Boys and men are in trouble. Compared to women, relatively few boys or men enroll in or complete higher education. Boys and men don’t participate in the workforce up to their full potential. They’re disproportionately dying deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdoses and substance abuse. Parents worry about their sons’ futures. While recent cultural and economic changes have created problems specific to boys and men, most liberal and conservative politicians alike fail to acknowledge the crisis or do anything about it. Brookings Institution scholar Richard Reeves offers concrete suggestions that can help men without damaging women’s hard-won advances.
- Boys lag behind girls in education.
- Men are falling behind in workforce participation.
- Men have lost their roles as fathers and heads of families.
- Policies that attempt to help men and boys aren’t working.
- Political progressives pretend men and boys aren’t in crisis.
- Political conservatives want to return to an earlier era of masculinity and family life.
- Boys should start school later than girls and stay longer.
- Men and women must re-imagine men’s roles in families.
Boys lag behind girls in education.
There is a huge, unexpected gender gap in education. As of 1972, women were 13% behind men in obtaining bachelor’s degrees. That gap was sufficiently significant that the US government passed legislation to promote equality between the genders in education. By 2019, the gap reversed: Boys were 15% behind girls in obtaining bachelor’s degrees.
“The underperformance of boys in the classroom, especially Black boys and those from poorer families, badly damages their prospects for employment and economic upward mobility.”
This educational gender gap cuts across all levels and countries. The renowned excellence of Finland’s educational system, for example, almost entirely reflects girls’ performance. On average, girls are a year ahead of boys in reading ability. Boys are far more likely to perform poorly in core subjects such as math, reading and science. By age five, girls are 14% more likely to be ready to attend school. Perhaps people’s low expectation of boys influences their school performance, but boys’ brains develop more slowly than girls’ brains, especially during the time when they are in secondary education. Immature adolescent boys’ brains seek short-term pleasures and rewards and struggle with impulse control.
The gender gap becomes more pronounced in higher education. For example, women now obtain 57% of the bachelor’s degrees in the United States. As of 2019, women obtained fully half of US law and medical degrees.
Men are falling behind in workforce participation.
In recent years, economists expressed concern with women’s position in the labor market, and feminists felt men were unwilling to relinquish control of powerful, top-notch jobs. Increasingly, though, men simply aren’t working. Those who do earn stagnating pay. The gender pay gap has compressed in large part due to a decrease in men’s average pay.
“The deepest fissures in the labor market are not those between men and women. They are between white and Black workers and between the upper middle class and working class.”
Men’s position in the labor market has dropped in terms of developing skills, levels of employment and wages. Participation in the labor force by men has gone down in the United States by 7%. One-in-three men who haven’t progressed beyond secondary education aren’t working or looking for work. The most significant reduction in male employment occurs between ages 25 and 34.
Male employment has declined on multiple levels due to changes in the economy. Jobs traditionally held by men, such as in construction, prove disproportionately vulnerable to automation. Men lack the skills to adapt to the new economy. Jobs are shifting from demanding physical strength towards tasks women often dominate, such as in health care and education.
Men have lost their roles as fathers and heads of families.
The original women’s movement sought to enable women to achieve economic independence from men. The roles of women and mothers now include both care-giving and earning money. Men’s roles no longer offer the same level of purpose and value that came from taking care of a wife and children.
“The economic reliance of women on men held women down, but it also propped men up. Now the props have gone, and many men are falling.”
The idea of men being providers for their families – which connected men to women through marriage, to their children and to society as a whole – has been central to male identity for thousands of years.
Women are now the principal providers in over 40% of American homes. This is inclusive of women in marriages that remain intact. For example, in nearly half of families in which both parents have full-time jobs, women earn more than men. This leaves some men alienated and adrift. Society judges men by their ability to be providers. Men’s inability to serve as providers puts their marriages – and their ability to enter into marriage – at further risk. Men without jobs, marriages or close links to their families are prone to depression and to seek short-term rewards rather than broader fulfillment. Such men tend to have weak social support networks, poor health outcomes, substance abuse issues and elevated suicide rates.
Policies that attempt to help men and boys aren’t working.
