Are men and boys in crisis? In his book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It, Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explores several of the key challenges facing boys and men, including the “friendship recession,” the evolving nature of marriage, and the gender pay gap. To Reeves, these problems are generally structural, not individual, and the interventions tried so far haven’t been very effective.
The friendship recession is particularly affecting men, with the percentage of men who report having no close friends increasing five-fold compared to the 1990s. This social isolation can lead to numerous mental health issues and negatively impact their overall well-being.
Meanwhile, marriage patterns also have shifted, creating a growing class divide, with educated couples more likely to marry and stay together than their less educated counterparts. This divide exacerbates economic and social inequalities.
The gender pay gap persists, driven by differences in work patterns and time spent raising children. Women are more likely to work part-time or take career breaks, impacting their earning potential. Additionally, societal expectations and gender norms play a significant role in shaping the choices men and women make in their careers and personal lives.
Reeves argues that we ought to confront the crises facing boys and men in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. By addressing these challenges head-on, society can work toward a more equitable and inclusive future where both men and women can thrive.
REEVES: I'm Richard Reeves. I'm a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and my latest book is "Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why That Matters, and What to Do about It."
NARRATOR: Part 1: The challenges facing boys and men.
REEVES: A number of people warned me against writing a book about boys and men because it's such a fraught subject, particularly in politics right now. And because so many people were afraid that merely drawing attention to the problems of boys and men was implying somehow less effort being paid to girls and women, that it's framed as zero-sum, and it's sort of a "who's side are you on" question, and you have to be on one side or the other, rather than just being on the side of human flourishing, which requires us to look at everybody. I decided to tackle this at book-length for six reasons: The first is that things were worse than I thought. The more I looked at the numbers in education, and employment, and the family, the more I saw many boys and men really struggling. The second reason I tackled this was because if you look at particular boys and men, those from lower-income backgrounds, working class boys and men, and Black boys and men, you see many of those trends are amplified. And so, those boys and men are really at the sharpest end of many of the social and economic changes of recent years. The third reason I wrote the book and tackled this subject is because I see most of the problems facing boys and men as structural in nature rather than individual: the structure of the education system, the structure of the labor market, and the changing structure of the family. But there's a tendency to individualize the problems of boys and men, to put the blame on their shoulders. And so, the 'problems of boys and men' are too often described as a 'problem with boys and men'- there's something wrong with them. And I think the main problems are what's wrong or challenging about the situation around them. The fourth reason I tackled this subject is that I was really surprised, shocked honestly, to discover that lots of the social policy interventions that we've tried, to improve education, employment, don't really work very well for boys and men. They work quite well for girls and women, but they don't really seem to work as well for boys and men. So it's not just that they're struggling, it's that many of the things we do to try and help them don't seem to work quite as well. The fifth reason I tackled this subject is what I think is an abject political failure on both sides to just, in a mature and responsible way, tackle these real issues facing boys and men, for different reasons. Each side has dug in to a trench in the culture war, and really won't give an inch. If you give an inch, then the other side might take a mile. But what that means is there really isn't a good faith conversation going on here about boys and men. And then lastly, because I do work in public policy, I felt that I could offer some policy solutions, some actual ideas, some concrete ideas to help boys and men in this new world. There's lots of discussion of the problems in our society, including the problems of boys and men, but very often they consist of like, it's like the "Book of Lamentations"- it's just a long list of everything that's going wrong, and then maybe a very short list at the end of things we might do about it. And I felt that I had something positive to offer, and that's really what we want the conversation to be about now, is not just a long list of problems, but an even longer list of solutions that we can try and get behind.
NARRATOR: What is the education landscape like today for men and women?
