Richard Reeves – Why Boys and Men Are Struggling

Richard Reeves talks about the cause of the struggles boys and men face in different areas of their lives and what can be done to help them.

Richard V. Reeves is a writer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he directs the Future of the Middle-Class Initiative and co-directs the Center on Children and Families. Publications he writes for include The Guardian, the New York Times, The Atlantic, National Affairs, and The Wall Street Journal.


Studies show that modern-day boys and men struggle in different areas of life, including the classroom and workplace. According to Richard Reeves, this comes from years of government interventions geared towards empowering girls and women at the expense of sidelining men.

“Nobody expected this great overtaking by women and girls of boys and men. Everyone was very focused, quite rightly, on getting to gender equality, getting to gender parity. It’s not that long ago where there was a huge gender gap the other way, and there was a huge focus, correctly, in the ’70s and ’80s, to really promote women and girls in education. But the line just kept going, and nobody predicted that.”

Most social scientists agree that the modern American male is struggling with academic performance. Whether in elementary school, high school, or college, men are significantly behind compared to girls. In terms of attendance, the sex ratio is almost 2:1, female to male.

Men are increasingly dropping out of work in their prime work years, indulging in risky behavior like excessive drinking and drugs, and dying earlier from these behaviors, often leading to suicide.

Brain development and education

“It is quite clear that girls’ brains develop more quickly than boys’ brains do, and that the biggest difference seems to occur in adolescence.”

According to Reeves, one of the reasons boys and men struggle to keep up with girls and women in the same age group is that women’s brain develops earlier than men’s.

In the teenage years, humans start to fully develop their prefrontal cortex, also referred to as the CEO of the brain. This part of the brain develops earlier in girls than in boys, up to two years earlier. This is because girls go into puberty earlier than boys.

This part of the brain is responsible for logical thinking and planning. At this age, kids start to think about their future, turning in homework, getting higher GPAs, and getting into the best colleges. Since girls get to this point faster than girls, it is normal for them to have an advantage over boys in the current education system.


What that means is that if you have an education system that rewards the ability to turn in homework, stay on task, worry about your GPA, prepare for college, and so on- then just structurally, that’s going to put an advantage to the group whose brains have developed earlier in those particular areas- and that turns out on average to be girls.”

He goes on to say that the education system is structured against boys based on the different timing of brain development.

Boys struggle more with developmental disabilities

“One of the skills that the education system rewards are the ability to sit still and pay attention even when the subject at hand is crushingly dull, and not one you have any intrinsic interest in whatsoever. And it turns out that, on average, boys struggle more with that than girls.”

Statistically, 1 in 4 K-12 age boys has been diagnosed with a developmental disability. Based on statistics, developmental disability like autism and ADHD among school-going kids are more common among boys than girls. This, too, puts the boys at a disadvantage when it comes to focusing in school.

What can be done

According to Reeves, the first step to help boys and men is to collect the data. This is the only way to find out what exactly the world is working with.

Reeves also thinks it would be ideal for boys to start school a year later than girls in relation to the finding on brain development.

“I do think that we should be strongly encouraging boys to start school a year later than girls. I think that should become the default in many school districts because of the developmental gap that there is between boys and girls. Because boys’ brains mature more slowly, then them starting school a year later would mean that they were developmentally closer to being peers with the girls in the classroom.”

Hiring more male teachers would also help to offer mentorship to young boys.

“And fewer men are applying to teacher training year on year. And so, we’ve seen this steady shift towards close to an all-female environment. Elementary schools, it’s 1 in 10 teachers are male. That has all kinds of consequences, for the ethos of the school, for the way we deal with different kinds of behavior among boys and girls.”

“Significantly more investment in vocational education and training. That is an area where we do seem to see better results for boys and men on averageApprenticeships, technical high schools are actually a really good way to help more boys and men.”

Mensgroup is an online men-online support forum that offers a safe space for men to talk about issues affecting men in the modern day and help men to find solutions to some of these issues.