Of Boys and Men:Why the Modern Male, is Struggling, why it matters, and what to do about it

Date Reviewed
July 21st 2023

'Of Boys and Men:Why the Modern Male, is Struggling, why it matters, and what to do about it' is a clarion call, maybe plea, to have concern about men amid the generally applauded 'rise of women'.

I admit before reading this book I was only vaguely aware of these recent trials of men, although aware of the increasing proportion of women in universities. (For every 100 bachelor's degrees awarded to women 74 are gong to men)

But once mentioned by the author, Richard Reeves, the concerns he voices are easy to imagine and maybe more importantly easy to see as a critical social issue..

The British American academic/writer regularly apologizes for his male-concern subject, if it is seen as an objection to the progress women have made and still need to make. Because on the whole, he maintains, women still need catching up, particularly in the highest echelons of the economy and administration.

The greatest suffering of men is at the poverty end of society. Most of his themes would seem to have international validity, but there is a distinctly U.S. tilt. And the most suffering of all are black males, followed, maybe, by hispanic males in the U.S. society. Both gender and race hold these people back.

The suffering starts with the loss of solid paying middle class jobs for unskilled and semi-skilled men and the resulting poverty. It is robbing them of one of their main traditional roles in the family...primary breadwinner. Along with the increasing poverty, is a loss of place and purpose in society.

The author is not shy about describing issues from the political spectrum point of view. He says the extreme left cannot see that biology is a factor in how each gender finds its way in society. And on the other side the extreme right places too much importance in the differing biology. Maybe not surprisingly the left is nearly completely absorbed in the issue of bringing women up and the latter in what the men have lost.

Given the political climate, he confesses to being reluctant to write the book and had been advised against it. And while he does specify it, it is possible the growing and endemic anger in society exemplified by increasing partisanship, populism and distrust in society's institutions may be partly the result of the male struggle to adjust to new roles.

He uses the figure that for each $100 men earn women earn $82, however much of the difference is no longer gender discrimination, but choices women make. And the main one is motherhood. He says that in the case of lesbians with children a study revealed that the stay-at-home-parent suffered a career setback, but not the one who continued to focus on career. There is no longer much difference between men and women doing the same job in the same conditions, he says.

The new and increasing disparity between men and women in education could be rectified by holding boys back a year in school. Education is set up in a way that favours females, he adds. At the same time, he calls for continuing effort to make work fairer to women.

On the wage front men's wages are dropping while women's are increasing. This disparity is primarily at the lower end of the wage scale, while men at the high end continue to do well.

The author challenges the contention that men's problems are individual, when they should be seen as structural. The cultural role of the male family provider has been “hollowed out”, primarily due to changes in society.

And many of the policies brought forth , while not outwardly gender discriminating, don't seem to help men and boys.

And he points to the partisan political divide and allocation of blame as hindering progress with politicians making things worse. After reading the book the reader may extrapolate from what the author has said, combine it with the tripling of firearm sales in the U.S.over the last 15 years coupled with the surge in mass shootings and the mobilization on internet social networks to see the pointy end of the angry male stick.

With 15-page chapters and lots of subheads this book is convenient to read. And that is important given the density of the material. At 200 pages, the book is surprisingly short for the amount of material covered.




The dramatic change in educational success between boys and girls over the past 50 years is a major problem augmented by race and poverty. There is a dramatic difference favouring girls in reading and a thin and shrinking difference favouring boys in math.

The poor male decisions of adolescence increases the gap to about two years between boys and girls in education. This, he says, is a brain maturation issue and is at the root of his call for different educational timing and expectation for the genders.

There is a great effort to bring more females in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math). He thinks at the same time more males should be encouraged in HEAL (health, education, administration, literacy). While there are gender differences in strength in both fields, it is more like 60 40 than the more extreme society believed in the past.

He says the educational rise of women and differences seem consistent worldwide.

While the proportion of students is shifting toward females in universities admissions departments worries that both genders shy away from a school with disproportionate gender enrolment. Hence the academic barriers against females goes up.

Current disadvantages in the labour market, he says, seem to revolve around childcare which still favours men.

