From Broken Boys to Whole Men: #15 – Educational Struggles
February 6, 2020
At 14, changing school environments for high school was a life-changing experience for me. I gained a love of learning that has stayed with me all my life and enabled me to fulfill my vocational calling.
The environment was crucial for me, as it is for most boys, who rise or fall academically depending on peer influences. I had behavior problems when young, was big for my age and therefore adults expected more of me than I could deliver, and I struggled to focus and get my work done on time.
Boys in my rural school district weren’t expected to do well in school; girls were supposed to be good students; if boys did well in school, they were thought of as gay or effeminate.
When I started high school, I saw boys who were strong students, who applied themselves, asked for help with homework, and were also good at sports and extracurriculars. I saw that I could become a well-rounded student, athlete, musician and participate in theater productions. The standards were high, and my achievement rose.
My experience is not unique. Developmental and social factors have accounted for a longtime disparity in school success between those identified as boys and girls. Today, sixty percent of all bachelor’s degrees are now held by women in the U.S. Only about half of all boys expect to work in well-paid professional jobs when they grow up, compared to three-fourths of girls.
Regardless of socioeconomic class, the number of women enrolling in and completing post-secondary education is increasing, while the rate of men graduating college has stayed flat despite fewer and fewer jobs not requiring a college degree.
In 2015, The Atlantic reported that over 72% of recent female high school graduates were enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college, compared with 65.8% of males. In 1967, men led at 57% compared to 47.2% of women.
Men’s drop in degree completion compared to women did not happen overnight; when a few elite colleges in the 1900s began to admit women, women immediately began to get better grades than men. In the 70s, as larger and larger numbers of women began attending college, their graduation rates were higher, while men’s stayed the same.
The biggest growth in recent decades is in the numbers of women from lower income households earning 2- and 4-year degrees. The majority of women who first went to college were from elite families, but now, families of all economic levels embrace the idea that education is the ticket to career advancement and upward mobility.
But this idea is not translate to boys and men from low-income households, who often struggle more in school than girls and women do. The lag can start as early as kindergarten, despite the fact that testing at birth shows no significant difference between the genders in health and cognitive markers. But boys seem to be more affected than girls by negative factors in the environment, such as poverty and stress.
Not every kid can change schools, but as the late family systems therapist and author Virginia Satir noted, the impact of even one significant adult in a child’s life can make the difference between an upward trajectory and a downward spiral.
Next, I’ll explore how this educational gap is playing out in an interesting shift in the male-female wage disparity.