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How hard is it for men to transition into their 30s?

Throughout their lives guys are called to answer the question: what kind of man am I? Whether they’re writing a resume, fronting the in-laws, going out with mates or dating, men are often called to account for whether their actions add up to a ‘successful’ portrayal of a man.

As men age, the pressures and expectations change. By the time they’ve hit 30 men are supposed to have changed dramatically from their youth. A quick scan of advice columns shows that men are required to have given up a lot: fast food, playing video games, tattoos, share housing, skate shoes and partying. But much more than this, men are expected to have undergone a cultural renaissance in their late 20s. So that by the time they’ve hit 30 they should have their careers sorted, refined their wardrobes and be able to expertly select a bottle of wine.

Mapping a new course for masculinity

Unsurprisingly, in between negotiating the switch from teen to adult, most men fall short of this romantic image. Career-wise, having hit 30, many men might find that they’re eager to make a career shift, but there are obvious pressures of family, career stability, job availability and skillset transition. Often men will be advised to consider further study, turn to a revaluation of skillsets or make a lateral move within a company, rather than changing careers altogether.

Deakin University professor Jacqui MacDonald is leading the Men and Parenting Pathways (MAPP) study to understand more about how men navigate this period. ‘Crossing the threshold into the 30s often comes with an enormous amount of change. Romantic relationships, friendship groups, work expectations and family life all loom large for men during this time,’ she says.

Why do men accept dissatisfaction? One idea is that what makes transitioning difficult for men is that traditionally change is not what men do. Men are trapped because they don’t feel that a man should transition, lest he risks his home and the family he provides for. The roadmap provided by traditional notions of masculinity on how to negotiate family, career and passions no longer fits with the desires and habits of the modern man. And so when men hit 30, having followed traditional routes, they are confronted with a gap between the rules they have followed and personal satisfaction.

'People used to feel a lot more pressure to get to a certain age and move into family life, but we’re also seeing an emerging trend of lots of men thinking that’s not what they want'

Dr Jacqui MacDonald, School of Psychology,
Deakin University

The new man

Jack Myers, author of The Future Of Men describes the ‘lean out’ generation of men as confused and fractured by shifting notions of masculinity. In a Time article, he referred to them as ‘discouraged and angry men. Men who feel abandoned by the thousands of years of history that defined what it meant to be a real man: to be strong; to be a provider; to be in authority; to be the ultimate decision maker; and to be economically, educationally, physically and politically dominant.’

Despite this, more men are seeking fulfilment in their lives through subverting traditional models. ‘We’re seeing a desire for men to be more involved in family life and have more of an emotional connection, but men have few role models on how that’s going to work,’ Dr MacDonald concludes. But it appears that more men are choosing family over work as they navigate the expectations masculinity places on them.

Learn more about Deakin University’s MAPP study.


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Dr Jacqui MacDonald
Dr Jacqui MacDonald

School of Psychology, Deakin University
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