It feels like we’ve almost reached a turning point with how we talk to and about men, especially white men. This is partly because the “privileged white male,’ bit has been beaten to death by comedians, but also because the adult male suicide rate, reports on test scores, and college attendance are becoming too hard to ignore.
Richard Reeves, author of the very successful book “Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters and What to Do About It,” was kind enough to chat with me and my co-host, James Broughel, about his thesis and the reaction he’s gotten after the books release.
To my surprise, he felt he received a bit more pushback from people on the political right than the left. Although conservatives are generally happy that someone from a more mainstream institution like Brookings is noticing the problem, it feels a little too late for some.
“Reeves’ prescriptions do not upend any of the orthodoxies of our ruling class,” wrote one reviewer for the Institute for Family Studies. That’s not an off-base take; Reeves does say that expanding public school options and structure could correct some of the issues.
Hilariously, during the interview, he paraphrased a critique from economist and author Bryan Caplan, who James and I also interviewed for IWF several months ago, “I’m not a fan [of the book]… it’s like two-thirds woke boilerplate, to one-third common sense …”
That pushback seems pretty fair, from where I sit as a somewhat-recent college graduate. No one seemed bothered that every college student for at least the past twenty years has had to sit through required classes, studying the flaws of American society and listen to professors prescribing illiberal solutions to broad problems like the wage gap. Most students had to write essays or talk about our privilege, going through our educational experience while constantly half-apologizing for being able to get an education.
This song and guilt dance, mostly directed at men, particularly white men, always seemed strange. But, no one seemed all that bothered until boys recently started to suffer academically in a statistically significant way. The gender gap is real, and it seems only women are stepping over it now.
Reeves offers a collection of proactive, policy proposals, such as “red-shirting,” or holding boys back a year before starting kindergarten, as a viable policy option. Other ideas include allowing for sex-segregated schools or classes; he is especially in favor of adding “one thousand” more technical high schools to give opportunities for tactile learning, something that seems to improve learning outcomes for boys.
I agree that it could be helpful, but am more apt to support some expanded school licensing or certification, or one-time grants to help private schools establish competitive models. Mostly because letting the anti-capitalist, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion agendas rule the roost at a new institution could produce the same negative outcomes for boys or just more educational meritocracy.
I asked Reeves what mothers could do to make sure their sons feel empowered. He gave some very saged, fatherly advice to mothers and sisters, “don’t punch down,” which is good advice generally, but especially when comparing girls and boys. He went on to say, “We all need to be looked in the eye and told that, ‘We’ve got you,’ ‘We’ve got your back.’”
When asked about dating and raising men to be stable fathers and husbands, he gave an answer similar in tone:
Look, I’m trying to raise my sons to have the courage to ask a girl out, the grace to accept no for an answer, and the responsibility to make sure that either way, she gets home safe—and right there, I think we’ve got quite a few.. ‘traditional masculine’ traits…and if there’s anything wrong with that model of masculinity, I’ve yet to find someone who can convince me of it.
Sometimes I feel like a lot of men feel underpowered, the drifting never quite know what to. [But] they know what not to do… One of my sons came home from one of their social emotional learning things about relationships… it was a list of 77 things not to do or say…
But there was nothing about what you should do…we can’t give young boys and young men a long list of don’ts without some dos.
Hopefully, with school choice and student savings account programs developing in states around the country, parents won’t have to wait years for the Department of Education to create an action plan, they can create the change they want to see by being involved in new forms of education.
I’m excited to see how the recognition of the many ways we are disadvantaging young men motivates parents to build institutions that better serve all of our children.
TRANSCRIPT (edited lightly for clarity)
James Broughel: Welcome, everyone. Welcome to the Culture in Progress podcast. My name is James Broughel. My co-host is Patricia Patnode. And we are lucky enough to be joined today by Richard Reeves, who’s a Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, where he holds the John C. and Nancy D. Whitehead Chair and leads the ‘Boys and Men’ project.
His most recent book is Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters and What to Do About It. Which I highly recommend. It’s one of the best policy books I read in the last year. So welcome, Richard.
Richard Reeves: Thanks for having me.
James Broughel: So first of all, congratulations on the book. It’s quite an impressive achievement. In the book you document, I would say fairly persuasively, that boys and young men are falling behind in American society, and we can talk a little bit about some of the ways that men seem to be underperforming relative to women in some contexts in education and career outcomes, I’d like to start by talking about your proposed solution, which I find really interesting.
This idea of “redshirting” boys, or holding boys back a year before starting kindergarten, I presume. My initial thought reading this was—do all boys really need to be redshirted? I mean, I can see how this makes sense for a lot of boys, or on average maybe boys need a year or need some extra time or have some problems relative to women, but can you convince me that we should really be redshirting all boys at such a young age?
Richard Reeves: So, well I can try, I should say that first of all, it’s one of the proposals along with lots of others, which we may get to, in education. And what I propose is, that by default, that’s what the enrollment is. So, by default, we go towards enrolling boys in school a year later than girls. And the reason for that is because of the developmental gap between boys and girls, because boys develop later and I’m less actually less troubled about the gap at five, although there is a big gap at 5 and I’m more worried about the gap at 15, It’s really what happens in adolescence I’m worried about. But by staggering the start of the beginning, you sort of predict that gap, and you don’t have to hold boys back partway through. Right?
Which does happen quite a lot. I mean, it’s probably instructive to know that 1 in 4 black boys repeat a grade before finishing high school. Right. That’s not all. But, that’s a real last resort because that has huge social consequences to sort of literally hold the kid back from their cohort.
I’m trying to get ahead of some of those developmental issues that boys have by redshirting all of them. But, just as with any default, it doesn’t it’s not determinative. And so, parents could decide that kids were ready. Their boy was ready. They might decide that girl, their daughter, would benefit from the extra year.
But by definition policy has to set a default by which we enroll at age is a proxy for development. So we use age, it’s a pretty crude proxy, and it differs between boys and girls. So, my proposal is to change the default and then and then evaluate, see what it does, try to find a school district, find some way to do it because it hasn’t been properly evaluated as the intentional policy, and then see if it’s worth it. See if the benefits outweigh the costs.
But, I’m pretty clear that that’s a policy that needs evaluating. What I’m trying to get on the table is a recognition of the fact there is this development gap, which means everything else equal, boys will be on average at a disadvantage in the education system. And redshirting is one way to address that, but it’s far from the only one.
Diane Schanzenbach, who’s done a lot of work on this. She actually disagrees with me about the redshirting proposal, and she said instead, high school GPAs should ignore ninth grade. Ninth grade is where, she thinks, really a gap opens up, and to take ninth grade out.
Now, I have no idea whether that would work, but it’s at least a kind of positive proposal that recognizes the fact that boys are currently being hurt by this development gap.
James Broughel: So they will still attend ninth grade, and the grades just wouldn’t get counted?
Richard Reeves: Yeah, which is kind of cool, interesting idea. Because I have anecdotal evidence that that’s when things go wrong, but Diane claims that also. So, I got to do some work on this. So that seems to be where the kind of gap really hurts you in terms of your reported GPA. So just ignore that. Yeah, give them a mulligan. Is that what it’s called in golf?
James Broughel: Yes. Yeah, that’s interesting. So this issue is somewhat personal for me because I was somewhat of a troubled teenager, I guess you would say. I struggled with depression. It really began when I was 13 or 14, and the worst of it was probably 13 to 16 or 17. And for me, and I’m not basing you know, I’m not basing this on science, it’s just kind of my personal experience.
High school just seemed interminable, and I just couldn’t wait to get out of high school. So it was like a kind of torture. You know, to me, when I think about would I have benefited from being in, I don’t know, in school? In school I was 19, or something like that’s kind of the opposite of what I wanted, are looking back at that time, like what I think maybe I would have benefited from.
I almost feel like I would have been pushed from school and earlier, like maybe if I was just got out of there at 16 and went out in the real world and did some hands-on stuff, I didn’t go to college right away. I started college when I was in my mid-twenties and I just moved to New York after high school because I was fed up with school.
I mean, what do you think about that? Like the idea of making school shorter rather than having kids stay in school longer?
Richard Reeves: Yeah, So don’t forget, I mean, the extra year would be, you know, would be front-loaded. So,it just would be kind of the norm. One of the things that someone suggested to me is like, you should just start girls a year early. So it’s just set the default so that girls are ready earlier. Right.
And girls are more mature and I thought both actually in Scotland they graduate high school at 17. There are all kinds of different systems around the world so maybe it’s less about like..and actually, the US that’s quite late by comparison to other places.
So, but I’m first of all I’m sorry I had that experience. I have a lot of empathy for it, not so much my own experience, but my son, certainly one of my sons just feeling like high school was like a torture chamber the way he was barely, barely graduating.
So, I feel that the hope is that it wouldn’t be so torturous if you were having a bad academic experience. And the hope is that that would be the case if you were more mature, if you had more chance to develop. And so you’re just absolutely that you’re older, right? So the hope is would be less torturous if you’ve had a chance, but particularly the prefrontal cortex, which is the bit of your brain that just screams at you and your teacher tells you to sit still and do a test.
Right? That developed a little bit more. But it’s worth pointing out that I think generally the atmosphere and pedagogy of high schools, is not very male-friendly on average—right?
And to the extent the boys learn more through doing that and being told that there are issues about sitting still, etc., again, let’s just caveat this whole conversation with the assumption that your audience knows that things are on average and the distributions overlap, and so one of my proposals is a massive expansion in technical high schools.
For example, we should double the number of people that can go to technical high schools. And all the evidence is that’s really good for boys. Seems to be pretty neutral for girls. Some will go. They don’t seem to do much better in technical high schools, and they would do that in mainstream high schools, but boys do much better in technical high schools because it’s much more hands-on. It’s much more vocationally oriented, etc.
And the U.S. does very little of that, by comparison. So, I proposed a thousand new technical high schools which would double the number of students going to them across the country. I would get us up to 15%. It would be mostly boys, because they’re the ones who opt into it, and it would make it less torturous for that group of boys for whom standard academic education is really terrible.
And that’s something I hope that we can do, and redshirting will help all of them. And then the last thing is a lot more men in our classrooms teaching and coaching so that the atmosphere of school, the structure of school, the climate of school is just less female.
Just to be clear, looking at Patricia now on my screen, this is not because I think there’s anything wrong with women teachers, but it is like if you have a profession, it’s nearly 80% female, which K-12 is now. And a lot of schools have no male teachers to be found at all. That inevitably has an effect on the attitude and the atmosphere of the school, which is going to be less friendly towards boys.
We know that because women’s movements taught us about that, about other spaces, right? That if you don’t have any women in spaces, it’s hard for girls to flourish and vice versa.
Patricia Patnode: Yeah, I was talking to my little brother who is 21. And just a very normal college-age American kid. And he was in sports like all through high school, all through elementary school. And we went to a pretty tough high school, I think for like middle America, like a lot of people didn’t graduate a lot of people went to jail.
Like, he had sports teammates who, like, went to jail and, like, sold drugs, like crazy stuff for like in an Iowa high school.
And [to my brother] I was like, “What are you make of all of this? Of the masculinity crisis that you’re seeing? As a like normal person who doesn’t read all this data?”
And he’s like, “I only know that everyone that I know that got into trouble had like great athletic potential and they were like frustrated with just their situation. They had bad guidance and if they had been ushered into sports and given structure more, then things would have been different. And they probably could have gotten a lot of like good deals out of going to community college or college.”
And I was like, okay, like that actually seems to be on track with what a lot of like social, social scientists say with, ‘giving young men structure through sports and get them like an activity.’
But, in schools like in my high school, woodshed and automotive repair were things very normal and like in the 50s and 60s, because people had more tactical skills there. More of those teachers are fading away, and giving rise to sitting at a computer doing tasks, because that’s what technical schools are more now. It’s the hard drive coding type of thing instead of carpentry activities.
So, do you think that like if there is a masculinity crisis, I think it might be a carpentry and common skills issue as, like, a mentorship thing with young people? What what’s your take on that?
Richard Reeves: Well, I think, yeah, it’s great. Well, thank you for sharing the story of your brother. So what my reading of the evidence on CTE, like career and technical education, is that when you just spread it across high schools, it doesn’t have much effect. That’s one of the reasons I’ve come down so heavily on technical high schools or specifically technical high schools for those who are going to benefit from it.
I’ve said double that would be 15%. It could be a lot more. And it doesn’t mean you don’t do academics in those schools. It is just more vocationally oriented. They are more towards those technical occupations, including, as you say, things like health care, administration coding, and so on.
So, and it’s last I think sometimes we get stuck on this, this idea that like and I probably get the phrasing wrong so it’s not like, ‘boys learn with hands more than girls’ is that boys learn more practically than if it’s just abstract—and see the immediate reason for why you’re learning it, they seem to struggle a little bit more with ‘learning for learning sake’— let’s put it that way. Seems to be a little bit easier for girls because they have more future orientation.
So, I think it also speaks to this question of structure and guidance. I think we’re, particularly in the U.S., I’ve noticed something of a reluctance to offer too strong guidance for fear that that’s tracking, taking away choice. It’s not honoring the range of possibilities that they might have, where there’s a fear of paternalism. Right. And I’m saying this as a kind of classical liberal, I think paternalism is appropriate for kids quite often and more let you know, having more structure, more guidance is.
And that’s true in something like high school, right? You make a decision at 14 to go into a technical high school. Yes, that’s a big decision. And so it’s important to recognize that to some extent you’re shaping choice, but also the structure that comes with things like school sports.
One of the reasons I’m a bit obsessed with getting more male teachers isn’t just because having men in the classrooms is good, but because male teachers tend to be coaches, particularly male sports. And that’s an environment and a structure and a purpose. It sounds like your brother benefited from that, at least, which actually gets a lot of boys through school.
Honestly, they survive the day of physics and chemistry in order to be able to go on the track and play football or whatever is, usually with a male coach. And so but with fewer and fewer men we have in our schools, the fewer and fewer coaches we have. And there’s a bit of suspicion even of like these male-only spaces now.
But, I think it’s hard to quantify. Those extracurriculars are hugely important for boys.
Patricia Patnode: I think there is a bit of a cultural suspicion of men who want to be teachers and daycare workers. Do you think that kind of predatory lens that, unfortunately, I think gets put on a lot of just casually, do you think that’s fading or you think that’s like growing stronger or maintaining? Because to me, that’s like perhaps why we don’t have as many men in these spaces.
Richard Reeves: Well, if you look at early years education, it’s two between 2% and 3% male share there actually as a share of the profession, there are twice as many women flying U.S. military jets as there are men teaching kindergarten, and there are just no men. My middle son actually does early years education and has faced quite a lot of discrimination and stigma as a result of that.
And see, I wish I could say I thought it was getting better, but I think it’s getting worse. I fear that the mood, this sort of mood around masculinity, toxic masculinity, the MeToo movement, etc. has spilled over a little bit into a broader suspicion of masculinity and more of a heightened awareness of the kind of predatory potential, if I can put it that way, that people see in men.
And I think that has spilled over to like what is, men in those fields. I don’t have any good empirical evidence for that. There’s always been a lot of stigma, but my sense is, if anything, that stigma has become greater, somewhat more normalized.
When my son tells me the things that people say to him, I think I don’t think no people would have dared say that to me, talking to me 20 years ago.