Of interest, he points out, is that the greatest fall in employment is in men aged 25 to 34, often with only a high school education. And this sounds a bit out of date for a 2022 book that automation and free trade are a one two punch in male unemployment and in 2023 there is a shortage of workers and high employment.

Meanwhile “women's” jobs seem somewhat sheltered agains these twin job killing factors. He suggests that many of the future high paying jobs may involve more emotional intelligence (EQ) than IQ..... sort of robot-proof occupations. Certainly the trend is away from jobs requiring physical strength. Moreover there seems to be a sharp decline in male strength advantage over women.

Forty per cent of women now earn more than the typical man. This difference applies mostly at the low end of the wage scale. And men's wages have been declining since the 1970s. So all family gains from that time are due to the rise in women's earnings. Women in the U.S. are now the main family breadwinner in 41 per cent of households.

The pay gap among young adults, he says, has mostly disappeared where the women are childless.

And marriage has evolved from an economic necessity to a 'social choice'.

When it was an economic necessity men had a clear sense of 'purposeful' and 'whole' and that has been dismantled by the economic independence of women. The men have lost a primary role and have not yet found a new one.

Marriage had bound women to men and vice versa and to children.

“Men's freedom has often been stifled by patriarchy too, with tightly prescribed roles and oppressive expectations.”

Welfare used to be primarily to compensate men for loss of earning, now progressively it is to compensate women for loss of men.

Motherhood has been modernized, but fatherhood is “stuck in the past”. Loss of the breadwinner role and resident father, effects some men, the economically marginal and educationally limited, more than others and they become less marriageable. Being unmarried effects men more than women.

Women have more avenues to find meaning and identity in their lives.

The author has a chapter on the augmented difficulty imposed on black men in the U.S. He leads the chapter with an anecdote about a 6'5” black man who wears “unneeded” glasses on the job to diminish his “threatening” appearance and improve his sales record.While the incomes of white woman have risen dramatically, that of black women has not so it appears race is a compounding factor.

The top 20 per cent of both men and women are thriving economically as the gender gap continues to narrow. But, at the same time, the class gap is widening as in the poor are getting poorer and the disadvantages of their children, especially boys increases. In Canada boys born into poor households are twice as likely as the girls to remain poor as adults. They are generally not as resilient as girls to disadvantageous circumstances.

The author says opioids to numb pain are as much a symptom as a cause of problems. He briefly discusses “deaths of despair” and attaches them to “cultural redundancy” more than just loss of job.

Problems of poverty over recent decades have been softened by women's increasing incomes, while the family contribution of poor men have been declining.

Progressively 'college' education of men has created some insulation for men as they have 'modernized' more.

Men, he says, are seeking a “more solid social anchor” and certainty about “how to be in the world”. He called succumbing to white nationalism, one of the attempts. Compared to women, men have more friendship deficits.

The author has investigated some educational social programs, and while they are designed for both genders, seem to work only or mainly for girls and women. Some attribute it to more motivation, hard work, tenacity and an eye to the future on the part of women. However, males seem to do better in vocational programs than women.

Interestingly American women are more adventurous and likely to study abroad by a factor of double.

While there are biological difference in genders, compared to the past, their relevance seems to have declined in proportion to culture and “personal agency”.

And while he points out gender differences, he cautions, not rely on them to judge individuals.

In his chapter on aggression, more common in men, he points out that a stressful unstable family environment reduces the ability of the brain to metabolize serotonin, which mitigates aggressive behaviour.

“Womanhood is defined more by biology and manhood by social construction.” As such masculinity is more fragile.

Human behavior is driven by the interplay between nature (biology), nurture (culture) and agency (personal initiative). The latter two become more important as societies progress.

In recent years, women have been directed toward STEM subjects, traditionally more male oriented. However, in countries with high incomes a strong welfare system the economic incentives toward STEM careers may be lower allowing women to choose more based on what they like.

The political left has a tendency to describe any disapproved behaviour of men as “toxic masculinity” while dismissing any more subtle consideration of what is going on. He refers to it as “pathologizing masculinity”.

