Is there a whole class of men who no longer fit into the social order?
Ten years ago, Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan, economists at the University of Chicago and the National University of Singapore, concluded in their article “The Trouble With Boys: Social Influences and the Gender Gap in Disruptive Behavior”:
Family structure is an important correlate of boys’ behavioral deficit. Boys raised outside of a traditional family (with two biological parents present) do particularly poorly. For example, the gender gap in externalizing problems when children are in fifth grade is almost twice as large for children raised by single mothers compared to children raised in traditional families. In eighth grade, the gender gap in suspension from school is close to 25 percentage points among children raised by single mothers, while it is only 10 percentage points among children of intact families. Boys raised by teenage mothers also appear to be much more likely to act out.
Bertrand and Pan focus on the crucial role of non-cognitive skills, on how “factors such as study habits, attendance and persistence are as important as cognitive skills in explaining professional success”. Non-cognitive skills, they write, “are not fixed but are actually quite malleable and can be shaped by early intervention programs.”
The effects on boys of being raised in a single-parent household are particularly acute in the development of non-cognitive skills, according to Bertrand and Pan:
Most striking are our findings regarding gender differences in non-cognitive returns to parental inputs. In all family structures, we observe that the probability of boys taking action is greatly reduced when they are confronted with greater and better parental contributions. For girls, the relationship between parental input and behavioral outcomes appears to be much weaker. Since these parental inputs are typically higher and of better quality in intact families, this is a big part of why boys with single mothers are so much more disruptive and end up facing suspension from school.
There are a number of research projects that shed light on the ongoing controversy over the subject of men and their role in contemporary America.
First, an excerpt from a 2016 article by David Autor, an economist at MIT, and four colleagues:
In the United States, in 2016, the high school graduation rate for women exceeded that of men by five percentage points, and the female college graduation rate exceeded that of men by seven. percentage points. What explains these gender gaps in educational attainment? Recent evidence indicates that boys and girls are affected differently by the quantity and quality of inputs received in childhood.
Second, part of a 2015 article by Francesca Gino, Caroline Ashley Wilmuth, and Alison Wood Brooks, all of whom were at Harvard Business School at the time of writing:
We find that, compared to men, women have more life goals, place less importance on power goals, associate more negative outcomes (e.g. time constraints and compromises) in high-power positions, perceive power as less desirable and are less likely to take advantage of career advancement opportunities.
Third, a passage from an article by Colleen Flaherty, reporter at Inside Higher Ed:
The study suggests that men are overrepresented in elite doctorates. programs, especially in areas heavy on math skills, which creates segregation by discipline and prestige.
And fourth, a quote from a 2013 article, “Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education,” by Autor and Melanie Wasserman, economist at UCLA:
Although a significant minority of men continue to reach the highest levels of achievement in the education and labor markets, the male median is moving in the opposite direction. Over the past three decades, the trajectory of men in the US labor market has declined in four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rate; professional status; and real wage levels.
I have sent the above four references to Arlie Hochschild, professor of sociology at Berkeley and author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” for his perspective. She responded by email:
Since the 1970s, offshoring and automation have particularly hit blue collar workers. Oil, Coal – automation, manufacturing, shorting, and dropping trucks about to fall. Non-BA males are in a particularly vulnerable place. I saw it in Louisiana, and again where I interview in the Appalachians. It is increasingly difficult for them to feel good about themselves.
In a 2018 essay in The New York Review of Books, “Male Trouble,” Hochschild described the plight of less educated men:
Compared to women, a decreasing proportion of men are earning a bachelor’s degree, although more jobs than ever require a college diploma, including many entry-level positions that previously only required a high school diploma . Among men between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four, 30 percent now have a bachelor’s degree or above, while 38 percent of women in this age group have it. The cost of this disadvantage has only grown over time: of the new jobs created between the end of the recession and 2016, 73% went to applicants with a bachelor’s degree or above. A decreasing proportion of men are even part of the working population; between 1970 and 2010, the percentage of adult men in employment or looking for work rose from 80 to 70, while that of adult women rose from 43 to 58. Most of the men who leave are unlicensed.
While many of the men Hochschild writes about see a future of diminished, if not endangered, prospects, men in elite professions continue to dominate the ranks of CEOs, senior politicians, and higher-paid professors.
Frances E. Jensen, chair of the department of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, taking a different approach, argues that boys ‘brains mature more slowly than girls’, a particularly striking difference in adolescence. . . In a 2017 interview with the School Superintendents Association, Jensen highlighted the crucial role the still maturing brain plays in the lives of adolescents:
Teenagers go through a period of heightened emotional fluctuation and are like a Ferrari with weak brakes. The emotional center of the brain, the limbic system, which controls emotions, is fully connected, but the frontal lobe which sharpens critical thinking is not well connected. It means the part of the brain that makes them stop and say, “Bad idea. Do not post this on Facebook as it could hurt my chances of getting a job in the future “or” Do not jump in the lake, there may be a rock “, is not mature.
The brain also becomes more efficient, Jensen said,
during a process called myelination. This is when a fatty substance called myelin slowly grows and wraps around miles of brain cells to better isolate them. Isolation makes the brain more efficient at sending and receiving signals. Myelination is a slow process that ends in the mid-1920s. Our brains have thousands of miles of networks and isolating them all with myelin takes over two and a half decades.
Using MRI images, Jensen continued,
you can actually see that the brain deposits a layer of myelin over time when you look at it from year to year. You can measure these layers and see a dynamic process where isolation refines the speed of our signaling from one part of our brain to another.
And then she added a crucial point:
In adolescence, girls are on average about two to three years of age more developed in terms of their peak synapses and connectivity processes.
A major study from 2015, “The Emergence of Sex Differences in Personality Traits in Early Adolescence: A Cross-Sectional, Cross-Cultural Study”, of which Marleen De Bolle, then of Ghent University, was the lead author – with contributions from 48 other academics – described some of the consequences of different rates of maturity and development:
Our results show that adolescent girls consistently score higher than boys on personality traits that facilitate academic success, at least in today’s school climate. In other words, the current school environment or climate might in general be more suited to female personalities, which – in general – allows girls to achieve better grades in school.
What are some of the other factors that contribute to the different school performance of boys and girls?