More on boys: Why they lag in performance and college

After posting my interview yesterday with Dr. Anthony Rao about the pathologizing of what had once been considered normal boys’ development phases, I received this release from the University of Alaska.

New studies highlight needs of boys in K-12, higher education

Fairbanks, Alaska–Boys face high rates of a variety of mental health issues, in addition to lagging behind girls in academic performance and college attendance, according to two new papers by University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Judith Kleinfeld.

The studies, recently published in the journal Gender Issues, note that boys have higher rates of suicide, conduct disorders, emotional disturbance, premature death and juvenile delinquency than their female peers, as well as lower grades, test scores and college attendance rates.

The first paper, “The State of American Boyhood,” offers a status report on the academic, mental and social health of boys in the United States. Her conclusion: There is neither a “girl crisis” nor a “boy crisis.”

“Rather, boys and girls suffer from different types of characteristic problems,” Kleinfeld wrote, noting that girls have higher rates of depression, suicide attempts and eating disorders. “Schools need to pay attention to the difficulties of both girls and boys and bring these problems to the attention of families, teachers and mental health professionals.”

Still, boys are in far more serious trouble, she argues. The gender gap in reading and writing at the end of high school, for example, is far wider than the gap in math and science ever was. More than a quarter of American male high school graduates can’t understand a newspaper article, compared to about 10 percent of girls.

Kleinfeld’s second study, “No Map to Manhood: Male and Female Mindsets Behind the College Gender Gap,” drew on in-depth interviews with 99 high school seniors in the Fairbanks area, as well as national statistics on college attendance. She aimed to shed light on why boys are less likely than girls to seek postsecondary education.

“Males who do not have a college education are far more vulnerable to unemployment and the wages of men without a college education are plummeting,” Kleinfeld said.

She notes that nearly 60 percent of college students are female, but that most studies don’t ask graduating seniors why they are making the choices they do. Kleinfeld chose to focus her interviews on Alaska students because Alaska has one of the highest college-attendance gender gaps in the nation.

Through her interviews, she found several reasons why boys are less apt to go to college. Some mistakenly thought they could earn high wages right away without a college education, deciding they would rather get paid for working than pay for college. Some had limited knowledge of the job market and little concept of how much it costs to live a middle-class lifestyle. Many simply disliked school and didn’t want more of it.

Her interviews also showed that high school students, both boys and girls, are stereotyping boys. Kleinfeld notes that when she asked students about the gender gap in education, their explanations centered on three themes: young men are lazy, they don’t plan ahead and they are prone to peer pressure.

“Boys are getting little respect,” Kleinfeld said. “These negative stereotypes may well further depress boys’ academic achievement.”

Kleinfeld hopes her current work will offer more insight on the reasons why boys are struggling. Her newest study focuses on pressures on men in American society and changing concepts of manhood. In addition to her position on the UAF faculty, Kleinfeld is director of The Boys Project, a national program that aims to promote discussion and action on the educational and cultural needs of boys.

23 comments Add your comment

All I'm Saying Is...

January 26th, 2010
8:15 am

Maureen: I just saw this posting and it echoes my comment on your “Let Boys Be Boys” blog posting though obviously in a far better manner.

I don’t think I over-state when I say that there is an ongoing crisis in the education of boys that is largely unreported because of the focus on the still prevalent biases out in the work force when it comes to equal gender treatment.

We are losing an increasing number of boys and its not because they associate academic achievement with being a ‘nerd’ or not fully masculine. No longer are they as academically inclined as they need to be and most of the time it is, in my opinion, because many parents don’t hold them accountable or set proper expectations. In some communities the saying “We raise our girls and love our boys” applies and it underscores how many parents are responsible when it comes to preparing their girls for life outside the home but simply look the other way with their boys.

Another point that needs to emphasized is this is not just an issue in minority communities and I suspect the Alaska study supports this point — a point that cannot be emphasized enough.

More awareness of these statistical disparities needs to be publicized with solutions contemplated that improve the opportunity for boys to perform in the classroom without negatively impacting the excellent performance of girls. Single gender classrooms for certain years, say, middle school (6th-8th) or late elementary (3rd-5th) may be one idea to consider more broadly applying. Thoughts?

