January 20, 2006
Via Instapundit comes a link to this article in the New Republic about the growing gender imbalance in education. Boys are falling behind to the extent that colleges are running a 60/40 female to male graduation ratio. The article's most significant point isn't the imbalance itself but rather the fact that the imbalance only opened up in the early 80s and appears to be accelerating. The article mentions many possible factors but neglects one I think probably has a significant impact:
The article mentions the role of fathers only briefly, in seeking to explain why the drop off in boys' verbal and reading scores in the teenage years is more severe among the working class. However, the article doesn't even touch on the problem of boys who grow up without any immediate day-to-day role model.
It has long been known that children fare better when raised by a single parent of their own gender. Girls do better with mom and boys do better with dad. In most divorces and never-married families, the mother becomes the primary care giver with Dad showing up on the weekends. As a result, girls have a day-to-day role model of responsible feminine behavior whereas boys don't have a comparable masculine role model. Many boys are fortunate to get good stepfathers, but even then they may spend several critical years waiting for Mom to shop around.
The absence of masculine role models also leaves boys more susceptible to the popular culture's portrayal of masculinity, which, frankly, is crap. In popular culture, men are impulsive, childish and violent. In popular culture men do not think, plan or create. No boy raised on a steady diet of MTV and associated media ever comes away with the idea that long-term planning, self-restraint and self-sacrifice are important facets of masculine behavior. They certainly don't receive any positive reinforcement that education is important or admirable.
We've long known that divorce and single parenting negatively impact children across the board. There is no facet of a child's life that is improved by divorce or single parenting when all other variables are held constant. All other family configurations are inferior to that of married biological parents. A lot of people ignore these simple, empirical facts. I think that boys have suffered more from the breakdown of the family than have girls, and that is reflected in their academic performance. It is not the only cause of the gap, but I bet it is a major one and one that receives precious little attention.