On the recommendation of Tyler Cowen, I’ve been reading Richard Reeves’ book Of Boys and Men. The most interesting parts of the book are the evidence that Reeves gives for boys doing much worse in school and university than girls, and the solutions that he suggests for improving things. I’m generally impressed by the evidence, but not so impressed by the solutions.
Way back when, they used to hold students back a grade if they couldn't grasp the material taught during a particular grade. Reeves seems to be suggesting that all boys need to be held back a grade. That strikes me as rather draconian, but that's probably because I'm old fashioned.
I suppose I should read the book, but I'm wondering if Reeves addresses WHY boys are so much less likely to attend college than they were in the 1980s. I'll leave out the late 1960s and early 1970s, because college was a way to avoid getting drafted during the Vietnam War. One could argue that women get a bigger payoff from attending college, since they tend to get paid less for the same jobs with the same skills. College lets them compensate for this. Could it be women finding an economic equilibrium that lets them, statistically, at least, do as well as men?
Another, more worrying possibility, is that boys don't find adult life attractive. Some of this could be because of stagnant and falling wages over the past four decades. It's hard to think of oneself as an adult when one is getting paid a decade old minimum wage with no opportunity for advancement. Urban areas used to offer many mid-level job options, but those jobs have been vanishing for decades.
Imagine two species of aliens, the boyaz and the girlaz, that are thrown into the same education system. And suppose it turns out that these two species mature at different rates. The standard starting ages for schooling suit the girlaz well enough, but the boyaz (on average, with some exceptions) aren't developmentally ready, and predictably fall behind, never to catch up.
In such a situation, it seems clear that a fairer solution would be to let the boyaz wait and begin schooling at a later age, when they are more developmentally ready (and actually on a par with the younger girlaz). There's nothing especially "fair" about holding starting age fixed, if people vary in how developmentally prepared they are at that age. And there's nothing "unfair" about letting different people start school at different ages if they develop at different rates. Age isn't an intrinsically morally relevant property. Development and maturation seem much more principled measures to use as a baseline. It's not a priori that a "6 yr old boyaz" and "6 yr old girlaz" are relevantly similar in any way whatsoever.
Of course, we tend to assume that human boys and girls are much more similar than two random alien species. But it sounds like the research you're discussing casts some doubt on how far we can take that assumption. It's not a priori that boys and girls develop at the same rate, and so it's not a priori that boys and girls of the same ages ought to be in the same classes. Why would you privilege age in such a way, if it turns out that "boy age" and "girl age" correspond to slightly different measures of expected development?
If I were Reeves, I'd say that Affirmative Action that works just by artificially inflating men's chances at college admission may solve one problem: more women are getting into university than men. But it doesn't solve the underlying issue that girls do better in school from the start, getting the skills and grades necessary to get into college and do well. Redshirting boys, by making them a year more mature throughout the schooling process, may improve their skills directly assisting them enough to get into college and graduate at more equal rates.
Its the difference between say, a quota mandating colleges accept a proportional amount of Latino students and investment in primary school education that succeeds in improving the educational success of Latino students so that they get into college later on. Still affirmative action of a sort, but one that at least improves education not artificially mandating equality.
Interesting take. After I first heard Reeves on Coleman Hughes' podcast (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YepjMuSdB2M), I read his book. Like you, I was really intrigued by the evidence presented. I was also conflicted about the solutions. I'm generally opposed to affirmative action and so-called positive discrimination, and I wondered if the proposed solution to offer HEAL scholarships to men was a justifiable form of positive discrimination or not.
I have similar concerns about STEM scholarships for women (At least some data exists showing that these programs discriminate against men: https://www.saveservices.org/equity/scholarships/, though I've not done a deep dive). Anyway, I see that you've shared your thoughts on that in another comment below. So I won't continue down that exact path here. But there's an adjacent one that I'm curious to get your thoughts on.
When Conor Friedersdorf wrote about Reeves' book for The Atlantic, and solicited reader questions, I emailed him with my concerns, hoping to get another perspective and some added clarity (https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/10/the-case-against-the-death-penalty/671716/).
You can see the exchange at the link above, but in summary, I asked "How would you respond to the argument that both STEM scholarships for women and HEAL scholarships for men discriminate based on sex? I mean, clearly they do. But is it justified? When is positive discrimination acceptable, and when is it unacceptable?"
And Friedersdorf replied: "There are at least two distinctions that inform how I think about these cases. One concerns the reason for seeking greater sex parity in a field. Is it because, as in early-childhood education, proponents believe that having more men or women will improve how well the job gets done? If so, that strikes me as a stronger case for affirmative action than instances where the driving force is a desire for sex parity as an end in itself, and would strengthen the case for something like privately funded sex-specific scholarships. The other distinction concerns method. Is the approach to attract a more sex-diverse applicant pool and fill openings in a nondiscriminatory manner, or are individual job candidates discriminated against? I tend to favor efforts to diversify hiring pools and oppose sex discrimination against individuals."
I'm curious if you agree with this. If so (or even if partly so), I'm curious where you would land on (1) the redshirting solution you wrote about, (2) HEAL scholarships for men, and (3) STEM scholarships for women.
I'm a firm supporter of equality of *opportunity* for all, and I'm generally supportive of feminism in this sense. But it's more clear to me that having boys do better in school and moving more men into HEAL professions would lead to those jobs getting done better (to the benefit of boys/men and girls/women) than it is that moving more women into STEM would. When I see things like this Nature story (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-03285-4), for example, it seems like it's more about gender parity and equality of outcome (and perhaps virtue signaling) than any tangible improvement. Sex diversity is not necessarily viewpoint diversity, after all.
