Boys And Girls…

Richard Reeves is a widely respected researcher at the Brookings Institution. He has most recently been exploring the status of American males, and written a book about his troubling conclusions.

Reeves isn’t the only person calling attention to the perceived problems faced by contemporary boys and men–over the past few weeks, I’ve seen several op-eds and essays addressing issues confronting American males. (It is difficult to escape the irony of that sudden concern, given the wholesale assault on women’s equality that was unleashed with the Dobbs decision–after all, there is substantial evidence that control of her own reproduction was the single most important element liberating women from centuries of subordinate status.)

Irony or no, some of the data about American men is concerning. As Reeves notes in a Brookings essay

In every U.S. state, young women are more likely than their male counterparts to have a bachelor’s degree. The education gender gap emerges well before college, however: girls are more likely to graduate high school on time and perform substantially better on standardized reading tests than boys (and about as well in math).

The numbers are revealing.

In 1970, just 12 percent of young women (ages 25 to 34) had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 20 percent of men — a gap of eight  percentage points. By 2020, that number had risen to 41 percent for women but only to 32 percent for men — a nine percentage–point gap, now going the other way. That means there are currently 1.6 million more young women with a bachelor’s degree than men. To put it into perspective, that’s just less than the population of West Virginia.

Reeves provides a state-by-state breakdown, and I noted that, in Indiana, women between the ages of 25 and 34 are 24% more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree than men. (If Indana’s draconian anti-abortion bill is ultimately upheld, that will undoubtedly change–women with college degrees and career options will avoid the Hoosier state like the plague…)

It isn’t simply college. Reeves provides charts and numbers documenting the fact that girls are more likely to graduate high school and to do so on time, and even to do better in grade school.

Girls outperform boys in reading by more than 40 percent of a grade level in every state. In ten states (the ones in dark blue on the map), girls are more than a full grade level ahead of boys. In math, by contrast, boys have a slight advantage in some states, though the gender gap in either direction is less than a quarter of a grade level in most states.

In response to this data, Brookings has announced a new Boys and Men Project, that will    explore the differences, the possible reasons for them and the effects of various state policies intended to address them.

I have absolutely no data bearing on the education gender gap–but like many Americans (too many of us, actually), I have my own (admittedly unsubstantiated) suspicions. In my case, those speculations are grounded in my personal long-ago educational experiences– in grade school, high school and to a somewhat lesser extent, college.

With the exception of math classes, girls have always done better in school.

We did better because we were expected to do better–just as boys were expected to outshine us in math. Academic performance was very much a consequence of social expectations, and many of those expectations were grounded in gender stereotypes.

Females of my generation were expected to be more submissive, quieter and more docile than our male peers. (A problem for yours truly…) We were expected to be obedient–which included doing our homework and applying ourselves, especially in the “appropriate” classes. Boys were given much more latitude (“boys will be boys”) in education as well as in other behaviors.

I can’t help wondering if this sudden concern–which I hasten to say is entirely appropriate–isn’t a consequence of changing gender expectations, rather than changing educational “facts on the ground.” Until very recently, men were able to be socially and professionally dominant whether or not they’d made good grades or graduated from college. Gradually, however, large numbers of “uppity” women have entered a workforce that has also changed–a workforce rewarding intellectual skills rather than physical strength.

Suddenly, that longstanding educational gap has consequences.

The growing equality of women has generated substantial pushback from insecure men–everything from legislative efforts to return women to the status of forced breeders to the incels (an online community of young men unable to attract women sexually, who show considerable hostility toward women.) Among less insecure, more reasonable people, male and female, women’s emancipation has prompted belated attention to the education gap.

That’s my theory, and I’m sticking with it until there’s credible data to the contrary…

42 thoughts on “Boys And Girls…

  1. Keeping women ‘barefoot and pregnant’ never worked out well for Jim Crow country, not sure why Republicans think it will work for the country as a whole.

    Personally I believe men whine too much….especially Boomers.

  2. I taught Industrial Technology and the best performing students were female. Part of the reason is that they have better fine motor skills, but they also pay more attention and study more.

  3. People on the left cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that there are actually plenty of women on the other side of the abortion debate. In fact, women dominate the right to life movement in most states and localities. The demographic group most supportive of abortion rights, by the way, is men age 18-25.