Gwinnett Parent

January 26th, 2010
8:56 am

I notice that a lot of parents are not concerned whether or not their boy acts up in class and consider maleness alone a reason not to parent. In the “burbs” the attitude is “he’s a boy, he’s hyper, get over it”. When a girl is hyper in class or misbehaves it is more serious. Unfortunatley, this laid back attitude is adversely affecting girl’s education. My daughter is constantly complaining about the same boys disturbing class. The teacher just writes them up 4-5 times a day and has accepted that these students will just take away from the others. Where are these boy’s parents? My brother was a “trouble maker” in school. I don’t remember the teacher just writing him up nor my parents saying “boys will be boys”. Bad behavior was just bad behavior, regardless of gender.


January 26th, 2010
8:59 am

I have a friend who teaches in a single gender classroom (grades 6-8). She said the room temperature is always set lower in the boys’ classrooms, and competitve games are incorporated into her lessons. She also keeps 4 balls in the front of her desk at all times. At any given time, she will stop the class, pass the balls to the class, and send them outside to play for a few minutes. According to her, the school has experienced tremendous progress. Overall, the students (boys & girls) are happier with their classes.

Reality Check

January 26th, 2010
9:07 am

I think if the study had been done in any other state than Alaska, it would have turned out different. If I grew up and lived in that state and was a male, I wouldn’t be interested in studies either……I’d be out in the woods hunting and fishing and camping and could care less about school. These types of studies are stupid and don’t take into account all the variables.


January 26th, 2010
9:27 am

Studies show that boys and girls mature at very different rates. Boys brains tend to develope significantly slower that girls. The classics in developmental research has shown this and current research supports the classics. However, schools don’t seem to care about this very much. It is the fault of NCLB legislation. Boys are being asked to do things that they are mentally incapable of doing at a very young age and are being punished for not being able to do so. As a parent of a boy I see this first hand. I believe those who do not have children don’t understand this either. Kindergarten is no longer Kindergarten. Our idiot school officials are requiring too much too fast. It is ok to have expectations, however you can not expect our children to be walking at birth just because you want higher test scores. It is just not going to happen. Boys are being punished to death because they are not getting it. They are being heavily labeled at a young age with disorders because that is what keeps the funding coming. These growing minds feel the pressure. Many people are too concerned with the amount of education instead of how children are being taught. Many teachers do not have the first clue as to how to maintain discipline in the classroom. Especially in Gwinnett. Many of them are Anglo houswives who teach just to have something to do. We know that Gwinnett is saturated with non-English speaking individuals or ESL. These Anglo teachers just push discipline reports and referrals because they really don’t care to understand behavior. They want diagnosis for the Afro children, Lationo children, Asian children, Indian children, Romanian children. Guess what else. The boys that belong to these “groups” make up the student body of the Give Center in Gwinnett. I know this first hand because I have worked with them. The Dirty Conservative South Syndrome. I notice that it is mainly boys in detention (minority boys). I have seen this at several schools in Gwinnett. Gwinnett is not all peaches and cream. Don’t ever let anyone fool you on that.

DeKalb Conservative

January 26th, 2010
9:48 am

Maureen – good piece to bring up. It seems there is plenty of attention given to girls emotional state in the teen / college years, but minimal attention is paid to boys.

Where I think this is very serious is a trend I’ve notice in my generation (Gen Y) than past generations. It seems there has been a shift again in female goals as adults. Women seem to be flocking more back to being out of the professional spotlight within a few years of graduation. Choosing the stay at home route over the juggling daycare and a career.

DeKalb Conservative

January 26th, 2010
9:48 am

I agree with Reality Check. The fact this was done in Alaska might raise some additional relevancy issues.


January 26th, 2010
10:29 am

It might also be enlightening to interject the issue of our skyrocketing rate of illegitimate births and our divorce rate in terms of what it is doing to our boys. Growing up in a home without a father or positive father figure is crippling our boys. When boys reach high school age, the presence of a positive, involved male role model can make all the difference. These studies need to take into account that many, many boys are growing up with no male role models to guide them into manhood and keep them honest and responsible. Moms love their boys, but they can’t also show them how to be men. It takes a man to turn some boys into men. For some boys, the first man they ever truly have to be accountable to, is a juvenile officer and that’s a shame.

Jerry Cannon

January 26th, 2010
10:32 am

I think these studies are important. One thing I noticed that has been omitted is the over all change in how boys are raised. We complain about the boys not growing into proper men, but look at the shift in they way they are raised. Many if not most are raised by single parent households, without the firm oversight of a father. Many of the institutions that have helped boys, ie. Boy Scouts and other organizations have been whittled down and thrown under the bus for not allowing girls, gays, etc. One thing the Alaskan study did touch on was “a clear roadmap to manhood”! That’s important.. Males still have to be the sterotypical figure of the 60’s when it comes to their status society. Don’t believe me? Ask girls and women who date, what kind of man they (really) want. They judge a man, not by how well he can cook and change diapers, but how well off he is (for the most part). You know, what kind of home he has, what type of vehicle he drives, how stuffed is his wallet. Obviously, those arent the only factors, but they’re certainly at the top of the hit parade. They do not want a soft, sensitive fellow who appears to be as feminine as he is masculine.
What do we teach a males about being men? That they’re all but worthless. My opinion and 50 cents might get me a cup of coffee..
Jerry – Military, deployed OEF.