REEVES: The overall picture is that on almost every measure, at almost every age, and in almost every advanced economy in the world, the girls are leaving the boys way behind, and the women leaving the men. So if you look at the U.S., for example, in the average school district in the U.S., girls are almost a grade level ahead of boys in English, and have caught up in math. There's now no gap really in math, a huge one in English. If you look by the end of high school, you look at high school GPA, which is a very good measure of educational success, if we look at those with the highest GPA scores, the top 10%, 2/3 of those are girls. If we look at those at the bottom, 2/3 of those are boys. When it comes to going to college, there's a 10 percentage gap in college enrollment, a similar-sized gap in completing college, conditional on enrolling. The result of those trends is that the gender gap in getting a college degree is now wider than it was in 1972, but the other way around. So in 1972, when Title IX was passed to promote more gender equality in education, there was a 13 percentage point gap in favor of men getting college degrees. Now, there's a 15 percentage point gap in favor of women getting college degrees. So the gender inequality we see in college today is wider than it was 50 years ago, it's just the other way around. What nobody expected was that girls and women wouldn't just catch up to boys and men in education, but would blow right past them and keep going. Nobody expected this great overtaking by women and girls of boys and men. Everyone was very focused, quite rightly, on getting to gender equality, getting to gender parity. It's not that long ago where there was a huge gender gap the other way, and there was a huge focus, correctly, in the '70s and '80s, to really promote women and girls in education. But the line just kept going, and nobody predicted that. Nobody was saying, "Well, what do we do if the line keeps going? What if gender inequality reemerges in just as big a way as now, in some cases bigger, but the other way around?" So this wasn't really something that anybody anticipated; I think it's caught everybody by surprise. And to some extent, everyone's still trying to get their head around this new world where, at least in education, when you talk about gender inequality, you're pretty much always talking about the ways in which girls and women are ahead of boys and men, and that's happened in a very, very short period of human history. The good news is that many colleges are aware of this growing gender inequality and are trying to address it. There's a difference here between private colleges in the U.S., and public colleges in the U.S. Title IX, which was the law passed in 1972 to promote gender equality, forbade any sex discrimination in college admissions, with one exception, which was private undergraduate colleges, who are allowed to discriminate based on sex. The reason for that was to protect the single-sex colleges. If you made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex, then overnight you'd abolish every single-sex college there was. And it was women's colleges in particular that people were trying to protect. The irony is that, now, that carve-out from Title IX, allowing sex discrimination, is being used by private colleges as a stealth, affirmative action policy in favor of male applicants. And that's one reason why private colleges are a bit closer to 50/50 in terms of their gender split. They're all a little bit majority female, but much less so than in the public colleges where it's more 60/40 and rising, a bit above 60/40. And the reason for that is that public colleges can't actually discriminate under Title IX on the basis of sex. And so, in some ways you're seeing the real gender inequality playing out in those public colleges. What colleges can do of course is try and enroll more boys through outreach programs. But a huge problem that they face is that even when men do enroll in college, they're much more likely to drop out, to stop-out, which means to just go out for a year or two, maybe come back, but then also to drop out. And so, if you look at the men and women who do enroll in four-year college in the U.S., and obviously there are many more women than men, there's a 10 percentage point gap in the chances of them having graduated four years later. So there's a momentum and a structure about the women's progress in the education system, whereas the men are much more likely to be zigzagging through. And so, what colleges can and should be doing is looking at the men they've already got on campus, and saying: What can we do to help them? Where are the male-specific policies? Where are the male mentors? Where are the male academic centers? What can we do to help the men? But the trouble is, this has happened so recently and so quickly that many colleges are still struggling to get their head around the idea that they should be specifically helping men.
NARRATOR: How does brain development impact education?
REEVES: There's quite a fierce debate about the differences between male and female brains: And in adulthood, I think there's not much evidence that the brains are that different in ways that we should worry about or that are particularly consequential. But where there's no real debate is in the timing of brain development. It is quite clear that girls' brains develop more quickly than boys' brains do, and that the biggest difference seems to occur in adolescence. So what happens is, in adolescence, we develop what neuroscientists call the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex of our brain is sometimes known as the "CEO of the brain." It's the bit of your brain that says, "You should do your chemistry homework rather than going out to party." It's the bit of your brain that says, "It is worth maintaining a high GPA 'cause it'll help you get to college, which might help you in the future." And that bit of the brain develops considerably earlier in girls than in boys, between one and two years earlier, partly because girls go into puberty a bit earlier than boys, and that seems to trigger some of this development. What that means is that if you have an education system that rewards the ability to turn in homework, stay on task, worry about your GPA, prepare for college, and so on- then just structurally, that's going to put an advantage to the group whose brains have developed earlier in those particular areas- and that turns out on average to be girls. I think it's a great irony of women's progress that by taking the breaks off women's educational opportunities and aspirations, we've revealed the fact that the education system is slightly structured against boys and men because of these differences in the timing of brain development. But it took the the women's movement to show that, because the natural advantages of women in education were impossible to see when women's aspirations were being capped by a sexist society. Now that those caps have been largely removed, we can see that it's boys and men who are at a disadvantage in the education system. One of the most interesting developments in recent neuroscience is really to focus on adolescence; there's been a long focus on the early years. At some points, it felt like we were drifting into 'early years determinism,' as if by age of five, we knew everything that was gonna happen to you. But adolescence is a period of brain plasticity, when our brains are still developing and moving and maturing, that's equal to that in the early years. And so, the importance of adolescence is really being much better understood now than it was before. And what that means is that the development of your brain- and particularly the skills that come with the development of your brain- really start to matter in adolescence. And in those years, essentially the high school years in the U.S. context, turn out to be critical in terms of adolescent development. They turn out to be critical for your educational performance because your high school GPA and your performance in high school in those years really does matter for what happens to you after that. And that's also where we see this big gender gap growing in brain development between boys and girls, which has consequences well through higher education. It's not until really into the early 20s where you see these gaps that have developed between males and females starting to close into adulthood. I think it's worth saying that these findings from neuroscience about the development of male and female brains, and particularly the timing of them, and how that does put boys at something of a disadvantage because of these so-called 'soft skills' is what you might think of as a, "Well, duh!" moment. Very often, people will say, I needed a social scientist or a neuroscientist to tell me this. Every parent that I've ever met goes, "Yeah?" especially if they've raised boys and girls. And so, I think it's important though that we recognize those differences, and think about what they mean for education policy. So it's simultaneously a bit controversial to talk about brain differences between males and females, I think for the wrong reasons, but it's also a, "Well, duh!" obvious fact to most people in the actual world, but finally, not one that we've really taken any account of in our education policy, and I think that's one of the reasons why boys are slipping so far behind.
