The Boy Problem


The latest figures on the college gender gap have triggered a flurry of media stories about the “boy problem.” On nearly every educational measure, we’re told, boys are doing worse than girls. More to the point, we’re also told, the news of the gender gap is an urgent call to the society to take action to improve the life prospects of low-achieving boys.

What the stories don’t say is that we’ve been through this before. Alarms about boys have been raised more than once in the recent past. Op-ed columnists, boy-rearing experts, and researchers have chewed over the problem. Proposals for action have been put forth. Yet once the buzz subsides and media attention drifts away, nothing much happens.

If we look at what has propelled girls into higher education, however, we get a better idea of what it will take to launch an effort to boost boys’ achievement. After all, it’s not that the boys of today are lagging behind the boys of yesterday. It’s that the girls of today have surpassed the girls of yesterday-and outdistanced the boys of today as well. Girls didn’t make their great leap forward into college dominance because of a new program or two. It took much more than that. Today’s girls are achieving at high levels because they are the beneficiaries of a sweeping popular reform movement that began more than thirty years ago and continues into the present. This movement transformed girl-rearing practices....

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About the Author

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), directs the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values.