But it’s something around that. The narrative about toxic masculinity, predation, you know, MeToo, Women’s March, etc. has been, I think, to heighten that awareness about a potential. Of course, that is a vicious circle, because if you make it an incredibly difficult profession for men to go into, then what that means does everything else equal? You’re going to have a slightly higher risk that the men choosing to go into that profession may well actually be, you know, on a person by person basis, a slightly higher risk.
And that does seem to be the case. By the way, it’s important to be honest about this. It does seem to be the case that on average a man in those professions is somewhat more likely to be abusive than a woman. Of course, there are so few men that most of the abuses are by women, but that could be a vicious circle.
That’s it could be a selection problem. I mean, after all, like, you’ve got to really want to do it to be a man in earlier education. And so everything else equal that might increase the risk that some people, a tiny minority of people might be doing it for bad reasons. And so to some extent, as I said, it’s a vicious circle.
The more you stigmatized it, the harder it is for men who aren’t like that to go into it. And therefore, the high chance that you’ve got a selection problem.
James Broughel: Do you run into problems even talking about gender now with I mean, the whole issue of gender is so much, so much more controversial than it was even just a few years ago? And I’ve noticed it seems like the feminist movement is a little more splintered than it used to be because just the definition of woman is kind of up in the air now in a way that it used to not be.
So, I mean, does the trans issue ever come up when you go around and talk on podcasts or about men? I mean, does anyone push back from that perspective?
Richard Reeves: Yeah, but not much, and I’m usually able to acknowledge it and then move on by saying that’s a tiny minority, right? My book is aimed at the overwhelming majority of boys and men who are, you know, cis, heterosexual. And I use that phrase, and some of my conservative reviewers have sort of criticized me for using that phrase. Right, Right at the front of the book.
I say this book is aimed at the 95% of men who identify as cis and heterosexual. Right. That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues for the other 5% of men, but there are lots of books about that. I’m not. So I just acknowledge it. And then a pocket of some of my conservative critics have said, “Oh, God, he’s, you know, he says, CIS!”
You know, okay, that’s because everybody that read the book who was from the left, said, What about this? What about LGBTQ?
So, okay, I had one sentence that said, This book is not about them. Pile in conservative eye-rolling critics. And I think the key is, to just acknowledge that you can have like a majority, you can have a quote norm and to build policy around that, without in any way saying not everyone fits it right, you can have a norm and an exception.
You can have a rule and an exception, and both can be fine. But it is true that the overwhelming majority of men define themselves as masculine, define themselves in line with their natal birth. It’s quite an important part of their identity. Most of them are straight. Most of them are going to be in relationships with women, which is where the economic relationship between men and women starts to matter.
Right? This is less of an issue for gay men, right? The economic rise of women is less of an issue for gay men, in terms of their personal relationships and family. So I just say all that and that. But usually but that usually helps.
I think the problem is that if you frame a zero-sum, you can only care about one or the other. You know by writing a book about straight cis men. It means you don’t care about LGBTQ or trans. But the other thing I would say is, there are some people who just say, “Well, look, why why are we talking about this at all? Why? Why are we categorizing in this binary way?” “Why are we saying your men, your women, etc.?”
And I just think those categories A) are still true and B) is still useful.
And one of the things that I typically say, if the questions coming from some are more on the left as well, do you want to stop measuring the gender pay gap?
Okay. I actually think it’s quite valuable to measure the gender pay gap, but it’s very binary.
In order to measure the gender pay gap, we have to know how much men are earning, and how much women are earning, which means I have to know who they are.
James Broughel: I know in even statistics, I know that it’s an issue people are talking about.
Richard Reeves: What I mean is over time, of course, if you have these categories, then you know we have that you might have more and more people who don’t fall into one of those categories. But, at this stage, it’s such small numbers, that these are the big two categories.
It’s a bit like saying I’m not going to do ‘white’ ‘black’ because, you know, there are some people who are white and black or mixed-race. So, I’m not going to measure the racial wealth gap because the line isn’t clean.
We don’t do that anywhere else in social science. So I don’t see why we should do it here. And most people agree with that.
James Broughel: I saw an interesting study recently. It was looking at women playing chess and it found that women make more mistakes playing against men. So it seemed like the mere presence of competing with men put women at a disadvantage, whereas they didn’t have these mistakes. Playing against other women and men seems to bear the same against men or women.
And, I guess there’s other literature that finds similar results. And I just wondered if maybe if like our grandparents had it right like maybe we should just go back to separating schools by gender. I mean, it also kind of fits with the idea that people benefit from having mentors of the same gender, teachers of the same gender. Maybe we remove some of that stigma about male teachers if they’re just male teachers in a male school. What do you think?
Richard Reeves: Well, there are more male teachers as a share in private schools compared to public schools. Interestingly, says fewer men in fewer men as a share of public school teachers, but a slight rise in private schools. Finally, quite interesting on what I’m going to try and dig into that. What’s going on? Some of that could be the single-sex school thing.
I also think it’s a real preference on the part of parents. I think I think parents want schools that have male teachers enough and private schools have to sell, right? They have to face the market.
And, so to some extent, they have to be more market responsive. But I don’t I don’t exactly know why that’s happening, but it could be partly a single-sex thing.
I’ve looked at the evidence for the the effectiveness of single-sex schools is not convincing, but it’s very hard to get good evidence, because the selection effect is so huge. Obviously, the parents who choose to send their kids to single-sex schools are not normal. I don’t mean that in a negative way. They’re just like they’re selected on certain characteristics.