In the past, “gender economics” addressed problems and inequalities women and girls suffered. But this approach often overlooked problems that stemmed from class and race. High earners tend to marry each other and combine their resources to benefit their children. The income difference between people at the high end of the income scale and ordinary workers has increased dramatically.
“Any serious attempt to improve rates of upward mobility or reduce economic inequality must take into account the specific challenges being faced by boys and men.”
Many social policies put in place to address inequality benefited women and girls but not low-income or Black boys and men. A program that provided college tuition for students in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for example, increased the number of young women completing college degrees by 45%, but did nothing for young men. The Stay the Course program in Fort Worth, Texas, intended to increase community college completion and the number of students moving on to university. The program tripled young women’s completion rates, but produced no change in men’s results. Similarly, a variety of worker-training programs across the United States that sought to increase employment rates and income showed a significant impact for participating women, but not for men. These examples illustrate that some young women appear to have benefited from policies in ways young men haven’t.
Political progressives pretend men and boys aren’t in crisis.
In 2018, at a high school in an affluent suburb of Washington, DC, a young man generated a list of his female classmates and ranked them by their level of attractiveness to him. His female classmates exposed the list; the young man was punished, and public protests began. Media attention on sexual harassment and “toxic masculinity” ensued, as did panel discussions on school culture.
“The incident at our high school highlights the first of four major failings of the political Left on issues related to boys and men, which is a tendency to pathologize naturally occurring aspects of masculine identity.”
Toxic masculinity is an invented concept hardly utilized prior to the #MeToo movement and Donald Trump’s presidency, but political progressives brought it into common use. The use of such a newly minted and poorly defined concept alienates and confuses many boys and men; and it does not aid in addressing significant issues. Progressives tend to deny the biology of gender differences and how those differences affect outcomes for boys and men. They also deny that gender inequalities are complex and can work against men, as well as women. The 2021 White House Gender Policy Council’s National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, for example, didn’t address any issues that apply specifically to boys and men.
Political conservatives want to return to an earlier era of masculinity and family life.
In a 2021 speech at the National Conservatism Conference, Republican Senator Josh Hawley blamed the issues boys and men must face on progressive ideologue’s efforts to undermine masculinity and its traditional values. Progressives play into the hands of conservatives such as Hawley when they pathologize masculinity as toxic.
“Conservatives have paid more attention than progressives to the growing problems faced by boys and men. But their agenda turns out to be equally unhelpful.”
Rather than provide possible solutions to issues faced by boys and men, conservatives exploit those issues for political gain. Around the world, this approach generates more grievances and anger and drives men toward right-wing political views and action. Unlike progressives, who tend to dismiss biological gender differences, conservatives overestimate biological gender differences and ignore or weaponize social and cultural issues. Thus, they argue that biological gender differences justify a traditional and outdated division of labor between men and women. The only purported solution conservatives offer is to restore traditional gender roles.
Boys should start school later than girls and stay longer.
To promote gender equality, society must reform the educational system. Given that boys’ development lags behind girls, boys should spend an additional year in pre-K before they enter kindergarten. In 2021, for example, 12% of parents delayed one of their children’s entry into kindergarten because they believed their child was neither emotionally nor intellectually ready. This delay enables boys to be more mature and focused when they reach middle and high school. Studies suggest that these boys proved more successful on different levels through their elementary school years. This proved true of lower income and Black boys, and all boys benefitted from these delays considerably more than girls. The educational system also needs an increase in male teachers.
“The singular focus on the traditional college route sends a strong signal that some skills are more valuable than others…One upshot has been a persistent undervaluing of vocational learning. This has been harmful in general, but especially for boys and men.”
The educational system should develop more trade schools, which will create more opportunities and more ways to be successful in work and life. In addition to curriculum and school reform, apprenticeships need greater capital investment. The National Apprenticeship Act, passed by the House of Representatives in 2021, will invest $3.5 billion over five years for new apprenticeships.
Men should enter fields that women traditionally dominate, such as education, health care and administration. The education system and better financial incentives can encourage this shift, which would reduce the shame associated with men working in what society often perceives as women’s fields.
Men and women must re-imagine family roles.
Practical, policy-level solutions exist for the issues of boys’ education and men’s withdrawal from the workplace. But restoring or re-imagining men’s role as fathers and family members proves a more complex problem. Men’s loss of their historical roles as family providers has caused a cultural earthquake; neither progressives not conservatives provide useful solutions.
