StC News

Challenges for Boys Demand New Conversations

Author and scholar Richard V. Reeves visits campus to discuss the issues that men and boys face and how to best support them.
“We need to make our young men and our boys feel like we see them, we get them, we hear them, we’re going to help them,” said Richard Reeves, author and president of the American Institute for Boys and Men, at Ryan Recital Hall on March 27.

Reeves spoke to Saints parents, students and educators about the profound social, emotional and economic issues that young boys and men now face. In his 2022 book, “Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It,” Reeves examines these challenges and makes the case for a robust, coordinated, and considered response to address them.  

Following a brief introduction from Headmaster Mason Lecky and Eric Brown ’24, a senior and member of The Center for the Study of Boys (CSB) advisory board, Reeves spoke about four general areas where men face unprecedented challenges: mental health, education, wages and work, and family and fatherhood. “I think the stakes here are really high,” said Reeves. “I think we’re at an inflection point in our discussions about boys and men and gender, generally,” he said. 

The information Reeves shared regarding mental health was sobering. Since 1999, suicide rates for men have been measured as four times higher when compared to women, and since 2010, the numbers have increased dramatically, especially among young men. Reeves pointed to institutional barriers, such as differences in how we approach preventive mental health care and taking different approaches to adolescent boys and girls as being worthy of reform. “I think this issue, the public health crisis that is the suicide rate among young men, is something that we all need to start taking more seriously,” said Reeves. 

Focusing on higher education, the author pointed out that in 1971, 13 percent more college degrees went to men than to women. By 2020, the gap had grown to 16 percent, only with the gender ratio reversed in favor of women. Reeves explained that girls also outperform their male classmates in high school GPA statistics. Boys occupy two-thirds of the bottom decile of high school GPAs. Approximately two-thirds of the top decile, on the other hand, are occupied by girls.

In the workforce, Reeves explained that men have become steadily less well-represented in health, education, literacy, and arts and administration roles over the last 40 years. For example, in 1980, 60 percent of psychologists were men. By 2020, that figure dropped by more than half. This period also saw percentages for male K-8 educators and social workers drop by half over the same period. 

“I really worry we’re getting to a tipping point in some of these professions,” said Reeves, who encouraged the audience to consider why many men don’t reach out for mental health support without understanding that most care providers or professionals in similar fields tend to be women. Reeves, who strongly supports efforts to expand women’s representation in fields like STEM and other areas of education and work, believes that it’s therefore appropriate and necessary to boost the number of teachers and counselors who are men. “We can’t allow our education profession to become successively more female and then wonder why our boys are struggling so much in school. Representation matters,” said Reeves. 

Family life for men is also changing, according to Reeves. Sharing natality data from the Center for Disease Control, the author showed that births outside of marriage for mothers outside the college-educated class spiked dramatically from 1999 to 2019. More than ever, many fathers aren’t married to the mothers of their children. The traditional household breadwinner role that fathers inhabited in previous generations has shifted profoundly, he explained. “Fatherhood has changed almost beyond recognition in the space of a generation,” said Reeves. However, the author explained that it’s still critically important to have an engaged father who is actively participating in their children’s lives. “You don’t have to be married to be a good dad,” said Reeves. “We can’t bench most of our fathers. It’s the relationship that matters,” he said. 

Reeves is careful to point out that there is a path forward, despite where the data are leading for the moment and how our conversations about the state of modern masculinity sound lately. “It is in the air,” said Reeves. “There’s a discussion going on with different perspectives and different views about boys and men,” said Reeves. “A big part of my pitch here is that we can talk about solutions, as well.” 

Reeves recommends “redshirting” or delaying school entry for boys to allow for developmental differences between boys and girls, increasing the number of vocational or technical high school institutions, more apprenticeship opportunities, an ambitious male teacher recruitment drive, men’s resource centers on college campuses, scholarships for professions where men are underrepresented, and equal paid leave for fathers. 

Following Reeves’ presentation, Laura Sabo, lower school librarian and academic researcher for the CSB, facilitated a lively conversation with Reeves and six Upper School students, including a question from Captain Worrell ‘24 about the changing notion of modern masculinity. “What do you think makes a man, and are there things adolescents can do to become good men?” Reeves described a philosophy that he calls “mature masculinity,” where he encourages boys and men to “think of yourself less, and of others more. The definition of manhood, according to Reeves, is “when you’re producing more of something than you need for yourself. When you’re generating a surplus of some kind and becoming a man for others for your friends or family. I think that’s when you see yourself becoming more of a man,” said Reeves. 

Students EJ Seward ‘24 and Ben Smith ‘25 explained that they felt that there were differences in how boys and girls in his age group sought emotional help from each other and wondered what effect that might have as they and their friends became young men. “It seems to be important for young men to do things with each other,” said Reeves, who discussed differences in communication styles between males and females and said young men should prioritize sustaining their social networks. “Male friendship is incredibly precious. We don’t do enough to support it,” said Reeves. 

Acknowledging that opening up emotionally can be difficult for boys, Reeves encouraged our students to be more emotionally available to each other. Responding to a comment about being self-conscious about seeking emotional support, he said, “If you share something really serious with a friend and he tells you to ‘suck it up,’ I would respectfully suggest that he’s not really your friend. And if you did the same, you wouldn’t be acting as a good friend either.”

Despite the alarming data and dispiriting public discussions, Reeves encouraged the audience to examine the differences between boys and girls as “not a zero-sum game,” where to support boys is to discourage or diminish women, or vice versa. Encouraged by the progress that women and girls have made in school and in the workplace over the last few decades, Reeves believes there should be an equivalent national effort to support boys and men in certain areas. “There’s a lot of discussion right now about what’s wrong with boys and men, but I also want to talk a lot about what’s right with our boys and men,” said Reeves. “There are limits to what we can do, but there are no limits to what we can try and do.”

This program was sponsored by The Center for the Study of Boys and funded by the following endowments: 
  • John Sidney Davenport IV '60 Memorial Fund
  • The Class of 1966 Speakers Fund
  • Class of 1956 Leadership Endowment
  • Class of 2006 Leadership Endowment