So, it’s hard to tell if it’s the school that makes much difference really can’t randomize people into them, but there are lots of exceptions to that. It seems like it might be particularly helpful for black boys, but I don’t know.
It’s huge I mean, if you think the reform of starting boys in school a year later than girls is radical, then try dividing the entire education system into boys and girls schools—that would be radical. That would be pretty radical. And so you’d need really good evidence that it was going to be effective to suddenly [change it]. Can you imagine the catchment areas and the bussing? And like girls going on different buses?
But I think what’s happening there though, is that because of the spaces like sports, like, I don’t know, Scouts, like maybe churches, where there are structured spaces for boys to do things, where often can boys and men in male spaces because there’s fewer and fewer of those. I think the interest in single-sex schools is going up, because people like me want some male-only spaces.
There aren’t any others, do it through school. But if we had all those other spaces through sports, through school, through whatever you choose, then I don’t think the demand would be such.
So I think we’re trying to solve a social problem through education policy. If we start talking about single-sex, I’m not against single-sex schools.
I’m speaking at one next week. I’m speaking at the Boys School Association. Great. If that’s what your preference is. But I’d just as a social scientist, I don’t see strong enough evidence that it should drive public policy.
Patricia Patnode: So, I wrote a piece maybe a couple of months ago about dating, because there’s this crisis in dating, like casually. When women talk about it on podcasts a lot, it’s just a big topic online that it feels like men are not trying hard or not pursuing women like they used to. And also there are young people having sex, much less if you’re a more traditional person that doesn’t think that that’s a bad thing, that’s fine.
But the point is that men and women are interacting less than they used to, even when we had a more traditional culture and sex wasn’t just accepted, which is very interesting.
I mean, is it there’s just fewer interactions going on? Or is there less dating? People are meeting more online, which is neither good nor bad. It’s just a trade-off and a response to an evolution.
So, our audience is a lot of, obviously Independent Women’s Forum, a lot of women, a lot of moms, a lot of young women.
So, what do you say to women who are raising daughters as well as sons? What are some behaviors that could be helpful in response to some of the statistics that would be good to raise women with?
Because my advice in my article was, when you’re dating someone, when you’re dating a man, you need to give them the opportunity to exercise the behavior that you want to see. So if you want someone, who’s going to be intentional about you and pursue you, you need to. If that’s the thing that you want, you need to leave space for him to do that and not preempt his action.
And that filters for some behavior and also like encourages and enforces it when he does respond. So to me, that was my advice to women my age. Do you think there’s like another nugget of advice that you could give to mothers raising women to help them encourage men to have good behavior when they’re in school and not put them down if they’re not doing as well in tests, or even towards their brothers?
Richard Reeves: Yeah, well, I think that there’s a couple of things. ne is I think kind of avoid this kind of eye-rolling infantilization. Like, “Oh, what’s wrong with you?” And wanting them to “Be more like your sister,” “Can you grow up?” kind of stuff, right?
To be really careful about that because, up to a point, looking to each other and that’s kind of fine but in a particularly in school where I mean there are massive gaps I mean there’s a bigger gender gap on college campuses in the U.S. today than there was in 1972 when we type passed Title IX.
It’s just the other way around. So girls are further ahead of boys in U.S. education today than boys were ahead of girls when we passed Title IX.
I mean, is that there is a massive gender inequality at every stage. So, I mean and I just saw it with my own boys, I mean they sort of go past all these posters on the walls about like ‘girls scholarship nights’ and ‘girls on the run’ and ‘girls who code’ and stuff.
And then they’d look at the statistics of their school and the girls were just handing it to them in the classroom. I mean, it’s just like a massive gender gap.
And so, it’s just don’t punch down. I think “don’t punch down” is generally good advice. And so, if you’re in an institutional setting where you’re doing really well and that maybe suits you quite well and that you’ve got your act together, then you know, don’t punch the guys because they’re not like, like doing as well as you, like, we all need support.
We all need to be looked in the eye and told that, ‘We’ve got you,’ ‘We’ve got your back.’
So, I do think that’s number one on the sort of dating thing. It’s fascinating, this whole debate. I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this. And, I must admit that I’ve enjoyed watching conservatives, of certain kinds, go from freaking out about teen pregnancy and premarital sex to freaking out about the sex recession and the drop in fertility in the space of about ten years.
I’m like, Wait, wait, wait, wait. I thought you wanted people to have less sex? I’m confused now because there is a lot of it’s driven by like teenagers are having less sex. And a lot of it is driven by the fact that there’s less marriage because married people are likely to have sex.
And so there’s a lot going on there that I think conservatives should be pleased about. Not all of it, but there’s a recalibration going on. If you look at work by Christine Emba, Louise Perry, Erica Babcock, all three books I would recommend, there’s this real movement among women of different ideological backgrounds saying, wait, what’s going on here?
And a reaction against the so-called sex-positivity movement, which basically said ‘women should be like men when it comes to sex.’ And guess what? They’re not. We’re not. We’re different, again, on average, but it’s a pretty big difference.
And so I think that to the extent that men want are going to be rewarded in the marketplace, let’s use that analogy for now, although I don’t really like it. Then to some extent, women do control the reward system. What behavior gets rewarded and what behavior gets punished?