  4. I’m not going to introduce the ego to this conversation because our manly club might bristly at the notion that their pride gets in the way of knowledge gathering – they already know it all. 😉

    My daughter told me last night about her after-high school endeavors, “Daddy, I don’t need a man when I get older.”

    She’s right about that; apparently, the Brookings men have figured that out, too. lol

  5. Maybe females study more in technical fields because at a young age nobody works with them.
    Boys are taught basic mechanical skills, no room to teach girls at the same time. Our sheriff talked about how the male inmates are allowed to get technical degrees while incarcerated. Females not because no one wants to deal with the mixed sexes in such an education venue. I guess when you mix the women with men too much hormone flow ruins the attempt to educate the men.

  6. It’s incredible to me that the gender gap persists in wage earning when women now have more education overall. Toxic masculinity prevails in America. Jackson Katz frequently writes and speaks about the connection between gender equity and gender violence.

  7. I still can’t understand people who are intimidated by successful women. I used to date someone who easily made twice my salary. People used to occasionally ask if it bothered me that my girlfriend made so much more money than I did. Absolutely did not. At all. I wished she made 10x my salary! Life would be awesome with that kinda scratch coming in. Why would I care which one of us made it?

    Fragile people like that are baffling.

  8. Anecdotally, the top 1/4 or so of my HS Class of ’68 was heavily women (small, northern IN town) and they were generally serious about education. Fewer of them continued education immediately though. Probably cultural- marry early and start a family.

  9. Bear with me on this, because where I’m going won’t be obvious at first.

    We can all agree we each have a relationshiop with our world. And in that relationship, I wlll affect the world, and the world will affect me. That’s the way relationships work. When you are attempting to affect the world, you need to find in yourself a vision of visions about how you want to change the world, and act to make those visions real, which requires drive, power, control, often forcefulness. The the world is going to affect you. And how does that happen? First, in order for that to happen in any real way, you have to open yourself to your world, you have to connect and be sensitive to what is happening around you. If you are dealing with people in your world, you have to be senstive and caring or they aren’t going to tell you anything real from their lives, because they won’t trust you. And many of you I’m sure have already recognnized that affecting the world requires what we stereotypically call masculine traits, and what is required for the world to truly affect you, and your understanding are the feminine traits.

    Patriarachy teaches men to not be in any way senstive, leaving the stereotypical masculine man not understanding what is going on around him, and teaches women that they are not to act, so, for those few stereotypical women that are left, they have no outlet for their knowledge and understanding except the family, the only domain in which they are allowed to act.

    Men are struggling because women have a much better understand ing of what’s going on around them. Men are lost because they haven’t learnned to open to what’s happening. There’s much more to all of this, as in masculine is looking to the future and what is going to happen, and feminine is looking to the past to see and learn from what has happened. It’s one of those things that is so obvious once you see it that you can’t unsee it.

  10. Here is a statistic that may surprise some. In the current annual report of the YMCA Retirement Fund, of the gainfully retired nation wide, 72% are women who worked for the Young Men’s Christian Association. There are more women and girls enrolled as members and participants than there are men and boys. Our national CEO at YMCA of the USA is Suzanne McCormick.

    The gender gap is not what you think it is at today’s Y.

    I retired in 2009 after 42 years at home and abroad with the YMCA. Stakeholders during my watch pressed hard for gender equality and inclusion. Over time, we nailed it.

    What is alarming to me though is the lack of focus on gender specific character development and education. This is a significant loss from the past. The rite of passage for boys to mature as men is blurred.

    This is where I become target of snarky comments I have become used to. To that choir loft I say … be careful what you wish for.

    BTW … the most profound discussion on this issue I have had with colleagues of other youth serving agencies were the CEOs of gender specific youth services including Girl’s Inc., Big Sisters and Girl Scouts.

  11. One thing not mentioned is the pressure young boys receive to perform in competitive sports. Look at baby pictures and find toys that resemble a sport. Boys are pushed to perform in sports and ridiculed if they fail. Those that don’t, have low sports ability or have no interest are labeled as sissies by their peers, their male parents and are looked down upon by the most “popular” girls. Of course, this is not universal, but as a former public school educator, the pressure on these boys is astonishing…still.