Interesting read, but I think we're missing a piece of the puzzle here. I'd love to know what the degree breakdown is. A lot of high-paying trades are almost completely dominated by men. Is it possible this is part of the reason fewer men have college degrees?
Despite all of the initiatives to push more young women into stem, these fields also still seem to be predominately male. So what fields are these degrees in? Are they something that is actually useful to furthering careers?
I agree that boys falling behind in school needs to be addressed, but not if the solution pushes them to be saddled with debt, for a degree they don't need to be prosperous.
If you are going to argue that children should only attend school after hitting some developmental milestone, and group A reaches that milestone before group B, then logically, group A should go to school before group B.
If you don't care if they have reached that milestone, why do you insist on their reaching any age at all?
Other than that, it would be interesting to examine the effects of the stricter no-excuses schools. External discipline might compensate for lower internal discipline.
This reminds me of 1990 when I read a bunch of books by Erik Erikson about (among other things) how western society was failing to provide meaningful roles for young people and therefore becoming unstable. My more feminist friends said Erikson did not apply to female development because women did not experience identity crises in the same way as men. Camille Paglia agreed, much to the chagrin of my friends.
I seriously doubt there is an inherent difference in cognitive ability between teenage men and women. I think there probably is a difference in how willing they are to conform to our current system, if given proper instruction in how to conform.
I don't think it is possible to solve the young man problem without offering roles that the young men find meaningful. Since I am no longer a young man I cannot guess exactly what those roles would be, but I think we can say objectively that the roles currently on offer to young college graduates are not passing the test.
don't start boys a year later
start girls a year earlier
from basic misogyny : if women are taking over a social niche that means that the niche is losing social importance
think of the famous tech moguls that dropped out of higher education to actually do something or the common advice in right wing circles for young men to pick up a trade instead of chasing a degree in feminist dance therapy
so the whole "boys are doing worse in school" just might not be a problem for men
After reading Outliers, I redshirted my oldest boy in pre-K in the UK, where Jan birthdays can go forward or back. He ended up with a reputation as a "rough" kid and was poorly treated, because, I believe, boys a year older play rougher than those younger. Luckily we moved back to the states the next year and he has had a great decade since, but I've noticed him complaining about a couple boys a bit more aggressive than others throughout the years, both who were red shirted. This is just my families personal experience, but I don't think redshirting is the easy answer as presented in a Gladwell essay or as a solution in a book on academic outcomes. As other's have commented, I would be curious if, despite really not being taught in academic settings, spatial skills/IQ went up in boys or girls as a result of any of these interventions that admittedly didn't target them.
I haven't read Of Boys and Men, but the impression I got was that it was broader than this: is it really focussed so narrowly on educational outcomes, or is that just what you decided to focus on for this review? (Fair enough if it's the latter.)
If the former, that's quite disappointing, because it seems like the whole thing is vulnerable to a generalised version of the argument you make: if girls do better in school not because of anti-male discrimination or anything, but just because *girls are better* in some relatively-intrinsic sense (maybe they're better suited to the school environment?), then it seems just completely unfair to try to see this as a 'problem' to be solved. It's rarely seen as a problem in and of itself that you can split any given school up into 'higher-achieving' and 'lower-achieving' kids - some kids are just better-suited to school than others - and certainly nobody proposes these kind of drastic remedies for it, especially when those remedies are unfair on the higher-achieving kids. People get upset about inequalities caused by different treatment - e.g., private schools vs comps - but if two kids get exactly the same teaching in exactly the same setting (and neither faces discrimination or has issues at home etc.) and one does better than the other, nobody really minds: this is just a thing everyone knows happens. Reeves hasn't proven that these gaps are wider than anyone assumed before, or that the general level of educational quality is worse than we'd thought before; he's just shown that educational inequalities are correlated with sex. Why does adding 'and they're mostly boys' to 'some kids do worse in school' turn it from just another fact about school to a deep issue?
To be sure, educational differentials can have serious knock-on effects later in life, which could cause serious social problems if women end up being better-educated than men. But then *this* is the issue, which needs to be analysed and solved at the level of a social problem, not the level of educational policy. If Reeves does this work, then that's credit for his book, but if he just stays at the level of educational differentials, that's a bit disappointing.
Older boys in class with younger girls - will spell even bigger trouble when puberty kicks in (for nerds: a boy at 14 may be infatuated about that red-haired girl next desk - but she is usu. into that lad two years older. - I think A Tabarrok noticed first.)
We might want boy-schools and girl-schools again. Which would help girls in STEM, too.
Over all: I see no problem with less boys going to college. Too many go anyway. "Don't let all your boys grow up to MBAs: Let'em be plumbers and builders and such".
The fairest solution is to delay the school starting age for everybody. There is no benefit in starting schooling earlier because advancing in school subjects depends on mental development not total time spent in school. The starting age used to be 7 everywhere and now in England is 4.
As long as college positions are a zero sum game every policy that doesn't help everyone in the same measure is affirmative action. I guess you agree we should ditch campaigns encouraging girls to go to college, curriculum reforms towards that end etc?
My experience in schools is just that boys mess about more and don't do as much work as girls (probably as a consequence of being less mature). 'Zero tolerance' schools might reduce the gap given that the scope for messing about in class and not doing homework seems much smaller than in other schools.
The Michaela school in London apparently got the best value added score at GCSE of any school in the country last year, and has a well-known zero tolerance policy. It's possible they did that by boosting boys' grades a lot.