That’s pretty simple. And so I do think that you’re right. If you want if women want them to be less passive, say more assertive, say does that get rewarded? Yes or no? I actually am really hopeful about this because I do think that that’s what a lot of women want, as long as it’s done respectfully and appropriately.
And what that does and I’ve seen this in my own sons, it creates a huge market advantage for the guys who are willing to do it. And then the other guys notice that happening. Go, wait, wait, why is he doing so well? And the answer is because he asked a girl out. So one of the things I said on Bill, I went on Bill Maher and I was thinking, how do I capture this?
I said, Look, I’m trying to raise my sons to have the courage to ask a girl out, the grace to accept no for an answer, and the responsibility to make sure that either way, she gets home safely.
And right there, I think we’ve got quite a few quite quote, ‘traditional masculine’ traits if you like. One is you’ve used the word pursuit a couple of times and I think you’re using it appropriately.
But have the courage. But then recognize the answer might be No, that’s okay. You don’t have any right to this. There’s nothing to say. You’re going to get rewarded for as long as it’s all done respectfully, right, on both sides. But then either way, you got to make sure she gets because you are physically in a position to maybe kind of make sure she gets home safely.
So and if there’s anything wrong with that model of masculinity, I’ve yet to find someone who can convince me of it. And it captures the beginning, this willingness to do a little bit, risk-taking, a little bit of putting it out there, because in the end, I think what a lot of young women want is to just guys who’ve got their act together, got some agency that really even it doesn’t have to be a breadwinner in the traditional sense, but you’ve just got to be like shoulder to shoulder partner.
You’ve got to be kind of like, ‘with me in this endeavor’ and you got to have a bit of oomph about you. So I think one of you said at the beginning, underperforming. James. I think you said like men are underperforming. I think sometimes I feel like a lot of men feel underpowered, the drifting never quite know what to do.
They know what not to do. And there’s a long list of things not to do. One of my sons came home from one of their, social emotional learning things about relationships. And I said, Well, what was that? And he said, it was a list of 77 things not to do or say, okay, you know, it’s a good list I agree with, by and large with that list.
But there was nothing about what you should do. It’s all things to don’t do. And we can’t give young boys and young men a long list of don’ts without some dos. But in the end, the market, I think the market will speak. So it’s up to women, right? What kind of men do women want?
James Broughel: Do you think there is, you know, I’ve read a little bit of like the intelligence research and that literature seems to suggest I don’t want to generalize too much, but that men are kind of more high variance than women like men and women are equally intelligent on average. But, there are some, like men out in the tail, really intelligent or really not as intelligent, is it?
Do you think that kind of fits into the story you’re telling that maybe the institution and we have the schools, they were kind of on average for people who are kind of in that middle and women are more bunched around the average. But then we have some men who really can excel with the current institutions or maybe they need different institutions in order to maximize their potential.
And then there are other men who are just really struggling. I don’t know. Does that story resonate with you at all?
Richard Reeves: Yeah, it seems true on some dimensions. So it’s called the “males at the tails” phenomenon, where you will see sort of more variance. I will say that it appears to be true in certain quite narrow measures, so I wouldn’t say it’s true. It’s not true of intelligence. Overall, it seems to be true of certain kind of expressed forms of intelligibility, of ability or intelligence.
So in math, for example, it’s true. I mean, you have to be careful saying this because Larry Summers had to resign as President of Harvard for saying it. But it does look as if in something like math, you have a “males at the tails” phenomenon. And so if you look right at the top and the distribution, you do see a slight male skew is true the other way around in lots of other areas, by the way.
But in certain areas like math, it does appear to be true that you’ll see a bit of that phenomenon. But we’re talking about very small numbers, pretty small differences right at the ends of the distribution. And so does it in any way matter for a kind of mainstream education policy? No. I mean, girls are doing as well as boys in math on average, they’ve overtaken them in poorer school districts.
There’s no gap on standardized tests anymore. But, within the standardized tests, the boys are doing are still doing a little bit better on math. The girls are doing a lot better in their girls and better in English. So there are still some differences in there. But overall, there’s no gap on standardized tests. So it’s not overall, there’s no evidence that boys are smarter than girls. Or girls are smarter than girls are boys.
But right at the top of the distribution, at the bottom, in certain areas like math, it does seem like we’ve got a few more males at the tails. So, if you’re the admissions officer at MIT for your advanced math degree, that might affect the distribution. But like, outside of those incredibly rarified sort of situations that I think it is, is why Larry got in trouble, you know, just doesn’t have any application to anything else in society.
And the danger is, it can be used by people who are being irresponsible with the data to make general points about a very specific part of the distribution. It doesn’t matter in the average high school. It’s just not going to it’s not going to show up. Or if it does, it’ll be like you’ll have a few more boys doing better in math.
But right now, girls are just doing so much better overall, that that’s just swamping any other of these small effects. You might see generally. And there are almost as many women doing math and statistics and college as there are men now, just because the kind of oceanic shift towards women means, that just even if there are some differences in distribution, the overall performance of women is so much better that it’s just washing out any of those small differences.
James Broughel: We had Bryan Caplan, who’s professor at George Mason University on here a couple of weeks ago, and—
Richard Reeves, (with humor): He hates my book, apparently.
