Girls and women in America still have to fight for equality. Despite gains, they continue to struggle for nondiscriminatory treatment in school, equal pay, freedom from sexual harassment and assault, equality in hiring and promotions, and the right to enter occupations traditionally closed to them. Yet it is time to ask as well what is happening to boys and men. Many of them are struggling too.
Overall, about 25 percent of all children under 18 live in single-mother families, which means that most of the boys in these households are growing up without the daily presence of a father as a model of both care-taking and appropriate gender behavior. Looking at what happens in school, the dropout rate for boys is 7.1 per 100 students compared to 5.9 percent for girls; boys make up 55 percent of all dropouts. Though only 51 percent of school students, they account for 67 percent of in-school suspensions, 68 percent of single out-of-school suspensions, and 74 percent of expulsions.
The possible consequences of such patterns show up downstream, though cause and effect are not easy to pin down. The unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma is currently 7.9 percent, compared to 4.6 percent overall, so the damage from dropping out may fall more heavily on young men. The unemployment rate for 16-19 year-old men is 18.0 percent; for women it is 12.1 percent. Males are incarcerated at a rate more than ten times that of females.
When we look at college enrollments, more female than male high school graduates enroll in college the following fall - a gap of 10 percent or more for whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. More women than men earn associate and bachelor's degrees in every ethnic group, a gap often close to or exceeding 20 percent, and more women than men now earn both master's and doctoral degrees each year.
In the job market, the loss of manufacturing and construction jobs has hit men particularly hard, and among all veterans over 18 - a heavily male group - the labor force participation rate is only 49.1 percent - 14 percent less than for women, suggesting many men have just given up.
On average, men's lives also end nearly five years sooner than the lives of women. Some of the factors associated with this appear related to how men are socialized, including more encouragement of aggressive behavior, more use of alcohol and guns, and the tendency (or need) to take more dangerous jobs.
These are just numbers, but there are real lives behind them. The problem, for example, is particularly acute among black boys and men. When I sat on a jury in a drug-murder conspiracy trial, a young man who testified made it clear that, as a pre-teen in the inner city, the drug runners and dealers were the appealing ones - they were the only ones with money and what it can buy. And, as one testified, he did not worry about the danger of what he did because he did not expect to live to become an adult anyway.
For all the advantages many men have, some still struggle to find the dignity essential to their selfhood - and not just in the inner city. If you are male, have a college degree, and a decent job, you may not see this. But many men who lack such success are not so fortunate. The actress Liv Ullmann once offered the opinion that women can have success in the home or at work but that for men, failure in regard to work is failure as a man.
This may seem rather strange to discuss when a man just beat a woman for the presidency, in part by touting his strength and power and by demeaning women in his public statements and private behavior. Yet, might it be possible that some men, most of them good people in a difficult world, consciously or unconsciously saw in him a way to register their anger at the damage to their prospects and their sense of self? Trump won the male vote by 12 percent; Clinton lost it by the same amount, making this 24 percentage point gender gap the largest in nearly five decades of polling. Trump topped Clinton by 32 points among all white men nationally (63% to 31%) but by 48 points among white men living in rural areas (72% to 24%), where economic changes have been particularly damaging in recent years.
The fight for gender equality for women will go on, as it should. But we must also look at what we can do to enhance the development of boys and the success of men. America needs the full contributions of all its citizens. When we fail for males, as when we fail for females, we also fail all those whose lives they touch.