For a moment, let’s just assume we buy the theory that men are in decline: in school, in work, in relationships, and ultimately, in life. Over the past two weeks, Hymowitz has identified the problem, we’ve debated its merits, and we’ve looked at the philosophies behind it. Yet despite a 248-page book and a 2,400-word essay, it’s surprising that Hymowitz provides so little in the way of solutions—a seemingly crucial part of this discussion. Aside from school reforms to keep boys more engaged, she concludes, “the new gender gap has no obvious solutions.”
A quick read through the literature shows that clearly, there are solutions, and there are plenty of them. So in the name of furthering both men and women, a few suggestions—with the help of the proposal to create a White House Council on Boys to Men (which is worth a read):
- Mandatory Paternity Leave. Hymowitz may dismiss Sweden, but in 1995, our fair-haired friends passed what my Newsweek colleagues call a “simple but revolutionary law”: one that would increase the length of paid parental leave by a full month—but only if the father was the one to take it. In 2002, a second paternity month was added—and now more than 80 percent of Swedish fathers take four months off for the birth of a new child.
Now paternity leave may not going to solve the problem with men outright, but it does change cultural attitudes. It would mean that certain lucky boys would get to spend more key bonding time with their fathers; perhaps it would encourage more men to take on that role, too. All of this is proven to be good for young men. But it would be good for women, too: lessening the stigma of the “mommy track” and the pay penalties that often come along with it. Scholars will tell you that it’s no coincidence that Iceland has one of the smallest wage gaps in the modern world as well as the most generous paternity leave program. These things go hand in hand.
- Recruiting Male Teachers. Men are just 3 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers, and they are 18 percent of secondary educators. Which means—as the authors of the White House Council proposal put it—many boys, and in particular, inner-city boys, “spend their early lives going from female-run homes to female-run elementary schools with mostly female teachers.” Particularly in communities where rates of single mothers are high, doesn’t it make sense to covet male role models?
- Mentoring–And Programs that Encourage Active Fathering. Studies show that kids who spend more time with dads have higher IQs; that strong fatherly involvement in early life can also improve a child’s future career prospects. If that’s the case, why not go as far as to incorporate such programs into schools?
- Expanding Men’s Work. We know that there are plenty of programs to support girls’ involvement in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). But why not create programs to encourage boys to enter into the typically female-dominated fields, like health, social work and education? The authors of the White House proposal—who have yet to secure a meeting with the White House—offer a marketable way to do this: calling these the “HE” fields, for health and education.
- Thinking About Solutions. It’s simple alright, but shouldn’t it be as important as identifying the problem?