James Broughel: Oh, does it really?
Richard Reeves: Yeah.
James Broughel: Okay, so he’s kind of a friend of mine, but I have no idea why that would be.
Richard Reeves: He said on Twitter, Manhattan Institute did an event, and I couldn’t attend the event, unfortunately. But, he was debating somebody. He says, “I’m not a fan of the book. It’s something like two-thirds woke boilerplate, to one-third common sense..” or something like that. Okay? Okay, Bryan.
James Broughel: I felt like he came close, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but he certainly came close to making a claim, something like, you know, ‘men are at least equally discriminated against compared to women.’ Or in some cases more like he was using examples, like men are drafted and have to go fight and more, and that’s a lot you know, more that’s a lot worse than, you know, being judged based on your looks or something.
I’m paraphrasing, but I mean, do you think there’s anything to this argument that maybe we’ve gone overboard with affirmative action, we’ve done too much to try to help women, and now men are the victims of discrimination?
Richard Reeves: I don’t see any strong evidence for that. I know a lot of people believe it to be true, and I’ve looked for it, certainly not in day-to-day like in yeah, job discrimination, etc.
So, what he’s doing is trying to make a broader cultural point similar to one that Warren Farrell and others made, which is the “disposable male” thesis, which is that when it comes to it, like men’s lives are less valuable.
And so that’s why we send off to, to die and stuff. And I think there’s some decent evolutionary evidence for that view, that men are a bit more risk-taking and they’re also more willing to take risks with their own lives—right? It’s men that run into burning buildings to save strangers and die doing so and so, there is something to that.
But, I think just in general, I mean, yes, it’s true. You have to sign it for the draft. We got very close to adding women to the draft. Senator Josh Hawley headed out for the 11th hour doing a deal with Kirsten Gillibrand and others. Otherwise, we’re about to add women to Selective Service. It was very, very close and it might happen at some point, and we’re not drafting anybody, of course, so to some extent that’s, you know, it’s just, I think it’s more about selection into certain occupations and so on, too.
I don’t I don’t see very many people forcing men into those more risky occupations generally. I think they’re more likely to take them because they’re more risk-taking. That’s not discrimination.
What I would say is that there are some places where I think it’s appropriate to have discrimination. So I’ve argued for affirmative action to get more women into politics, for example. I actually do think that it’s a problem at the government level to not have enough gender diversity. And I’m not as concerned by the fact that as affirmative action for hiring women into STEM to teach, for example, there’s a strong bias towards hiring women. Everything else equal, to teach STEM subjects in colleges about 2 to 1 advantage according to some research.
So, everything else equal your hire the woman to teach chemistry rather the man at about 2:1 ratio. It is pretty strong affirmative action. I support that because the evidence is that we need more women teaching STEM to get other women to do STEM, and we’re not going to get to 50%, but more would be good. I’d just like to see the equivalent in nursing and teaching and early education for men.
I think if you have an area where you think there’s a social welfare issue at stake and it would be better to have more men or more women, it’s okay, but just be hands above the table about it.
So I’ve proposed scholarships for men to go into teaching, for example. That would be strong affirmative action to get more men into teaching.
But I want to be transparent about that, and say why I think it’s a good thing.
Let’s not do it by stealth. Let’s do it because we think it’s a social welfare argument for it. Otherwise don’t do it. But overall, I’m Bryan would need to produce some better empirical evidence that men are discriminated against because I don’t really see it in the labor market or anywhere else.
James Broughel: I should probably add that as a white guy, I don’t feel like I’m the victim of discrimination. Just for the record.
Richard Reeves: It’s striking how many people do think that there’s more discrimination against men than women, though, especially on the political right.
So I think there’s something to the sense of grievance there. The grievance is being felt. I just don’t think it’s well supported by the data. But I think that’s because in general, we’re just not doing a good job of communicating the fact that we recognize there’s a problem of boys and men.
We’re doing something about it. If you’re worried about your son, you’re right to be worried about your son. Here are some policies.
I think the failure of mainstream institutions to address the issue creates a massive vacuum. And that vacuum fuels grievances and can convince white men that they are the victims of discrimination when they’re not. But I do understand why they might start to think they might be, because we’re just not doing enough to recognize the fact that there are problems facing boys and men.
And we’re not responsibly addressing all that.
Patricia Patnode: What do you think about the decline in religiosity? I know you’ve said that like other institutions positively are helpful for informing men and like teaching them how to be like positive participators in society and have a sense of self. Do you think the decline in religion and those institutions, and maybe a modification of them to be more to be less structured, has accelerated this issue?
Richard Reeves: Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean, I think the first thing is—every almost every Christian denomination in the US has a gender gap in attendance. More women than men. As Kathryn Eden and her colleagues work on the tenuous attachments of working-class men, actually religion and church are one of the four anchors of male identity, but you see that falling away.
And typically, like if a couple split up or something, then the woman will keep going. And so I think that at best, the religious institutions can provide some structure, some rites of passage, some roles which can be for boys.
The theology of the altar boy is quite interesting. Yuval Levin at AEI, is a scholar, pointed out that when Reform Judaism moved away from the idea of the all-male minyan for prayer, you know, the ten men, almost overnight, it became women. Like you didn’t say it had to be men. Men didn’t do it, so women started doing it.
