Leonard Sax, author of the forthcoming book, Boys Adrift, argues in The Washington Post that boys and young men are falling far behind young women in terms of achievement and motivation. The article deserves attention.
This phenomenon cuts across all demographics. You’ll find it in families both rich and poor; black, white, Asian and Hispanic; urban, suburban and rural. According to the Census Bureau, fully one-third of young men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents — a roughly 100 percent increase in the past 20 years. No such change has occurred with regard to young women. Why?
My friend and colleague Judy Kleinfeld, a professor at the University of Alaska, has spent many years studying this growing phenomenon. She points out that many young women are living at home nowadays as well. But those young women usually have a definite plan. They’re working toward a college degree, or they’re saving money to open their own business. And when you come back three or four years later, you’ll find that in most cases those young women have achieved their goal, or something like it. They’ve earned that degree. They’ve opened their business.
But not the boys. “The girls are driven; the boys have no direction,” is the way Kleinfeld summarizes her findings. Kleinfeld is organizing a national Boys Project, with a board composed of leading researchers and writers such as Sandra Stotsky, Michael Thompson and Richard Whitmire, to figure out what’s going wrong with boys.
So far we’ve just been asking one another the question: What’s happening to boys? We’ve batted around lots of ideas. Maybe the problem has to do with the way the school curriculum has changed. Maybe it has to do with environmental toxins that affect boys differently than girls (not as crazy an idea as it sounds). Maybe it has to do with changes in the workforce, with fewer blue-collar jobs and more emphasis on the service industry. Maybe it’s some combination of all of the above, or other factors we haven’t yet identified.
In Ayn Rand’s humorless apocalyptic novel “Atlas Shrugged,” the central characters ask: What would happen if someone turned off the motor that drives the world? We may be living in such a time, a time when the motor that drives the world is running down or stuck in neutral — but only for boys.
Sax’s article raises a very important issue and documents a very damaging trend among boys and young men. But worrying about “environmental toxins that affect boys differently than girls” is an adventure in missing the obvious. The reason that boys and young males are falling behind in so many dimensions is that the culture has derided and marginalized the masculine virtues and expectations that produce young men who lead and succeed. That is the “environmental toxin” that is so damaging to young males. The problem is cultural, not chemical.
The project’s Web site is found at www.boysproject.net.