    I grew up in the rust belt too, and vocational ed. was exclusively a male realm. But school sports was universal among ALL students. But in the 1950s and 60s, the academic teachers who were also coaches were QUALIFIED to teach their academic subject. When I re-entered academics in the 90s, that was not the case. It was rare to find a coach who taught an academic class who actually had a college major in the subject they taught. And sports STILL dominated the social environment of schools, sports dominated by the male participants irrespective of Title IX. All one had to do was count the audiences for boys and girls basketball games, for example.

    So, my conclusion is that boys receive an entirely different suite of social/academic/parental pressures than girls. At the University of Texas, several years ago, a published report showed that far less than 50% of males athletes graduated in four years, while over 90% of the female athletes in ALL sports did. Academics isn’t the only measuring stick for our boys v. girls analysis.

  12. No need to point out the % of women in executive/leadership roles and the salary gap for all jobs – so I will….

  13. While I was in graduate school, I taught at a high school for four years. One year I taught 9th grade Algebra. The brightest student in the class of bright students was a girl. She seemed to “inhale” the material. Three years later, at diner where she worked on Saturdays, she seemed unhappy. When I asked her why, she said she was about to graduate, and wanted to go to college, but her father didn’t think girls should go to college. Marriage and children were what they were supposed to do. What a waste!

  14. I don’t care one bit about the consequences young men are experiencing due to an educational gap. In my lifetime men have always had the upper hand in obtaining high wage employment just because they are men and white men have had the upper hand over men of color.

    We women have always had to work harder to achieve anything, whether it is/was in school or in a career. We could blow the men out of the water intellectually and with our intelligence, yet still be forced to report to a much less qualified male supervisor at work. I’ve no doubt that every woman reading this blog could list a multitude of such experiences. For decades I have been looking forward to the day that women run the business world and men get to experience the degrading BS we have endured.

    A big roadblock that slows the progression of women being rewarded for our hard work is the women that have been brainwashed into believing they must always be submissive to men about everything. This almost always comes from a backasswards religious upbringing – mainly evangelicals and fundamentalists. Maybe enough of them will soon realize they have been taught to believe a lie that has held them back from experiencing the life they’ve always deserved and will finally rebel and break free from bondage.

  15. I graduated from high school in 1961. Of the top 5 students as measured by GPA in that class, 3 (including the valedictorian and salutetorian) were girls and 2 were boys. One of those girls didn’t go to college and the other two became public school teachers. One of the boys became a dentist and the other a nationally known neurosurgeon. Typical outcome for that time.

    Culture has myriad ways to shape us and culture tends to be very slow to change. But I have seen significant changes and backlash to those changes in my lifetime. Just keep working at it, friends.

  16. One time my dad caught me playing with my big brother’s erecter set. He ripped it out of my hands, took apart the building I was working on, and told me never to do that again. You might think I learned a lesson from that and you would be right. I learned that my dad was a misogynist and if I wanted to play with engineering or math, I needed to do it when he wasn’t around. It didn’t surprise me when he dropped me off to take the college boards, saying : “Women aren’t supposed to go to college. They’re supposed to be secretaries until they get married.”

    While my brothers were paying their dues to the boys club, I was paying attention.

  17. The three stages of life: Preparation, production, decline.

    The goal of education is to produce, in partnership with parents, productive adults. What, though, are productive adults? Well, one thing is good parents. Another is well-informed and rounded humans. Another is humans capable of lasting relationships. Another is people able to produce income and eventual wealth at levels that they find satisfying.

    That makes for the majority of humans an important issue of gender roles. That can work in many ways. My wife and I were brought up in a previous era of culturally rigid gender role definitions. That was fine with us because we are each good at our respective assigned roles and the only real negotiations we had were when we left the productive years.

    Today gender roles are much more loosely defined by culture so negotiations are required in most cases from the beginning of relationships. That seems like progress to me.

    The concern by researchers and writers lately about the state of males in this society perhaps is nothing more than a reflection of a failure to model and adequately teach, more by parents than teachers, relationship negotiations, or maybe negotiations among humans of any kind.

    Like in so many things education fitted to the times is a never-ending challenge. Our rate of progress has reached an awkward stage because virtually always education is a step behind teaching for a world that doesn’t exist yet. Thus a new education wrinkle is setting the expectation for lifelong learning.

