June is men’s health month, and thus an opportune time to reflect on the welfare of males. The well-being of young men and boys is a key concern. Indeed, scholars such as Warren Farrell have long stated that we are in the midst of a ‘boy crisis’, manifesting itself in various domains. But is this the case?
One of the domains of concern is the field of education. Young men now account for only about 40% of recent university graduates. Likewise, boys drop out of high-school at nearly double the rate of girls. Reliable figures are difficult to obtain, but recent data suggests that almost one in five Canadian boys does not graduate high-school. This figure rises to a shocking one in three amongst French-speaking Quebeckers. These figures are significantly higher than girls.
Respected author Christina Hoff Sommers argues that these drop-out rates maybe a consequence of a ‘war against boys’. She states that traditional boyhood pursuits have been curtailed in schools, with a significant decline in activities such as physical education, sports, woodwork, metalwork and break-times. She argues that this prevents boys from letting off steam and expanding natural energy, leading to inattentive boys in the classroom.
Others have noted that only around 15% of elementary school teachers are men, meaning that impressionable young boys can lack male role models in the school setting.
These drop-out rates are especially concerning given that we now live in a service-based economy. Long-gone are the days when unqualified young men could easily find honourable and well-paid occupations based on manufacturing and manual labour.
Consequently, an increasing number of young men are experiencing what sociologists call ‘failure to launch syndrome’; an inability to launch a life independent from one’s parents. Almost 50% of Canadian men in their twenties still live in the parental home, with many remaining unemployed or under-employed.
Another domain of concern is the family. Around 40% of marriages in Canada now end in divorce, while rates of single parent families have risen to around 20% of the total number of households. These figures are even higher in the United States. This means a significant proportion of boys in North America are being raised in fatherless homes, with nefarious consequences for the boys concerned, as well as society as a whole.
All the statistics indicate that boys raised in fatherless families are significantly more likely to experience negative psychosocial outcomes. This includes higher rates of running away, school drop-out, incarceration, substance abuse, and suicide.
Charitable bodies such as the National Parents Organization have criticized family law, noting that it is not configured to ensure that boys (and girls) spend the necessary time with their fathers. These advocates have lobbied for serious family law reform, mainly for a model known as ‘shared parenting’, which would mean children spend 50/50 time with each parent. However, shared parenting remains uncommon in North America, even though research shows that this is beneficial for the children concerned.
A final domain of concern is poor mental health in young boys. Boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), with rates almost doubling amongst school-aged boys in the last decades. Consequently, increasing numbers of young boys are being medicated with stimulant-based drugs such as Ritalin.
Some have argued that these high rates of diagnosis are directly related to these changes in the education system and family structure, with medication being used inappropriately to control boys’ boisterous energy, in the absence of involved fathers driven away by family courts.
These theories are understandably controversial, but the facts speak for themselves. Boys and young men are less likely to graduate from university or launch successfully into employment and independent living. Contrariwise, they are more likely to drop out of high school and be diagnosed with stigmatizing mental disorders such as ADHD, and medicated accordingly.
The Way Ahead
Men’s Health Month generally passes not with a bang but a whimper. The same can be said for attention given to inequalities experienced by boys and young men. These inequalities are rarely on the public radar, despite a massive cost to the affected boys and society as a whole.
Seeing reality is the first step towards changing it. Raising awareness is a start, but concrete measures are necessary to increase the well-being, mental health and social inclusion of boys and young men.
We may very well be in the midst of a boy’s crisis. If so, inaction is not an option.