This is a fascinating and troubling op-ed in the New York Times, "It's Become Increasingly Hard for Them to Feel Good About Themselves." (You can read it for free; the Times will send a link to your email.)
The op-ed, written by Thomas B. Edsall, includes research on male youth brain development, family structure, school structure, behavior skills, and future job prospects. Taken together, it's a sad portrait for America's men and boys. (All bold mine)
Family structure is an important correlate of boys’ behavioral deficit. Boys that are raised outside of a traditional family (with two biological parents present) fare especially poorly.
The differential effect of family disadvantage on the outcomes of boys relative to girls is already evident by the time of kindergarten entry, is further manifested in behavioral and educational gaps in elementary and middle school performance, and crystallizes into sharp differences in high school graduations by age 18.
On a wide variety of self-control, acting-out, and disciplinary measures (including eighth-grade suspension), the gap between boys and girls is substantially greater for children reared in single-mother-headed households than in households with two biological parents.
Across all family structures, we observe that boys’ likelihood to act out is sharply reduced when faced with larger and better parental inputs. For girls, the relationship between parental inputs and behavioral outcomes appear to be much weaker.
I should do a deep dive because it seems clear that single mothers have a harder time than two-parent households. But is it the same for single mothers who had been married vs those who never married or just single mothers in general?
Bertrand and Pan focus on the crucial role of noncognitive skills, on how “factors such as study habits, industriousness and perseverance matter as much as cognitive skills in explaining occupational achievement.” Noncognitive skills, they write, “are not fixed but are in fact quite malleable, and can be shaped by early intervention programs.”
Our findings demonstrate that adolescent girls consistently score higher than boys on personality traits that are found to facilitate academic achievement, at least within the current school climate. Stated differently, the current school environment or climate might be in general more attuned to feminine-typed personalities, which make it — in general — easier for girls to achieve better grades at school.
Frances E. Jensen, chair of the department of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, taking a different tack, argues that boys’ brains mature more slowly than girls’ brains do, a difference that is particularly striking in the adolescent years.
That means the part of the brain that makes them pause and say to themselves, “Bad idea. Don’t post that on Facebook because it might hurt my chances of getting a job in the future” or “Don’t jump in the lake, there may be a rock,” isn’t mature.
Future Job Opportunities
A growing body of evidence supports the hypothesis that the erosion of labor market opportunities for low-skill workers in general — and non-college males in particular — has catalyzed a fall in employment and earnings among less-educated males and a decline in the marriage rates of less-educated males and females. These developments in turn diminish family stability, reduce household financial resources, and subtract from the stock of parental time and attention that should play a critical role in fomenting the educational achievement and economic advancement of the next generation.
Social and cultural forces linked to gender identity are important drivers of educational goals and performance. A peer-driven search for masculine identity drives some boys toward risk-taking and noncompliance with school demands that hampers school achievement, relative to girls. Aspirations are linked to social identities — what you want and expect depends on who you think you are — and profound differences in the norms defining masculinity and femininity create a gender gap in educational trajectories.