How do we handle the boy crisis? – part 2
by Joseph Cohen, President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation
It’s hard to turn away when the disturbing statements of experts are woven so convincingly into exhaustive research — facts and opinions heralding a crisis.
Take for example the statement made by Randolph Nesse, the Director of the Center for Evolution and Medicine at Arizona State University, about the study of premature deaths in twenty countries of which he concludes “being male is now the single largest demographic for early death.”
Why is it now that boys and men under fifty are twice as likely to die as girls and women the same age? That’s a greater life expectancy gap than at any time since World War II, according to Being A Man Is Bad for Health a segment featured by BBC News.
The largest disparity in the causes of death within the fifteen categories adapted from the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Vital Statistics Report is from Heart Disease, Cancer, Liver Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease. “The disease that gives your son a predictably shorter life is the outcome,” says Warren Farrell, Ph. D, co-author of The Boy Crisis. “Our expectations for him as a male contribute to the cause.”
Farrell shines a light on the “almost exclusively” all-male occupations. Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, published in 2015 by the AFL-CIO, reports 150 workers to die daily from hazardous working conditions — and predictably, ninety-two percent are male, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, published in the same year by US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The less formal education and more children your son has,” says Farrell, “the more likely he’ll help his family live a better life by risking his own.” The Death Professions: My Body, Not My Choice is a chapter Warren Farrell included in his 1993 book The Myth of Male Power.
The greater the risk— in jobs like working on an oil rig, in a coal mine, or as a welder on top of a bridge — the higher the pay. It’s simply supply and demand. But many of us take for granted or are unaware of how the house we live in was created at the risk of the lives of young men. Consider that the wood used to build it likely originated with lumberjacks risking their lives as loggers. Or that the trees they felled were hauled by a long distance trucker (another hazardous career) to somewhere near the place which would become your house.
The Link between Higher Risk and Less Education
The two areas in which boys fall the furthest behind girls is in reading and writing, the biggest predictors of success worldwide. In the United States, by eighth grade, 41 percent of girls are at least proficient in writing, while only 20 percent of boys are, according to The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2007 published by the National Center for Education Statistics.
In the past, boys would catch up late in high school in anticipation of becoming the sole breadwinner and winning the respect of his family, peers, and a woman to love. That’s no longer true. In just one generation, young men have slid from 61 percent of college grads to a projected 39 percent, while just the opposite is true for young women as they’ve soared from 39 percent to 61 percent. “Ironically, as our sons become less educated our daughters increasingly desire partners who are more educated,” says Farrell.
Several decades ago women ranked education as the eleventh most important attribute in a husband, while recently women rank education as the fourth most important, according to a 2016 article published in the Washington Post entitled “What Men and Women Wanted in a Spouse in 1939— and How Different It Is Today”. Unfortunately, with less education leading more boys to the unemployment line it creates what Farrell describes (below) as the Drop-Out, Left Out cycle.
- In neighborhoods where marriage is scarce, fathers are scarce, and more than half of boys don’t finish high school. Boys drop out.
- The less education a young man has, the more likely he is to be unemployed or underemployed. Boys are left out of the workplace.
- Women who desire children think of an under-educated young man as undesirable, and an unemployed man as “another child” — hardly marriage material. He’s left out of marriage and fathering.
- Some of the women with whom he nonetheless has sex become pregnant, and raise children without him. Thus, we’re back to square one: the left-out dad with the drop-out son.
So how are we supposed to handle this disparity?
Helping Boys Transition from Muscle to Mental
Anyone aware of the trend in robotics and artificial intelligence would agree that much of the muscle required in manufacturing and construction will inevitably transition to a greater need for mental skills.
For example, if your son wants a well-paid welding job in the future he will need to have some higher education background in physics and chemistry. If he wants to earn his living with computers, learning how to code, program and develop software is mandatory. Although his father or grandfather may have worked on appliances like refrigerators, thermostats or cars, your son must also learn how these machines collect and exchange data using embedded sensors. In other words, he’s going to have to understand the interrelatedness of technology.
Can you see that the common denominator is his mind? His mind educated in “boy-friendly” ways, according to Farrell, who also raises and answers the important question “what’s a boy-friendly way for a non-academically inclined boy to use his mind?” The answer is having a concrete goal.
If a boy sets a concrete goal of becoming a welder that motivates him to study the physics and chemistry required to succeed. And how might his school encourage him? With vocational training, of course; however, most U.S. schools have been decreasing vocational education. But Japan has actually increased its vocational education programs, with 23 percent of Japan’s high school graduates studying at vocational schools. In fact, 99.6 percent of Japanese vocational students received jobs upon graduation, according to “Vocational Schools on the Move” published in Japan Today. “The psychological and economic implications of that are infinite,” says Farrell. It’s not surprising that some Japanese schools are actively recruiting foreign students.
The next article, part 3 in this series, will explore how U.S. schools are perpetuating the boy crisis in a second critical way and provide solutions for boys to thrive.
Joseph Cohen is a former New York city public school teacher and journalist who recently published Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey.