Young boys and young men are doing worse in employment, school, and many other socially important areas than their female counter-parts. Why?
Before we begin, let’s start by asking ourselves, what does the data currently say about young men? When I say young men and boys, I’m referring to boys born in and after the 80's.
One prominent Psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, who wrote The Demise of Guys
, attributes excessive Internet use to the social dysfunction and under-performance of boys. You can watch a brief TED talk on his results here. From the YouTube description,
Psychologist Philip Zimbardo asks, "Why are boys struggling?" He shares some stats (lower graduation rates, greater worries about intimacy and relationships) and suggests a few reasons.
Basically, Mr. Zimbardo’s hypothesis is that young men are suffering due to excessive Internet use, namely the arousal* addictions
arousal addictions are different than other addictions because an arousal addict requires more variation and different sources, not more of the same
of gaming and porn. I’ll highlight some startling figures he presents because many of the sources I’ll list cover the same topics.
To begin, Boys are
-30% more likely than girls to drop or flunk out of school. In Canada, 5 boys drop for every 3 girls (important here, because this problem, as we’ll see, is not an American phenomenon)
-outperformed by girls at all levels from elementary to graduate school
-are less likely to get BA’s and graduate degrees, 44% v 56% and 45% v 55%, respectively.
-5 times more likely to have ADHD
What’s going on? These numbers are statistically alarming and something is happening and has happened to a whole generation (or more) of boys
Zimbardo presents two possible causes, gaming and porn:
-By 21, boys spend 10,000 hours (417 days) gaming, 2/3 of that time in isolation (6,600hours, 275 days)
-Average boy watches 50 porn clips a week
Because of these arousal addictions, boys are growing up socially dysfunctional, putting them at a major disadvantage in an ever-connected world. Fear of rejection has been replaced by a social awkwardness born from ignorance.
However, some take these same findings and suggest cultural and economic changes are driving the demise of guys, not the Internet necessarily.
Kay Hymowitz, author of the book
also highlights these striking contrasts between the genders and provides perhaps another piece of why men are failing. In short, she thinks current culture has created a new stage in life, “preadulthood”, and women are better equipped to handle this “preadulthood” stage
. She defines this "preadulthood" stage as
...college-educated, single (not married), young adults, almost always living in cities. It’s taking a lot longer to grow up because it takes so much longer to get educated for work. More and more people are going to college and graduate school and getting professional training. That is the way to find the most gratifying, best-paying and prestigious jobs. That means you already have a number of years where you don’t want to be tied down. Then you add an extremely complex economy that requires moving from job to job and place to place. It’s awfully hard to do that with a husband and children.
She uses the phrase “child-man” and describes how men become stuck in “preadulthood” and embrace, well, the pleasures and leisure’s of being a child over growing up. (Think of the man-children characters of Seth Rogan, Steve Corral, Will Ferrell, and Ben Stiller). Men retreat into this stage because in the “preadulthood” they receive mixed and conflicting signals about what it is to be a man; therefore, men retreat into their selves and become more passive [perhaps this is a link with the excessive Internet use?]. These mixed signals seem to be best summarized in her own words,
The rise of women has muddied the role of men. The culture says we all love fathers, but at the same time it says we don’t need fathers. In the same way, we’re saying men have to achieve and do well in school at the same time that we say we don’t need their income. Women’s independence plays a big, big role in male uncertainty. What is their role? Does anyone need them? And what do they need them for? It doesn’t seem to be money.
Her conclusions for the failing of men seem to be a direct cause from elevating girls without also elevating boys. In short, boys of the 80’s and 90’s were left behind while girls became superstars.
To further expand upon the idea of ‘the rise of women’ and how it may be affecting men, Journalist Hanna Rosin provides a global context of these stark contrasts between genders.
Again, many of the comparisons used in the Zimbardo talk and Hymowitz interview are highlighted here: women are just doing better, period. The surprising data from this report is that this phenomenon is a global movement: we see women rising in the East (China, S. Korea, and others) as well as the West. For instance, in S. Korea the preference for “must have a son” has gone down over 50%
in about a 20 year period, ~48% in 1985 to ~18% in 2003. In China, women are opening up small businesses faster than men
. In addition, Rosin includes new data that suggests the new home-owner is a young, single, female profession, not the typical recently married couple. This stresses the drastic impact these forces are having on our boys at the culture at large.
Who used to be first time homeowners
Who is the new first time homeowner
If the “rise of women” in the 80’s and 90’s is really a direct cause of the fall of man, then why do we see these trends in cultures that did not necessarily go through the female awakening that Hymowitz mentions? Is something more at play? Hymowitz hints at the idea of economic change favoring one gender’s skill-set over another, is that the cause? Are women just biologically better equipped to handle the current world economy? Or do they learn these skills? And if they learn these skills, where do these skills come from, how are they taught, and why are men not also learning them?
One possible solution comes from Tony Porter , educator and co-founder of the nonprofit group A Call to Men: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence against Women
. Porter’s talk here
recounts a horrifying [you will be moved] experience with what he calls “the man box”. The Man Box is the social pressures exerted on young men by other young men to be “a man”. Some might know this term as “the man card”. His personal experience will chill you to the bone, and while his message is clear to stop acting “like a man” to end violence against women, maybe his message holds an additional meaning at heart: how to elevate boys beyond being a “man” so they may succeed on par with their female counterparts who have been elevated beyond being “a woman”. Porter’s speech also touches on the idea of sending conflicting messages to our boys and how this confusion is detrimental to growing up, much like what Hymowitz postulates. He charges us with re-defining manhood and what is to be a man. What does
it mean to be a man?
To wrap things up, the data is undeniable: boys drool and girls rule.
Zimbardo, Hymonitz, Rosin, and Porter all ask the question that I am now asking you: why?
For my own take,
But what do you think? What have you noticed? Why are boys suffering, and what are some possible ways to halt and reverse this trend?
I think the main reason boys are failing is because of the economic shifts in society and no clear distinction between childhood and adulthood. The men’s movement
and Iron John by Robert Bly
speak on the harm this uncertainty has caused men (there is something to say about every culture having a ritualistic passing from boyhood to manhood except the current one). Of course, I ask myself then, why hasn’t this uncertainty also affected women in the same way? Part of the answer, I think, lies in Hymonitz’s words about women always being on an implicit clock (physical changes, menstruation, body development, biological clock, and menopause). But maybe, also, the skills that have been regulated as typical female skills are actually an advantage in today’s professional world and skills regulated to men are seen as a liability (e.g. co-operative vs bull-headed). In short, we need to teach our boys to be more than just a man, as Mr. Porter says. To be an individual, important by one’s own traits and one's own worth. How do we do that though? How do we elevate our boys without devaluing our girls? Because I think the ultimate aim is to raise our boys to the level of our girls, not lower the girls down to the boys.
These are things I wonder
-Why do boys suffer from higher rates of ADHD than girls? Autism? Both of these at near a 5:1 ratio. Is there a relationship between these neurological diseases and the demise of guys?
-Is this similar to the Lost Generation in Japan
?What similarities and differences do these phenomenon have; what can we learn from the Lost Generation to help our boys?
-What specific cultural aspects send mixed and conflicting messages to men?
-What kinds of skills are preferred in emerging markets?