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Do We Care About Boys?


The headline from The Washington Post celebrates yet another milestone: "University of Virginia picks its first female president." But meantime, the data continues to mount that our educational system is massively failing one gender: boys.

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In a new book, Why Boys Fail, Richard Whitmire points to a study that tracked every graduate of Boston Public Schools in 2007. For every 167 women in a four-year college, there were only 100 men. (Gender beat race as a predictor of college attendance: Black women were 5 percentage points more likely than white men to be in college.) The Boston Public Schools system is hurting boys. And it's not just Boston: Nearly 60 percent of all bachelor's degrees in the country go to women.

Do we care about our boys?

The Economist recently put Rosie the Riveter on its cover to celebrate a major milestone: In the U.S., women are now the majority of the workforce. Why? Massively greater numbers of men than women are losing their jobs in this recession.

Is this really good news?

And yet every sign that boys or men are hurting gets determinedly turned around into a happy news story of female success. The disconnect between the happy headlines and the reality underneath will only be solved by women. The irony of men is that they cannot defend themselves or organize around their own systemic, gendered problems. Putting their own gender in the position of "the weaker sex" unmans them—and also makes them deeply unattractive to women. It's not going to happen.

An education system failing a generation of boys is going to produce unprecedented human misery for children, for women, and for the men themselves.

So the only way we are going to identify the new problem that has no name, own it, and do something about it, is if women with power make it a cause of our own. We have sons as well as daughters, nephews as well as nieces. We want husbands and fathers for ourselves or for our children who are confident, successful males and good family men willing and able to work hard to support those families. The problem is not that women are doing well, it's that boys are doing badly. The two genders cannot be pitted against one another without all of us losing.

A new report by the Pew Research Center finds that more younger women are marrying down: 28 percent of wives aged 30- to 44-years-old have more education than their husbands, compared to 19 percent of husbands who are better-educated than their wives. One in four wives now substantially outearns her husband.

It turns out women are not necessarily happy about male failure. Betsy Stevenson and Justin Wolfers' 2007 study, "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," notes that "By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men."

When men fail, fewer women get married. Since 1970, the proportion of 30- to 44-year-olds who are married dropped from 84 percent to 60 percent. What's next? Ask black women. In 1970, black wives were already more educated than their husbands, and just 62 percent of black people aged 30 to 44 then were married. By 2007 that figure had plunged to 33 percent. Fewer than one out of three black Americans in prime marrying/childbearing years is now married. This is one core reason why out-of-wedlock birthrates are so high.

An education system failing a generation of boys is going to produce unprecedented human misery for children, for women, and for the men themselves.

Are we women enough to do something about it?



Maggie Gallagher. "Do We Care About Boys?" Real Clear Politics (January 21, 2010).

This article is reprinted with permission from Maggie Gallagher.

The Author

Maggie Gallagher is president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy whose motto is "strengthening marriage for a new generation" and whose unique mission is research and public education on ways that law and public policy can strengthen marriage as a social institution. She is the host of The Maggie Report. She is a nationally syndicated columnist and the co-author of three books: The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better-Off Financially, The Abolition of Marriage, and Divorcing Marriage. Maggie Gallagher is a graduate of Yale (class of '82). She lives with her husband and two children in Westchester, New York.

Copyright © 2010 Maggie Gallagher
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