Katherine Connell of National Review has penned a smart critique of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” initiative, noting that, quite apart from the campaign’s disturbingly coercive nature, American society should not be promoting “leadership” as the ultimate marker of success. “The idea that we should be encouraging all girls — or boys — to think of themselves as future leaders is misguided,” writes Connell. “Most girls will not grow up to be leaders, and this isn’t a bad thing: Leadership is the calling of a few, by definition. Acting as if it should be a universal aspiration will inevitably set some kids up for disappointment and failure, and it devalues the work of the vast majority of people who don’t wield great power or influence, and don’t want to.”
Connell also reminds us that, contrary to the impression you might get from Sandberg’s various girl-power efforts, “young women today are beginning to eclipse their male peers in school and in the work force. More Millennial women than men have bachelor’s degrees, and the young childless professional women among them are out-earning men in most major cities.” (To her credit, Sandberg acknowledged the female-male educational gap in a March 9 interview with NPR.)
Indeed, as MIT economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman documented in a 2013 study titled “Wayward Sons,” men are falling behind women in terms of both educational attainment and wage gains.
For example: “Among U.S. adults who were age 35 in 2010 (that is, born in 1975), the female-male gap in college attendance was approximately 10 percentage points, and the gap in four-year college completion was 7 percentage points. Thus, females born in 1975 were roughly 17% more likely than their male counterparts to attend college and nearly 23% more likely to complete a four-year degree.”
Also: “[W]age gains among females have outpaced those of males at every education level over the last three decades. One implication of this fact is that the longstanding gender wage gap in earnings has declined. . . .
“This remarkable decline in the gender earnings gap is to a substantial extent an indication of progress, reflecting an increase in the skills and labor market experience of female workers as they have entered professional, managerial, and technical fields and reduced their concentration in traditionally female-dominated occupations such as teaching and nursing. But the story is not exclusively about women’s advances. It also reflects male declines. . . . [T]he closing of the gender gap among non-college workers is at least as much due to the falling wages of non-college males as it is due to the rising earnings of non-college females.”
What explains the male declines? Well, one of the biggest factors appears to be the dramatic long-term increase in the percentage of boys being raised in female-headed households with no father present. “A growing body of evidence,” wrote Autor and Wasserman, “indicates that the absence of stable fathers from children’s lives has particularly significant adverse consequences for boys’ psychosocial development and educational achievement.”
“Wayward Sons” was discussed in a recent City Journal article by Manhattan Institute scholar Kay Hymowitz, who presented further evidence showing that “family breakdown has had an especially harsh impact on boys.” Hymowitz also made a larger point about single-mother households and the gender gap in social mobility:
“The United States’ high rates of ‘lone motherhood,’ as the Europeans term it, help explain the widely lamented malaise of the American dream. When economists assess the probability that a child born to parents in the lowest income quintile will move up to a higher quintile as an adult, America gets very poor marks compared with other Western countries. In fact, numerous studies have confirmed that the U.S. has less upward mobility than just about any developed nation, including England, the homeland of the peerage. Yet, if you look at boys separately from girls, as the Finnish economist Markus Jäntti and his colleagues at the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labor did, the story changes markedly. In every country studied, girls are more likely than boys to climb up the income ladder, but in the United States, the disadvantage for sons is substantially greater than in other countries. Almost 75 percent of American daughters escape the lowest quintile — not unlike girls in the comparison countries of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Fewer than 60 percent of American sons experience similar success. It could be a simple coincidence that the U.S. has a significantly higher rate of single motherhood than the comparison countries and that 83 percent of American families in the lowest quintile are headed by a single mother. But judging from the research we’ve just parsed, probably not.”