The next big flaw in progressive thinking is the reluctance to ascribe blame to individuals and instead put it on structural external causes. One exception is to resort to “toxic masculinity” as the explanation. Victim blaming is allowed for men.

And progressives “deny the neuroscience of sex differences”.

Conservatives see solutions to men's problems lying in the past so try to restore traditional economic and social relations. They don't try helping them adapt to the new world.

This was the appeal that Donald Trump tapped into. Men supporting right wing and protest parties is a worldwide phenomenon.

Reeves dismisses the contention that men are victims of intentional discrimination, but blames it on structural changes in the economy, broader culture and educational failings.

On both the left and the right “attitudes on gender issues float free of the facts”.

And an interesting perspective “disenchanted men, following the Pied Piper of the internet search algorithm, can be led deeper and deeper into what has been labelled the 'manosphere', a world of pickup artists, incels and even some male separatists.”

Canadian academic Jordan Peterson gets some positive coverage for a page or more “as wrestling with real and important issues”. He is characterized as “not mocking or patronizing” men.

A main aspect of Peterson's philosophy “is that social hierarchies are part of the natural order”.

Reeves maintains that Peterson overweights biology to the degree “it distorts his views on gender”.

The author uses this chapter “Seeing Red” to incorporate the partisan atmosphere in politics and how it is struggling with the roles and discriminations against both men and women.

Reeves has a chapter “Redshirt the Boys”, where he is proposing delaying the entry of boys into school by a year to allow further brain development that occurs in girls earlier. It would be in the form of an extra year of pre- kindergarten. Along with that he wants a drive to get more male teachers into classrooms, particularly at the elementary level. He also calls for more vocational training and technical schools.

Affluent parents do this to a greater extent than the poorer and often the children of the wealthy parents need this advantage less.

The advantage of the delay is not manifest so much in the early years, but in the adolescent years of middle and high school. Changes that may be observed, he says, include reduction in hyperactivity and inattention.

Other school activities that may aid boys include physical education, later start time, better food, but ahead of all is more male teachers.

He does not agree with single sex schools.

While over recent decades women have been moving into traditional male jobs (STEM), the reverse has not happened with (HEAL) jobs. Men's aptitudes statistically favour STEM and women favour HEAL but not by an overwhelming proportion and many individuals can occupy jobs in either area. And health care and education represent 15 per cent of all jobs. And going forward, says Reeves, the projection has three times as many new jobs in HEAL as in STEM. Maybe ironically more of the clients in some areas of HEAL are men, yet the practitioners are women.

The author calls for affirmative action to move more men toward HEAL careers. Overcoming stigmatization is one need.

The biggest challenge is reconstructing the role of men in the family, the author says. The lost traditional role is “massive culture shock”. However, dealing with it is difficult given the paralysis and “culture wars” of political partisanship.

The father role evolved about half a million years ago to meet the calorie needs (13 million) of raising a child, beyond what the mother could provide.

Beyond the material contribution, the father's role includes stimulating children's openness to the world, encouraging risk taking and to stand up for themselves. This also manifests particularly in adolescence.

Father's relationship and not residency is the key component.

In much of society men are not able to assume this role of modern dad. Reeves advocates a non transferable paternity, but not necessarily at the time of birth, maybe adolescence. “Tots for moms. Teens for dads.”

Along with the direct benefit to the child equal paternity leave will also serve to narrow the wage gap between men and women.

And for a little counter cliche humour. “When you have young children. People say “they'll be grown before you know it.” No offence to my sons, whom I love dearly, but that is not how it felt to me. Sometimes it felt like time had stopped altogether.”

And an interesting observation “labour market institutions have not adapted to a world without stay-at -home wives”. All family members are bending their lives to fit the “largely unaltered demands of market work” including work day and career path.

He calls the covid shift to remote work an “unprecedented opportunity to modernize work”. This is harder in the “greedy jobs” such as law, finance and management”. This is also where the biggest gender pay gaps are.

Prospects for structural reform, he says, look dim as long as men are willing to put up with long and unpredictable hours.