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Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues
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Mar 29, 2019

Institute Insights: Where Have All the Cowboys (and Other Men) Gone?

By James H. Johnson, Director, Urban Investment Strategies Center

Profound demographic changes of all kinds are radically transforming America’s social, economic and political institutions. Perhaps one of the most troubling is something I call the End of Men.

The End of Men refers to the decade-long shift in the ratio of male to female students attending institutions of higher learning. The ratio of females to males born each year in the U.S. is roughly 50-50; the ratio among college students swings in favor of females, 60-40.

So where are all the men?

For the answer, we need to look at what’s happening in our society and economy. The data shows that, for the most part, men are doing poorly today. The disability rate for men in the U.S. has doubled since 1970. The incarceration rate has skyrocketed. The opioid crisis is laying large numbers of working-age men to waste, as is a culture of violence in many regions. And technological change has created an enormous mismatch between male workers’ skillsets and the skills the market currently demands.

So where do these problems start?

Our research provides compelling evidence that a powerful root cause is the educational pipeline, particularly in the case of boys of color. From a simple absence of male role models of color in public education to systematic discrimination, public education is failing young men of color.

The problem begins as early as kindergarten. Data on school suspensions and expulsions reveals that three million children are suspended from school each year. A quarter million of them are referred to the police on misdemeanor charges, some as early as the first grade. Many are boys of color.

Research shows that all of these children come to school ready and excited to learn in kindergarten, but begin to disengage around the fourth grade. This “fourth grade failure syndrome” persists throughout their school careers, many of which end when the child reaches the legal age to drop out.

If this were not disturbing enough, there is evidence that, in some cases, young boys, particularly those of color, are actively discriminated against in the name of school ratings. It is not unusual to see a huge imbalance of girls to boys during end-of-course and end-of-grade testing. In at least some instances, the disparity exists because school officials have told boys not to come to school on test days to avoid bringing down their test results.

So what are the implications of all this for the future?

Even pushing aside the systematic failure of K-12 education to support young males of color, the decrease in the number of males entering higher education creates a huge set of problems and challenges. The mismatch in the numbers of men versus women with college degrees means there is a shortage of eligible partners for educated women. This, in turn, raises questions about the future of family formation and structure, and by extension, the structure of society. Without the advanced skills demanded by our current economy, men will participate less in the workforce, further stretching the resources of already-struggling social assistance programs.

There are many other implications, but suffice it to say that, unless we get a handle on the problem, the End of Men could mean the End of Us.

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