Boys losing academic groundI am worried about boys in America. I love my son more than words can say, so this isn’t a bash on boys and men. Far from it. This is Dr. Mom drawing attention to a worrisome trend in U.S. education — boys are falling farther and farther behind girls in school, and the impact on the future workforce and family unit could be devastating.*

Some sobering facts:

  • Women now earn 58 percent of college degrees.
  • Women now earn 62 percent of graduate school, law school and medical school degrees.
  • Boys are dropping out of high school and college at a significantly higher rate than girls.
  • Women are now the sole or major breadwinner in 40 percent of U.S. households — this number is expected to rise significantly in the next 10 years as the current crop of women finish their education (Pew Research Center).

What are the reasons for these trends? An explanation is NOT that girls are smarter than boys. Indeed, the average IQ of girls and boys is consistently similar. The difference comes from a comparison of the attitude girls bring to school compared with boys.

Consider the following, drawn from a combination of research articles on the “education gender gap” and my own experience as a pediatrician who has talked to thousands of boys and girls about school and work:

  • Boys’ grades in middle and high school are significantly lower than girls, limiting boys’ college options.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to choose earning money straight out of high school instead of pursuing a college degree.
  • Teen girls often aim higher. In a recent study, 73 percent of teen girls expected to work in management or a highly technical job some day compared with only 53 percent of boys.
  • Boys are often under-invested in their own education because of out-of-date male stereotypes such as feeling that it is “un-masculine” to enjoy academics, seek high grades or show advanced skill in art and music (both of which are highly valued traits by U.S. colleges and universities).
  • Girls are more likely to feel close to their teachers, admiring them for their academic prowess; boys are more likely to idolize teachers who are “cool.”
  • Astonishingly, boys continue to have confidence despite these realities: boys were more likely than girls in a recent study to say they will one day be “rich”; and boys are less likely than girls to expect to work in “entry-level” or “lower income” jobs when they first begin to work. They are more likely to expect to start “at the top,” despite often having no specific work plan for how to get there.

So, what can parents do to help reverse these alarming trends for our young men?

We need to talk to boys (and girls) from the time they are young about setting goals and working hard to achieve them. We need to help our boys envision academic and job success, and most of all, help them discover the steps needed to reach these goals. We need to reward boys who work hard and avoid sugar-coating feedback when boys slack off. We should support school efforts to engage boys. And we need to do all of this without disadvantaging girls.

It’s a big project that starts at home and extends into all levels of school and the workforce. But in the end, when men and women are successful, our whole society will benefit.

* More about these statistics and the discussion on the “education gender gap” can be found in this new book, The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools by Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann.