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Of Boys and Men, With Richard Reeves

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Richard V. Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, addressed BYU faculty and students at the Wheatley Institute. The subject of Reeve’s address was his recent book, Of Boys and Men, which details the struggles of males from childhood onward in modern society.


In his address, Reeves described his interest in the subject as stemming from two sources. First, he is the father of three young men, and his experience raising them convinced him that in many ways the world is not set up in a way conducive to boys’ success- sometimes, quite the opposite. Second, in his job as an economic policy analyst, he continually came across statistics about the welfare of men and boys that astounded him.

When people did notice an issue, they talked less about boys and men and more about what was wrong with them. He stated with supporting figures that “the problems of boys and men are usually characterized as a problem with boys and men.” Even worse, he said, nobody else seemed to be paying attention. While many groups advocate for women and have managed to pass policy to improve their social circumstances, no one else was doing the same for men.

He argued that on the left, masculinity is mostly denigrated and described as toxic, and occasionally the struggles of men are even celebrated as a vindication of feminism. The right, on the other hand, has often argued that men simply are not masculine enough, and that they just need to toughen up in order to deal with their issues.

In contrast, Reeves argued that boys and men face systemic issues that need to be dealt with through real policy solutions, similar to those enacted to support women. Perhaps the most obvious example Reeves cited is the education gap. In 2022, the gender gap for college graduation is greater than it was in 1972, when Congress passed Title IX to support women’s higher education - just in the opposite direction.

Much of what happens in college is simply a continuation of what happens in high school, he argued. Two-thirds of the high school GPA high-scorers are girls, while the vast majority of the lowest scorers are boys. This is largely due to differences in how boys and girls develop during childhood. Addressing this he added that “The gender inequality in US higher education is wider today than in 1972 when Title IX was passed.”

Additionally, Reeves noted, while dozens of government and civic initiatives encourage women to enter STEM jobs, men are increasingly shut out of the healthcare and education sector. Fewer than 5% of therapists under 30 are men, a travesty in a society where nearly 80% of suicides are committed by men, and it is increasingly unlikely for boys to find role models in the place they spend the majority of their childhood and adolescence, as male grade school teachers become rarer and rarer.

Reeves then moved on to describe what must be done to begin addressing these issues. If responsible people and institutions are not willing to offer men solutions, he said, then unscrupulous actors will step in and supply their own. The first thing which is necessary is to make men feel needed.

He continued that suicides among men are driven primarily by feelings of worthlessness and uselessness. Accordingly, in a society where men are less needed as providers and protectors, he argued, we should cultivate a new ethos of male service. We should place special emphasis on providing role models for boys in education, in youth formation through programs such as boy scouts, in church leadership, etc.

Finally, Reeves argued, we need to provide aggressive policy solutions aimed at addressing inequities in education and the workforce like those provided for women in the 70’s. Governments and other institutions should provide subsidies for men’s education, scholarships specifically for men in critical sectors like education and healthcare, and redesigning educational formats to better meet the needs of boys. This means accounting for developmental differences by having boys start school a year later, and creating an environment less skewed towards girl’s strengths. Only by so doing, he said, can we address the very real disadvantages which boys and men face in modern society.

All figures taken from “Of Boys and Men” by Richard V. Reeves

Written by: Joseph Addington

Opinion Editor at The Cougar Chronicle

The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run publication and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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