  18. Paul, I’d love to see where you obtained your data, as Pew Research says just the opposite.

    When I was in school (looong time ago), smart girls were denigrated. So, we were quiet about it. Maybe not having to expend energy showing off allowed us more time to study 🙂

  19. Toxic sexism isn’t very helpful. The above comments demonstrate how warped are the views of both genders and the lack of compassion that exists on both sides.

  20. According to a Marco Rubio campaign ad “the radical left will indoctrinate our children, and turn little boys into girls.” Maybe when they succeed Rubio should run for the hills.

  21. Morton, could you please tell us why you think females should have any compassion for the opposite sex that is now realizing they might have to work hard to get ahead since it may no longer just be handed to them because they are male?

  22. Todd – congratulations to you for having an intelligent daughter that recognizes she doesn’t need a man.

  23. Paul — would like to know where you’re getting your data from. And if it’s true, I would suggest these women are heavily influenced by their patriarchal religions to hold those views. And being subservient Christian women, of course they are against abortion. Once again, religion is the problem. My position is If you don’t want an abortion don’t EVER have one, but leave me the hell alone!!!!

    And, a women needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!!

  24. Norris – I am glad that you were involved in the push for gender equality within the YMCA, but I can’t agree with your statement that you nailed it.

    Since the local YMCA opened twenty-plus years ago it has had only male leadership. The three CEOs have been men and the other top FT leadership positions have also been men. Women are relegated to the lower paying instructor or office staff positions. Many of those positions are part-time with low pay – specifically minimum wage. They offer free membership to the part-timers in an effort to fill those very low-paying positions.

    The board chooses the CEO. The board members are local successful male business leaders along with a couple token females that are married to male business leaders or owners.

    The money to build the state of the art building was, of course, donated mostly by the local business leaders and that is why the board continues to be dominated by local male business leaders. I can’t imagine that YMCAs in other rural areas across the country are much different than this one.

  25. Back in the day most young males had a choice of going to vocational school to learn a trade. The young women would go to home economics classes and learn how to bake and other things involved with being in the home back in those days.

    The women on both sides of our family were farmers. There was no stay in the home and cook stuff. Everybody worked, all hands on deck! Barn building shed repairs tractor repairs dressing out hogs and beef, dressing chickens and turkeys, milking the cows and goats, slopping the hogs, picking the corn, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes, the raspberries and strawberries, picking the peaches off the trees, cherries, apples, pears, black walnuts, and the like! Really, everyone did everything.

    I will say the best boss that I ever had in my life was a black woman who happened to be a bank vice president. She was awesome, compassion and empathy was displayed constantly. She let my buddy Spiro and myself slide so many times, but she was tough on the women that tried to get over though.

    I will say women of color have a much harder row to hoe then almost any other racial group. What I’ve noticed is white women tend to be threatened by black women whether they’re afraid or bigoted or just ignorant, black women are much more versatile and capable with the same amount of education. And, let’s face it, doctors are more inclined to tell a black woman to get an abortion or get sterilized! So, that tells you something right there. There is an expansive rift between male and female, but there’s also another subversive rift between white women and women of color.

  26. This needs to be the Democratic Party campaign slogan.

    “I Don’t Care One Bit About The Consequences Young Men Are Experiencing Due To An Educational Gap.”

    Nancy W. should be given full credit.

    I hope Nancy will enthusiastically inform her “constituents” of her sentiments at the polls in just a few days. I’ll let Tony Katz know this is the sentiment of one who is responsible for the integrity at the election booth. ; )

    Perhaps they could bring the woman back from Florida that previously held this responsibility?

  27. Obviously there is much resentment between the sexes. I am a man, and if I had a dime for every time women supported a female partner of mine who was a horrible, horrible person just because everything MUST have been my fault because of my maleness…

    Do you see where that goes? Hint: nowhere good.

    Here is the reality: we educate everyone to the greatest extent possible or we get nowhere. It’s our only way forward.