Rebuilding the relationship between fathers and children could proceed on a “direct dad” model, in which the relationship between the father and mother doesn’t mediate the father’s parenting relationship. The direct dad model could find support at the policy level by mandating equal paid parental leave for each parent. The “legal default” for married and unmarried couples who separate should be shared custody. Child support payments should take into consideration the non-financial contributions fathers make. Flexible employment opportunities should be available to men that enable them to stay present in their children’s lives. For direct dads, fatherhood is crucial to their identity.
About the Author
Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution and director of the Future of the Middle Class Initiative, Richard V. Reeves is the author of four books, including Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It.
I have read the book [Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It] by [Richard Reeves] and I will provide you with a brief review of it.
Of Boys and Men is a book that examines the current crisis of masculinity in the modern world. The book is written by Richard Reeves, a professor of public policy and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. The book is based on his research, interviews, and personal experience as a father of three sons.
The book is divided into four parts: The Problem, The Causes, The Consequences, and The Solutions. In the first part, Reeves describes the problem of male underachievement and unhappiness in various domains, such as education, work, health, and relationships. He argues that boys and men are falling behind girls and women in terms of academic performance, economic opportunity, physical and mental well-being, and social and emotional skills. He also challenges some of the common myths and stereotypes about masculinity, such as that men are naturally aggressive, competitive, dominant, and independent.
In the second part, Reeves explores the causes of the problem of masculinity. He identifies four main factors that have contributed to the decline of male success and satisfaction: economic changes, cultural changes, biological changes, and psychological changes. He explains how these factors have disrupted the traditional roles and expectations of men in society and created new challenges and pressures for them. He also acknowledges the diversity and complexity of masculinity and how different groups of men may face different issues and obstacles.
In the third part, Reeves analyzes the consequences of the problem of masculinity. He shows how the problem affects not only boys and men themselves, but also their families, communities, and society at large. He illustrates how the problem leads to various negative outcomes, such as violence, crime, addiction, suicide, divorce, loneliness, and polarization. He also warns that the problem may pose a threat to democracy, stability, and peace in the world.
In the fourth part, Reeves proposes some solutions to the problem of masculinity. He suggests that boys and men need to redefine their identity and purpose in a more positive and constructive way. He advocates for a more inclusive and flexible concept of masculinity that embraces diversity, equality, empathy, and cooperation. He also recommends some practical strategies and policies that can help boys and men achieve more success and happiness in life, such as improving education, promoting health, supporting fatherhood, fostering mentorship, encouraging civic engagement, and creating more opportunities.
The book is written in an academic and authoritative style that makes it informative and persuasive. The book is also engaging and accessible; it uses real-world examples, statistics, stories, and quotes to illustrate the concepts and arguments of the book. The book is not very long or technical; it can be read by anyone who is interested in learning more about the issue of masculinity or who struggles with it themselves.
My feedback on this book is that it is a valuable and timely book that provides a comprehensive and critical overview of the issue of masculinity in the modern world. It offers a historical perspective on how masculinity has evolved and changed over time in relation to social and economic changes. It also offers a current perspective on how masculinity affects various aspects of life and society for boys and men as well as for girls and women. It also offers a future perspective on how masculinity can be improved and transformed for the betterment of all.
The book is not perfect; it has some limitations and drawbacks. For instance:
- The book is not very empirical or rigorous; it does not provide much evidence or data to support its claims or conclusions. It also does not address some counterarguments or alternative explanations that may challenge or contradict its views.
- The book is not very balanced or objective; it relies mainly on the author’s own opinions and experiences which may be biased or subjective. It also does not include or consider other perspectives or approaches that may differ or disagree with the author’s views.
- The book is not very original or innovative; it does not present any new or groundbreaking findings or theories on masculinity or gender. It mostly synthesizes existing knowledge and literature from other sources.
- The book is not very humble or modest; it showcases the author’s achievements and credentials which may seem boastful or arrogant.
However, these limitations do not diminish the value or quality of the book; they are rather part of its scope and purpose. They reflect the author’s style and intention as a researcher and writer: to provide an academic and authoritative account of masculinity as a policy issue.