How do we handle the “boy crisis”?


It is hard to turn away from the disturbing statements of experts. It is even harder when those statements are woven so convincingly into exhaustive research. The facts and those opinions are heralding a crisis.

Consider the statement made by Randolph Nesse. He is the Director of the Center for Evolution and Medicine at Arizona State University. Neese talks about the study of premature deaths of males in twenty countries. “Being male is now the single largest demographic for early death,” he says.

Why is it now that males under fifty are twice as likely to die as females the same age? That’s a huge life expectancy gap, greater than at any time since World War II. This gap was explored in Being A Man Is Bad for Health, a segment featured by BBC News.

Research on Longevity

There is a disparity in the causes of death within the fifteen categories adapted from the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Vital Statistics Report. The largest disparity 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., author of The Boy Crisis. “Our expectations for him as a male contribute to the cause.”

The AFL-CIO published Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect in 2015.  It reports 150 workers to die daily from hazardous working conditions. Predictably, ninety-two percent are male, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published this in 2015.  “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 in Farrell’s  1993 book The Myth of Male Power.

The greater the risk, the higher the pay. Whether working on an oil rig, a coal mine, or as a welder on top of a bridge. It’s simple supply and demand. But many of us take that for granted. Or are just unaware. Some people live in homes created at the risk of young men’s lives. Consider the wood used to build it. It likely originated with lumberjacks risking their lives as loggers. A long-distance trucker (another hazardous career) then hauled those trees to where it would become your home.  

Changing Trends

The two areas in which boys fall the furthest behind girls is in reading and writing. These two areas are the biggest predictors of success worldwide. In the United States, by eighth grade, forty-one percent of girls are at least proficient in writing. That is compared to only twenty percent of boys, 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. That’s no longer true. In just one generation, young men have slid from sixty-one percent of college grads to a projected thirty-nine percent.  Just the opposite is true for young women as they’ve soared from thirty-nine to sixty-one 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. 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 a problem Farrell describes below.

The Dropout, 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 undereducated young man as undesirable, and an unemployed man as “another child.”  That’s hardly marriage material. He’s left out of a 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.

Sustainable Solutions

Anyone aware of the trend in robotics and artificial intelligence knows that much of the muscle required in manufacturing and construction will inevitably transition. That transition will be 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 get a 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. His father or grandfather may have worked on appliances like refrigerators, thermostats or cars. But 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.  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. In this case, it would be to study the physics and chemistry required to succeed. And how might his school encourage him? With vocational training, of course.

Unfortunately, most US schools have been decreasing vocational education. But Japan has increased its vocational education programs. Twenty-three percent of Japanese students graduate from vocational education programs. In fact, ninety-nine percent of Japanese vocational students got jobs upon graduation, according to Vocational Schools on the Move published in Japan Today.

“The psychological and economic implications of that are infinite,” says Farell. It’s not surprising that some Japanese schools are actively recruiting foreign students.

Joseph Cohen is the co-author of Write Father, Write Son: A Bond-Building Journey and  President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation