Richard V. Reeves’ new book, “Of Boys and Men,” is a landmark, one of the most important books of the year, not just because it’s a comprehensive look at the men’s crisis, but also because it looks for the source of that crisis and offers solutions.
I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know. First, boys are hindered by challenging environments more than girls. Girls in poor neighborhoods and unstable families can climb the escape route. Boys don’t usually do that. In Canada, boys born into the poorest households are twice as likely to remain poor as girls. In American schools, boys’ academic performance is more influenced by family background than girls’ academic performance. Boys raised by single parents have lower college enrollment rates than girls raised by single parents.
Second, policies and programs designed to promote social mobility often work for women, not men. Reeves, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, visited Kalamazoo, Mich., where thanks to a sponsor, high school graduates gain free admission to many of the state’s colleges. The program has increased the number of women with college degrees by 45%. The male graduation rate remained unchanged. Reeves lists a range of programs, from early childhood education to college support efforts, that have generated impressive gains for women, but have not spurred men.
Reeves has a range of policy proposals to tackle the crisis, the most controversial of which is the molting of boys – letting them start school a year later than girls, because on average The prefrontal cortex and cerebellum are involved in self-regulation, maturing much earlier in girls than in boys.
There are many reasons why men are struggling – for example, the decline in physically high-value manufacturing jobs and the rise in service sector jobs. But I was struck by the subtle theme of dismay in the book. Reeves spoke to the men in Kalamazoo about why women are so far ahead. Men think that women just need to be more motivated, work harder, plan better in advance. However, this is not a matter of personal responsibility. There is something in modern culture that is creating an aspirational gap.