  28. Loving this conversation–I work in psychiatry and we were discussing back in 2010 the significant decline in boys/men seeking higher education. The percentage of women holding higher degrees , Bachelor’s and Master’s were significantly more than men. The theory was all the time spent on video games. I think that was too simplistic but this topic has brought up many times over the past decade. Maybe the reason why women pursued college was because so many trade schools were not welcoming to women. I would like more schools to work with the trades and bring trades back into the school system to show that you can make a good living and do not have to go to college.

    My husband loves strong women and often comments that it is women who do better in most of the jobs. He always laughs when he asks how we got married since he expresses my disdain for the patriarchal society I am living among (the above women and men have pointed out those reasons why). I tell him all the time, women have to work harder to get the scraps that those at the top allow us to have.

    I am also smiling with Sheila’s notes because when I interviewed for one of her graduate assistant jobs I said something and she smiled, looked at Rachel who was also in the interview about my directness. I thought she was calling me a bitch as many polite but direct women are often referenced as bitches. She then looked at me and commented when I responded that while I am direct I am a very nice person–she said she knows that I have been beaten up and held back because society is threatened by strong, opinionated women. I never thought I was strong or smart.

    I am a nurse who actually gets along better with a portion of doctors and most of the my friends are male. I don’t take their crap and will go toe to toe and this upsets so many of my female nurses.

  29. Years ago, IPS Supt. Eugene White opined on the gender gap in educational attainment. He said boys needed a more physically active approach to education or they shut down and lose focus. Frankly, that’s probably the case for all kids because it’s also the case for adults. A Pentagon study decades ago indicated that adults lose ability to focus after a couple hours of instruction. Getting up to move about, take in more oxygen, and get the blood pumping to the brain refreshes in more ways than one and increases learning. That’s why kids NEED recess to achieve better results.

    An additional consideration – many boys mature later developmentally than girls. We do all kids a disservice in pushing down elementary grade standards to lower grades. Many kindergarten kids – especially boys – are not yet develpmentally ready to learn reading, yet our standards mandate it. If kids can’t yet distinguish shapes, they can’t learn letters and words. So premature expectations are both cruel and counter-productive, teaching kids to dread, hate, resist and tune-out instruction. They’ll look for something else at which they can achieve success.

    I’ve long preferred applied to abstract teaching and learning to engage more of the senses and to apply that instruction to something functional. A pie chart becomes more instructive if one can actually hold the pieces of the pie and maniuplate them into fractions to figure out how to serve x number of dessert fans. The abacus was a great math teaching tool because it was so easy to see that adding 2 and 2 moving parts created 4. Blocks are a great way to teach and learn about shapes. I always appreciated my daughter’s teachers who made learning fun and engaging by using ‘manipulatives’ to focus and keep her attention in ways that abstract learning couldn’t.

    Years ago, State Rep. Stan Jones pushed for a pilot program in Indiana (Tech Prep) to teach college prep curricula in a vocational way. Columbus was one of a handful of school systems that did so. Soon the traditional college prep educators were coming to the career ed. teachers asking them for their lesson plans because the kids were learning the same concepts in a much better and long-lasting way with application to real problems. “Tech Prep” was a success but our legislature was not interested in spending funds to re-train teachers for this new approach so the program died. Too bad. We needed it then and now to enthuse all kids about why they are learning what they’re taught and how they can use that knowledge forever more.

    Just as special ed. teachers are often the best teachers for all kids because they know how to identify and address specific learning problems, our efforts to identify the learning problems of boys will help all students become better achievers. Unfortunately, our focus is less on how to learn to diagnose and solve teaching and learning problems and more on how to enrich testing and computer companies.
    Increasingly our legislature diminishes the importance of teacher preparation – letting
    anyone with a college degree teach. It’s a self-defeating strategy with severe, long-term consequences.

  30. Kathy M,

    Right on, I’m glad you said it, because if I did, it would be an issue!

    Una,

    I agree with your comment wholeheartedly, my father-in-law used to go to the prisons and such to preach, and mixed company was always an issue with the hormone levels lol!

    Betty,

    Gee, what do you think about all these long comments? No snark?

  31. Now that Queen Elizabeth is dead, and Charles is in charge of the figurehead in England watch for misogyny to get worse there.
    In the beginnings of Catholic Church, it was written that women could not hold positions of power. That still stands and the Church is slow to change. It’s great when women have opportunities to pursue and perfect their talents. When women are held back for the sake of the boys everyone loses. I have found some mothers of sons to be some of the staunchest upholders of sexist traditions against their own sex.

