. I’d like to end no-fault divorce, and I’d like a social system that is generally more pro-male. I think that best policies for long-term social growth and stability are those that favor men having more control over their families.
That said, I think it helpful to remember what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. [Matthew 6:2, emphasis added.]
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. [Matthew 6:5, emphasis added.]
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. [Matthew 6:16, emphasis added.]
When you do what is right and good for the sake of material reward, whatever material reward you receive from your actions is the entirety of your actions. Furthermore, if your good behavior is solely or predominately predicated on receiving some sort of material reward for your behavior, you are not a good man. You are instead simply a mercenary.
A good man does what is good and what is right regardless of the incentives. Obedience to God is not something that God promised would be easy, nor did he say that it would be fashionable or free of negative earthly consequences. On the contrary, God said that those who would desire to live Godly would suffer persecution, that their path would be difficult, and that they would often face harm. Clearly, there is often little in the way of material reward for being and doing good. As such, being good often appears to be an irrational decision because there is little in the way of reward. Therefore, good men often have to do what is right and good knowing that there is no earthly reward for doing so. So, while it would be wise to pursue social policies that encourage men to be leaders in their homes and take care of their wives and children—in short, policies that support the traditional family—let’s not delude ourselves that men who will only act good if it is profitable to do so are good men. They are rational, to be sure, but don’t mistake being rational for being good.