January 26th, 2010
10:35 am

To Ovenbaked: The reason you have more minority boys in detention may correlate with the fact that more minority children grow up in single-parent homes and have no father in the home. For boys in particular, the lack of a father in the home puts them at higher risk for dropping out of school, being involved in criminal activity, having behavior problems, etc., etc.

Parent of Latina

January 26th, 2010
10:36 am

Oven Baked-I ahve experience studying in Latin America and know several Latino families. My hubby is also Latino. He can’t believe the discipline problems at our child’s school. Part of the Latino culture is respect for education and teachers. Latino parents don’t use having a male child as an excuse to let them mis-behave. In a Latino household discipline problems are taken care of promptly. In Latin America the children(boys and girls) sit in class, are not overly medicated, and exercise respect. Looking for an excuse is really an American Thing.

I wonder if there has been a study about how much public money is being spent on educating a boy vs educating a girl.

[...] See the article here: More on boys: Why they lag in performance and college | Get Schooled [...]


January 26th, 2010
11:29 am

Here are just some of the statistics:

“Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes. Source: “One-Parent Families and Their Children;” Charles F. Kettering Foundation (1990).

Children in single-parent families tend to score lower on standardized tests and to receive lower grades in school. Children in single-parent families are nearly twice as likely to drop out of school as children from two-parent families. Source: J.B. Stedman (et al.), “Dropping Out,” Congressional Research Service Report No 88-417. 1988.

In studies involving over 25,000 children using nationally representative data sets, children who lived with only one parent had lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, poor attendance records, and higher drop out rates than students who lived with both parents. Source: McLanahan, Sara and Gary Sandefur. Growing up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Kids who live with both biological parents at age 14 are significantly more likely to graduate from high school than those kids who live with a single parent, a parent and step-parent, or neither parent. Source: G.D. Sandefur (et al.), “The Effects of Parental Marital Status…”, Social Forces, September 1992.”


January 26th, 2010
12:32 pm

I think that kids of parents married or not can be successful if both parents are actively involved in the child’s live. What I see is a lot of parents that can’t get along and as a result their kids suffer. I’m blessed to have my husband their to help raise my son. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I can’t show him how to be a man.

I happen to love the energy of boys. Never a dull day. But if you don’t understand that movement is a must, they’ll continue to fall behind.


January 26th, 2010
12:33 pm

That should’ve been “life” and “there”.


January 26th, 2010
3:45 pm

I think having parents who are actually “involved” in the lives of the children are important. Not just being there to buy the food, wash the clothes, etc. They also need to be there to look at the homework, answer questions, explain process, read together, play together, etc. I know many families who feel that just because they work and pay the bills to keep a roof over the kids’ heads, that’s the extent of their reaponsibility. WRONG!

Boys, in particular, need to be taught how to communicate and share their feelings. This seems to be a little easier for girls because it’s expected. Boys are taught to be brauny and masculine, not to talk about feelings of anxiety, stress, and emotion.

Just A Teacher

January 26th, 2010
3:56 pm

The problem I see with this article and with this study is the term, “boy.” High school seniors are usually within months of turning 18, and the vast majority of college freshmen have already reached that age. These young men are adults and should be addressed and treated as such. So what if you don’t do well in college? Quit, move out of your parents’ homes, get jobs, and pay taxes like the rest of the adult population. Given those options, I think more of these “boys” would earn the grades, but there is far too much mollycoddling of these young people. You don’t need a college degree to dig ditches, but, after doing that every day for a few years, you might wish you had one. If that makes me a jerk then so be it. I took a few years off before college and, when I entered the classroom as a 28 year old freshman with 3 children, a job, and a mortgage, I was more than happy to put in the time and effort needed to get an education and a better paying, less physically demanding job, and I completed my bachelor’s degree requirements in 3 years. Quit making excuses for low achieving students and force them to work or fail in class just like in life. I can’t learn because I’m male, or I can’t learn because my daddy and mommy are divorced! Give me a break! It sounds like “the dog ate my homework” to me.


