Where Are the Solutions?

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?

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Kay Hymowitz connects several worrisome trends: Men underperform women in high school and college. Men are going to college less altogether, even at many elite schools. Men are often less likely than similarly situated women to own a home. Men earn fewer graduate degrees and are underrepresented in the new, knowledge-based economy. Hymowitz suggests three possible causes for the decline of men: the decline of the industrial economy; girls’ superiority in the context of traditional educational methods; and a third, “existential reason” — men are increasingly deprived of marriage, and thus of a key motivator to male achievement. Public policy implications may vary depending on which cause one finds most important, but they might range from pedagogical reforms to government incentives for marriage and family.

Response Essays

  • Jessica Bennett characterizes the decline of men as both “exaggerated” and sometimes “plain wrong.” Women have made great strides, but the pay gap persists across occupations, even after controlling for children and education. The recent recession has been difficult for men, but at least they’ve bounced back in the recovery; women haven’t. Elaborate concern about masculinity at best hides enduring inequality—and at worst blames women for a lengthy set of non-problems.

  • Amanda Hess argues that not much has changed for men in recent years. Juvenile behavior among adult men is nothing new; it’s part and parcel of male privilege, and it has been that way for many years. Likewise with men who underachieve in school yet go on to high-status careers, owing mostly to their networking with other men. The reason for male dominance? The Old Boys’ Club, which has never truly left us.

  • Myriam Miedzian considers the 1960s, the era that formed the parents of many of today’s underperforming men. For a generation of women, second-wave feminism opened the job market, while the 1960s “do your own thing” ethos meant educational and career success. For the same generation of men, education and career meant conformity; “do your own thing” meant having fun. Miedzian points to a wide variety of other cultural trends in a far-reaching response, but ultimately concludes that we have failed men in two ways—by placing sports and conflict ahead of study and communication, at least for them; and by culturally shutting them off from traditionally female traits, like nurture and care, and the careers associated with these traits.