Richard Reeves presentation
Richard Reeves, president of the American Institute for Boys and Men and a best-selling author, spoke Nov. 15 at UW-River Falls about the need to address the challenges boys and young men face in today’s society. UWRF photo.

Speaker discusses need to address challenges boys, men face

Effort must overcome ‘men versus women’ mentality, Richard Reeves says

Nov. 16, 2023 - Improving outcomes for boys and men can occur simultaneously with continued and much-needed work to eliminate barriers that women face, a nationally renowned scholar and best-selling author told an audience at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Wednesday. 

In fact, taking action regarding the declining performance of males while continuing to address historical societal inequalities for women is necessary for American society to thrive, said Richard Reeves, president of the newly-formed American Institute for Boys and Men and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Reeves discussed the findings of his 2022 book “Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why it Matters and What to do About it.”

“The simple fact is our boys and young men are struggling,” Reeves said. “Given the trends I see for (them) now, we need to get on with addressing this situation. Time is not on our side with this.”

Discussing the needs of males amid a history of men having received advantages over women can be controversial, Reeves said. There is no doubt, he said, that females historically have and continue to receive unequal treatment in many areas when compared to their male counterparts, and more must be done to address those gaps.  

However, statistics of all sorts show that boys and men have fallen behind their female counterparts in school and in the workplace, Reeves said. For instance, he said, most high-achieving students in K-12 schools are girls. The makeup of colleges and universities in America is about 60% women and 40% men, a reversal of those figures from the 1970s.

Likewise, while women’s pay still trails that of men, wage growth for middle- and working-class females has risen far faster than that of men in recent decades. 

“It can simultaneously be true that there is much more to do on behalf of women and girls, and that we need to do more to address the needs of boys and men who are struggling on a number of fronts,” Reeves said. “It’s not about women versus men, but that idea has made it difficult to even discuss these issues.”

Reeves proposed numerous ways to try to reverse declining performance by boys and men. Many involve changes in the education system. Studies of all sorts reveal that males in K-12 and college struggle across the board compared to their female counterparts, he said. 

For example, 10% more women now graduate from college than men. In K-12 schools, girls outperform boys in every category except for standardized tests, where they are about equal. 

To improve males’ educational outcomes, Reeves said K-12 schools must actively recruit more male teachers, especially at the elementary school level. Boys, especially those without fathers in their home, need positive male role models, he said. 

Reeves also proposed delaying the age at which boys begin school, saying many aren’t emotionally ready to begin classes by kindergarten. He called for other changes, such as increasing the number of technical high schools and apprenticeships as well as creating men’s resource centers on college campuses. 

Reeves said he is motivated to illuminate the struggles of boys and men because he believes the topic hasn’t received adequate attention. In addition to his role as leader of the American Institute for Boys and Men, Reeves previously worked as director of strategy to the United Kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg from 2010-12, and as principal policy advisor to the United Kingdom’s minister for welfare reform. He also worked as director of the political think tank Demos and was social affairs editor at The Observer and economics correspondent for The Guardian. 

While much work remains to eliminate barriers for girls and women, Reeves’ efforts point out the need to address challenges facing boys and men, Chancellor Maria Gallo said. The fact that nearly 60% of American colleges and universities are made up of women is notable, she said. At UW-River Falls, that figure is 65%.

“From these statistics, it is evident that women are dominating in academics,” Gallo said. “We need to consider ways that we can help all of our students, including males, succeed.”

Reeves fielded audience questions about how to improve the situations of boys and men. Answers are somewhat difficult to come by, he said, but improving outcomes for males will take a collaborative, sustained effort. 

“We must find a way to make this not a zero-sum game and to rise together,” Reeves said. “If we can try to lift everybody up together, we should be OK.”

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