  32. I am politically incorrect and always have been. I have stated what follows, when asked, for most of my life.

    First, a note – there were many stories here about the terrible effects of gender stereotypes on women, all on the money, but nothing about the effects of gender stereotypes on men, which leads into my argument.

    The “Feminist” movement modeled itself after the “Civil Rights” movement. That was a bad mistake.
    Let’s start with an obvious, often overlooked, but actually important difference. The “Civil Rights” movement was not the “BLACK movement”, it was the “Civil Rights” movement. It’s premises were that (1) if society ended racial discrimination, (2) recognized the huge, terrible amounts of past discrimination, and (3) found a way to recompense, we would fix society and fix the problem. The “Black Power” movement was a different thing, which at its best worked to fix the internal harm caused to Black Americans by centuries of discrimination.

    The “Feminist” movement tried to redefine the role of women in society, ending discrimination in the process and ignored that gender roles are interconnected. One cannot redefine the role of women without redefining the role of men. The goal was equality, but the approach was to change half of society, not realizing that gender roles are interconnected.

    Back in the ’90s, the book, “Men are from Mars, Women from Venus”, dwelled upon sexual stereotypes (convincing me that I’m from a different galaxy). It created a dichotomy, and if you wanted to change one, you really needed to change both, but “Feminism” only concentrated on one.

    One example – in the past, a 6-figure executive male could be married to a poorly paid secretary or nurse. After liberation, a woman could be a 6-figure executive, but society would look down on the poorly paid husband she married. Society only half compensated.

    “Equal Rights”, has still not been achieved, and we seem to be marching backwards now, but the “educational gender gap” I think has more to do with our expectations of boys and men than anything to do with the educational system.

    Just my politically incorrect 2 cents worth (I was severely chastised for daring, as a male, to have opinions on this matter, back in the day) – but then again, I am from a different galaxy.

  33. As a person with a degree in Mathematics, and having done some math/stats teaching in my time, I can say that I’ve seen no difference in the abilities of men and women to pick up math. It is clear to me that the main reason females lagged males in the sciences for so many years was cultural.

    This is why I am in favour of affirmative action policies. I think they are critically important, actually. In order to change norms, it is often necessary to PUSH against the norm, not just let the norm change organically. Basically, I’m saying it’s better for society if we push social evolution in the right directions, rather than let it take its own meandering path.

  34. Nancy Papas: Excellent points!

    Todd Smekens: Your daughter may have too small a sample size about men…

    The points about American Christianity warping women are spot on!

    Once again, this blog format with “no likes, no replies” is a tease.

  35. Cool comments all around. You could probably predict which ones I wanted to jump on but not today. It’s the Professor’s Birthday and nobody wished her a Happy Birthday! Cheers!

  36. I’m an old American and a champion of women’s rights. I find it encouraging to read what Reeves has found. At
    the same time I feel badly for the apparently increasing lack of higher education among men. I know of no natural law
    that prevents both cohorts from achieving higher educations, though I recognize that societal issues easily play a role
    in the situation.

  37. Steve –
    Your inept attempt to relate my comment to election integrity exposes you as a self-centered man who has enjoyed opportunities being handed to you on a silver platter just because you are male. You actually sound like a very insecure man who recoils at the thought of men having to compete with more intelligent and harder working women for the better paying leadership positions that men have taken for granted as belonging to them.

    Are you a republican who willfully chooses to fill your head with lies from fox spews and other right wing propaganda sites? It is the republican party that has been undermining election integrity for decades and they keep attacking election integrity as their fear of losing control continuously increases. Just look at all of the right wing people that jumped on trump’s lying bandwagon to attempt to steal the 2020 election. Not one single Democrat has been accused of such illegal activity.

  38. John Sorg
    Everybody works on the farm: true.
    But who put the meals on the table??
    Did all pitch in to prepare the meal?
    I was expected to do both and that is why I escaped to work elsewhere. I am thankful I did.

  39. Una,

    True, and that was some Cinderella type stuff. Also, babies, laundry, and education!

    I stand corrected, farm life never was really fair and balanced was it?

    That’s why I learned how to do laundry, cook, and change diapers, lol!

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