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Male inequality, explained by an expert | Richard Reeves

Mar 11, 2024
- Several people warned me not to write a book about boys and men because it is a very sensitive topic, especially in today's politics, and because many people feared that simply drawing attention to the problems of boys and men would somehow involve less effort given to girls and women; which is framed as a zero-sum game. And it's kind of a question of which side you're on: and you have to be on one side or the other, rather than just being on the side of human flourishing. One of the real challenges here is that if there is a lack of men in certain crucial areas of our society and our economy, that makes it difficult for other men and boys to thrive in those areas.
male inequality explained by an expert richard reeves
We have an education system that has a shortage of


teachers. We have a labor market where the jobs that grow the fastest are those in which we have fewer men, and in families there is a growth of what could be called the 'dad deficit' or 'listening father'. As men struggle in each of those areas, what you will see is that it will be more difficult for other men to follow in their footsteps. It is harder for children to thrive if their parents are not engaged. It is more difficult for men to enter occupations where there are no men.
male inequality explained by an expert richard reeves

More Interesting Facts About,

male inequality explained by an expert richard reeves...

It is harder for boys to do well in school where there are no


teachers in sight. Therefore, there is a very real danger that, unless we act very soon, we will set in motion a kind of vicious circle. I'm Richard Reeves. I'm a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and my latest book is "Of Boys and Men: Why Modern Man Is Struggling, Why That Matters, and What to Do About It." The big picture is that by almost every measure, at almost every age, and in almost every advanced economy in the world, girls are leaving boys far behind and women are leaving men.
male inequality explained by an expert richard reeves
What no one expected was that girls and women would not simply catch up with boys and men in education, but surpass them and move ahead. Everyone was very focused, rightly so, on reaching gender equality, gender parity. Not long ago there was a huge gender gap going the other way, and there was a big focus, rightly, in the '70s and '80s on really promoting women and girls in education. But the line kept moving and no one predicted it. No one was saying, "What would happen if gender


reappeared as big as it is now, in some cases bigger, but in reverse?" And to some extent, everyone is still trying to understand this new world where, at least in education, when you talk about gender