January 26th, 2010
5:39 pm

Q: What’s the difference between a reason and an excuse?

A: A reason explains what happens to be and my family. An excuse seeks to explain why something happened to you and yours.

Read it and think!


January 26th, 2010
5:40 pm

“be” should have been “me”. Guess I have a code in by dose.


January 26th, 2010
9:48 pm

Some of these comments about single parents are spot on! I was divorced when my daughter was 5 and teaching at a school that required a 30 minute commute, but I made sure that I had firm rules about homework and expectations as my child was a latchkey kid. She had to call my parents as soon as she got home to let them know she had reached home safely. The next thing she did was get a snack and start on her homework at our dining room table. No teevee. When I got home, I’d check her homework, help her with any problems, and help her study for quizzes and tests. I was also at every PTSO meeting and conference day. My daughter was an honors graduate in high school and college. I don’t buy the meme that minority and one-parent households cannot produce successful male or female students since I am both a member of a minority group and a single parent. I think it has to do with how important the parent feels a good education is, how much time the parent is willing to devote to making sure his/her child gets a good education, and establishing and sticking to certain ground rules where your child’s education is concerned. Many parents send their kids to school in a manner similar to a farmer opening a gate to allow cows ot enter a pasture. They seem to have forgotten that they have the most important role to play in their kids’ academic success. There is also the fact that many parents of high school boys are more concerned about their success in athletics than with their academic success, and the school system seems to value/reward athletic success more. Some parents will not miss a Friday night athletic event but will miss every Open House and parent conference.


January 26th, 2010
9:49 pm

**cows to enter***

Ole Guy

January 27th, 2010
6:48 pm

Jerry, the ole truism was, at one time, “that, and a dime…”. I guess that’s inflation for ya. At any rate, the coffee’s free in the DFAC! Keep em flying, Dragon Master…Godspeed.

Oh, and good comments…every kid should be issued, at birth, a football and a first basemans’ mit. In the long run, we’d all be a lot better off!


June 13th, 2010
3:33 pm

This is the reversal – In the nineteenth century, we lived in a very physical world and one that required much strength and courage for boys and later men. This created a form of treatment from a young age to create this strength.
1. Boy children even less than a year old were (and are) given more aggressive treatment to make them tough to compete in the big physical world.
2. Boys were (and are) not given kind, stabilizing, nurturing, mental, emotional, social, verbal, interaction and other kind, caring treatment for fear of coddling the Male child, again to make them tough.
3. Boys were (and are) by design not given love, honor, respect unless they display some form of achievement, status, image, etc. All of this was designed to make boys tough.
Girls were (and are) given more protection from that big physical world, because it was very physical and bad back then. Since girls did not have to be tough, girls could be(and are) given much kind, stabilizing, mental, emotional, social, verbal, interaction from a young age without regard to need for strength. Also since girls did not need to be strong, they were (and are) given love honor, and respect simply for being girls. This protective treatment extended (and extends today) through adulthood.
Now we are living in the information age where the need and means to make a living have been “completely reversed”. The toughness, aggressive, neglectful treatment given boys is still in place even from infancy. This is creating higher average stress that impedes thinking, learning, and motivation to learn (mental reward received for mental work expended). It also creates higher activity in working class Males, less stability there – activity is used as a natural stress relief.
Girls on the “other hand” are now reaping a windfall of many fine information age skills. The much protection and care girls receive from infancy onward create lower average stress, ease of nature (less need for activity for stress relief), and lower muscle tension that makes handwriting easier, more neat, and more rewarding. The much kind, positive, stabilizing, verbal and other social interaction increase their mental, emotional, social, verbal, and academic skills along with a feeling of love and support as they use that instilled social knowledge in a school setting with teachers. Since girls were (and are) given love, honor, respect, (no need to be tough) simply for being girls, they have an almost assurance of good treatment in society through adulthood. This protection also allows for much more freedom of expression to both vent, gain further support, and more care. This is why girls mature faster than boys. These differences have been socially created.
Now in the information age and as society has become more unstable, more information dependent, and there is massive support for girls, girls are surging ahead big time. Recently there is much more allowed aggression allowed upon Males as more instability allows the valve of aggression on Males to increase, but the valve of protection is still left in place for girls. To top even that, boys have to generate their own feelings of self-worth, for they are only given love, honor, and respect only on condition of sufficient achievement. Boys who are not succeeding in the classroom do not receive the essentials of self-worth; therefore, they must generate this through other areas such as sports, video games, etc.