So, some are now saying we should do half. We need five men, five women. And so something about specific roles seems to be important.
I will also point out that in Judaism, the Bar Mitzvah for boys is a year later than the Bat Mitzvah for girls. So back to redshirting where we started. Maybe Judaism knew something about the rightness of maturity for boys and girls..? Otherwise, why is there a gap in that?
So overall, yes. And so the general decline, the institutional decline of which the secularization is part reduces the number of spaces within which boys can have certain roles and certain role models. You know, Sunday school teachers, priests, altar boys, take minyan, take your pick.
I do think that there’s a structure to come back to that world just and a role that I think can be quite important, right? So I go to an Eastern Orthodox church, I’m Eastern Orthodox, and I have to say, when I see some of you know, when I see what everyone’s doing, I see the boys doing it. I’m torn because on the one hand, it’s like incredibly sexist, but on the other hand, even as they’re doing it, these boys are doing it. I know they want to do it half the time. They can’t.
They’re just doing it, right? I think forward and think, actually, you know what? That probably wouldn’t have been a bad thing for them going forward.
So, I’m much more open to the role of religion in doing some of the socialization than I think some of the people are.
Patricia Patnode: Did anything surprise you about like the reaction to your book after it was published? Because I know you’ve said that it was kind of a brave thing to say because this topic can kind of put people off.
Richard Reeves: I have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of hostility from the Left. That it has been generally treated respectfully, even by those who disagree. So, to kind of put a point in, there are two columns in the Times about the book, one from David Brooks. That was very nice. And a week later, more importantly, one from Michelle Goldberg, a feminist, progressive, feminist, very good writer who was critical of the book, but in a way that acknowledged that there was a problem.
She started by saying, ‘everyone knows there’s a problem here. Reeves is right to tackle it, it’s not that this is not secret, but we should all be Social-Democrats. You know, forget about redshirting, let’s fund our schools better. But so she came at it with a kind of Social Democratic kind of left criticism of it. Like so many of the problems that boys are having about class and inequalities. Let’s deal with that.
Richard Reeves: Great. That’s a great argument. Let’s have the argument, Michelle. Because we’re arguing about the substance rather than ‘how dare you!’
There hasn’t been too much, ‘how dare you.’ And what I read into that from the Left, I heard more hostility from the Right, actually, I think and I think that the reason for that is because everyone knows that this is a problem, a lot of people are worried about the consequences politically and culturally of not addressing it, but they needed permission. To talk about it.
And if you’re Center-Left, you’re progressive, you identify as on the Left, especially right now, an accomplice to climate. Merely addressing the issue runs the risk of mocking you out as on the other side of the cultural divide on the other side of the culture war. And I think what I’ve done is write a permission slip, and I’ve been really impressed and pleased with how many people who once given that permission slip go, ‘Yes, that’s great. Let’s talk about this. I’ve got a son, I’ve got a brother. I’m worried about this. I’m worried about Andrew Tate. My son’s whatever to take your pick is that the reservoir opens of concern.’
So, there’s a massive demand for this conversation. If we can have it in a way that doesn’t oblige us to choose sides in the culture war.
And so my book is an attempt to sort of take this issue away from the front lines of the culture war, to say two things can be true at once, to say, let’s get empirical about this, let’s get a bit more boring about this, and away from the sort of heated, you know, trans bathrooms, MeToo. Past Trump, you know, whatever-, just that kind of heat.
Just, can we talk about classrooms? Can we talk about GPA? Right?
I think the reception of the book shows that there is, among most people, not only a willingness to a real appetite to have this conversation.
That was part of the goal of the book. And so fingers crossed so far I’m getting into rooms and having conversations with people I really wanted to have conversations with. I sort of assumed that people on the conservative side would be interested in this issue, like “Oh, this guy from Brookings is talking about it. Now, that’s interesting because we’ve been talking about it for the last 20 years. Welcome to the party Reeves.”
Okay, that’s a fair criticism, but I kind of assumed there would be some interest on the Right and disagreements about marriage and fatherhood. But, the question was, what was going to happen on the left? But, it turns out there’s a lot of people out there who want to talk about this because in the end, nobody wants a society where you have to choose.
It’s like saying to a parent, who has a son and a daughter, which one are you going to care about most?
And it turns out a lot of women’s groups, I’m talking about women’s groups, know that a world of floundering, struggling men is unlikely to be a world of flourishing women. We do have to rise together. And I think there are a lot of women and women’s groups and progressive women who are kind of recognizing that- we are in this together.
We are not going to have a feminist utopia. We’re not going to have Her Land where we can jettison the men. We want men, we want boys. This is how we like it.
So, I’ve been really encouraged, in early days. But this conversation to like look at the way we’ve had this conversation about substance and this and ‘is this true and there is a real appetite for a good faith conversation about this difficult issue.
James Broughel: Thank you. Well, I hope the conversation continues. We really do appreciate you joining us. Richard Reeves. The book is “Of Boys and Men Why the Modern Man is Struggling, Why It Matters and What to Do About It.” Everyone should go out and read it. Thank you very much.
Richard Reeves: They should all listen to it. They can listen to me reading it.
James Broughel: I listen to the audiobook, by the way. I really enjoy digital.