, you're almost always talking about the ways in which girls and women are ahead of men. boys and men. .
male inequality explained by an expert richard reeves
And that happened in a very, very short period of human history. So if you look at the United States, for example, in the average school district in the United States, girls are almost a level ahead of boys in English and they have caught up in math. If you look at those with the highest GPA scores, the top 10%, two-thirds of them are girls. If we look at those at the bottom, two thirds of them are children. When it comes to going to college, there is a 10 percent gap in college enrollment; a similarly sized gap in college completion, conditional on enrollment.
And the result of these trends is that the gender gap in obtaining a university degree is now greater than in 1972, but in reverse. So in 1972, when Title IX was passed to promote greater gender equality in education, there was a 13 percentage point gap in favor of men earning college degrees. There is now a 15 percentage point gap in favor of women earning college degrees. So the gender inequality that we see today in the university is greater than 50 years ago; It's just the other way around. There is quite an intense debate about the differences between male and female brains.
And in adulthood, I think there's not much evidence that brains are so different in ways that we should be concerned, or that are particularly consequential. But where there is no real debate is about the timing of brain development. It's pretty clear that girls' brains develop more quickly than boys', and that the biggest difference seems to occur in adolescence. So what happens is that in adolescence we develop what neuroscientists call the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex of our brain is sometimes known as the "CEO of the brain." It's the part of your brain that says, "You should do your chemistry homework instead of going out partying." It's the part of your brain that says maintaining a high GPA is worth it because it will help you get to college, which could help you in the future.
And that part of the brain develops considerably earlier in girls than in boys, between one and two years earlier. Partly because girls enter puberty a little earlier than boys and that seems to trigger some of this development. What that means is that if you have an educational system that rewards the ability to turn in homework, stay on task, worry about your GPA, prepare for college, etc., then just structurally, that will put the group whose brains at an advantage. have developed earlier in those particular areas - and who happen to be, on average, girls. I think it is a great irony of women's progress that by disrupting their educational opportunities and aspirations, we have revealed the fact that the educational system is loosely structured in favor of boys and men, due to these differences in timing. brain development.
But it was necessary for the women's movement to demonstrate that, because women's natural advantages in education were impossible to see when women's aspirations were being limited by a sexist society. Now that those limits have largely been removed, we can see that it is boys and men who are disadvantaged in the education system. At the risk of sounding boring, let's first gather the data to know what we're dealing with here. I think we should strongly encourage boys to start school a year later than girls. I think that should become the default option in many school districts because of the developmental gap that exists between boys and girls.
Because boys' brains mature more slowly, starting school a year later would mean that, developmentally, they were closer to being girls' classmates in the classroom. We need many more male teachers. It is surprising that the teaching profession has become more and more feminine over time. Today, only 24% of K-12 teachers are men (down from 33% in the 1980s), and fewer men are applying for teacher training each year. And so, we've seen this constant shift towards an environment that's close to an all-female environment; that has all kinds of consequences for the ethos of the school, for the way we approach different types of behavior between boys and girls, for example.
That's why we need a very serious and intentional effort to get more men into teaching. The third thing I would do in this world where I have significant power to dictate policy would be significantly more investment in vocational education and training - it's an area where we seem to see better outcomes for boys and men on average, and a sad one in that not enough has been invested in the United States. The United States has really bet most of its dollars on a very academic, very narrow route to success and less emphasis on vocational training. And that has actually put boys and men at a disadvantage, so apprenticeships and technical secondary schools are actually a very good way to help more boys and men.
I think one of the challenges of this debate is that if you talk to women and men who are, say, at the top of the economic ladder (four-year college degrees, decent incomes), they look around and don't see some of the these problems. But that's not the same for working-class men; that's not the same for men at the lower levels of the economic ladder. So there is a danger that we are so busy, to borrow Sheryl Sandberg's phrase: "So busy bending over that we don't look down." The reality for men at the lower levels of the scale is very different.
Men's economic trends have declined in four dimensions. One of them is wages: most men today earn less than they did in 1979. In employment, with a drop in labor force participation of eight percentage points, which means that nine million men who are now in productive age are not working. We have seen a fall in occupational status and therefore there are now more men working in areas of work that are considered lower status than in the past. And we've also seen a drop in skill acquisition, the kinds of skills and education that boys and men need. If boys do not receive education and men do not acquire skills, they will have difficulties in the labor market.
And in all of those areas, we've seen a decline for men over the last four or five decades. So it's really important to understand how social class divisions have opened up and economic inequality has widened in the context of gender inequality. If we only focus on gender gaps, then we overlook the fact that both men and women at the top have been doing increasingly better. But that's much less true for everyone else, and especially those from low-income backgrounds, working-class boys and men, and black boys and men. You see a lot of those trends being amplified, so those boys and men are really on the sharp end of a lot of the social and economic changes.
On the one hand, we have a huge, successful and laudable effort to get more women into STEM jobs. So 'science, technology, engineering and mathematics'. On the other hand, we have what I call "HEALTHY jobs." That is "health, education, administration and literacy." Almost, if you will, the opposite side of the coin to STEM jobs, and that's where a lot of the jobs come from. Health and education alone are huge and growing sectors in the US, so by my estimates, for every job we will create in STEM between now and 2030, we will create three jobs in HEAL. But those jobs are at least as gender-segregated as STEM jobs, but in the other direction, and unlike STEM, which is increasingly so over time;
So if you look at the HEAL sector, only 24% of workers in those sectors are men, and that number is decreasing. And in certain sectors, we're seeing a really precipitous drop in the number of men. We have a drop in the number of male teachers. We have a very pronounced drop in the number of male psychologists; that has fallen from 39% of men to 29% of men in the last decade alone. And among psychologists under 30 years old, only 5% are men. So we move forward and we will see that psychology essentially becomes an exclusively female profession. So these jobs, which I think are crucial to society and where more diversity would be very helpful, are actually becoming more gender segregated, so we're not making any effort to get more men into HEAL jobs. , which is where I think the future is and where we should help men move forward.
One of the problems we face is what I call in the book a "dad deficit." And this can be seen in different ways: one in four fathers does not live with their children. If parents separate, they are much more likely to lose contact with their fathers than with their mothers, so one in three children, if their parents separate, do not see their father at all after a few years after the separation. . So this lack of father is something very, very specific. And when 4 out of 10 children are born out of wedlock, and the majority of children, to less educated parents, are born out of wedlock, then we have to reinvent what it means to be a father, because right now men are still subject to an old standard of what it means to be a successful father in a world where that is not possible for many of them, nor even desirable, because what we have seen is that, as women have grown in economic power and economic independence , then of course they are I will choose to be with a man instead of being forced to, like the old days.
Honestly, this is probably the greatest liberation in human history: that women can now choose whether to be with a man or not. Today, in more than 2 out of every 5 American households, a woman is the primary breadwinner. 40% of American women earn more than the average man. These are huge economic changes, and all for the better, but they raise some really sharp questions about what parents are for. And until we escape the outdated breadwinner model,We will continue to see more and more men excluded from family life. And the interesting thing is that boys from families without the presence of the father suffer much more than girls.
And so what happens is that male disadvantage can become intergenerational because if parents are struggling and therefore not really involved in their children's lives, then the children are the ones who suffer the most, who will then have difficulty in The education. and in the labor market. By now it's clear that marriage, social institutions, and a sense of purpose are important to men. And so, as we've seen these real challenges that men face in education, work, and family, we're seeing some really difficult and concerning health consequences. And so, the so-called 'deaths of despair' due to suicide, overdose or alcohol are three times higher among men than among women.
Suicide itself is three times higher among men than women, and is increasing very rapidly, especially among middle-aged and younger men. So I think we can see them as symptoms of a broader malaise, which is what worries boys and men. And for men in particular, this sense of purpose is very important. I think it's a human universal that we need to be needed. There's some wonderful work by an academic called Fiona Chan, who looked at the last words men had used to describe themselves before committing suicide or attempting suicide. And at the top of the list were "useless" and "useless." I think if we create a society where so many men feel they are not needed, then it is no wonder we see these deaths of despair.
We see problems with opioids (opioids are a much bigger problem for men than women) and one of the great tragedies of opioid deaths is that the death rates are higher, in part because users are alone. And so, in some ways, the opioid epidemic is a perfect example of a whole series of things that we're talking about: a loss of role in the family, a loss of status in the labor market, turning to drugs and being isolated and withdrawn. And so in that example, I think you can see a symptom of this broader male malaise that we just need to take more seriously.
And we have a cultural responsibility, as a society, men and women together, to help men and boys adapt to this new world, because, right now, many of them are really struggling.

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