NARRATOR: Are boys more likely to be diagnosed with developmental disabilities?
REEVES: One of the skills that the education system rewards is the ability to sit still and pay attention even when the subject at hand is crushingly dull, and not one you have any intrinsic interest in whatsoever. And it turns out that, on average, boys struggle more with that than girls. And I've seen it in my own sons; really struggling with this at school. But it really took me back to my own experience as a seven, eight-year-old, and honestly into my teens. And I vividly remember just the actual physical pain that I felt sitting still on a plastic chair for what felt like days- i'm sure it was an hour or two. And I would actually have to look out the window, create imaginary worlds just to survive this experience of sitting still on a hard chair for so long, being, frankly, bored to death. And I don't think that experience is that unusual, especially among boys. And there's a danger that if we design the system to reward that kind of behavior, and we don't accommodate the fact that there are some natural differences, in the need for physical movement, for example, then we are just structurally putting our boys at a disadvantage. And so, for example, right now, about one in four boys of K-12 age in the U.S. have been diagnosed with some kind of developmental disability. At that point, I think you have to wonder whether it's really the boys that are disabled or whether it's the system that's disabling them. There's something like a between a three and fourfold gap in the diagnosis of ADHD and so on for boys as opposed to girls, and a similar-sized gap in autism. So I think there's a couple of things going on there: One is I think we are recognizing that there are some developmental difficulties that people are having, and that they just naturally occur more in boys than girls. I also think there's another thing happening, which is some of this is a labeling, giving a medical label to some things that are actually are just occurring naturally; and we should be careful not to pathologize them, and be too close to medicalizing what in other circumstances, perhaps even back when I was growing up, would've been seen as part of the quirks of human character, and something to work with rather than label as a disability. One of the challenges is just getting good data, getting the facts. Getting the facts straight is difficult because very often, we're not collecting data disaggregated by sex. And that's an irony, I think, because we used to be much more concerned about that when we were trying to get to something close to gender parity. But an example of this is some work that I've done trying to figure out what the gender gap is in high school graduation across the U.S. And we don't know. And the reason we don't know is because states are not required to report sex when they report their high school graduation rates to the federal government. They do have to report race, they do have to report English as second language, they have to report foster care status and so on; they do not have to report sex. And when I've asked people why that is, it's because, well, there isn't really anything to worry about in terms of a sex gap in terms of high school graduation- but there is now. There's actually a six percentage point gap in high school graduation rates, 88% to 82%, which is quite similar to the gap between white and Hispanic kids, which we know because that data is reported. And boys are only a little bit more likely to graduate high school at 82% than kids on free school meals at 80%. And so, there is a real gender gap in high school graduation, but it took a small research project to get those numbers, going state by state to get the data. I think that's because we're still trying to catch up with a world where we do need to collect the data by gender, not to expose the ways in which girls and women are behind, but in the case of education, to expose the ways in which boys and men are behind. And importantly, the ways in which certain boys and men are behind, the ones from lower-income backgrounds, and Black boys and men. But if we don't collect the data by sex, we don't get a clear picture of which boys are struggling the most, particularly by race and by class.
NARRATOR: What changes could we make to help boys in education?
REEVES: At the risk of sounding boring, let's collect the data first so we know what we're dealing with here. I do think that we should be strongly encouraging boys to start school a year later than girls. I think that should become the default in many school districts because of the developmental gap that there is between boys and girls. Because boys brains mature more slowly, then them starting school a year later would mean that they were developmentally closer to being peers with the girls in the classroom. We need a lot more male teachers. It's striking that the teaching profession has become steadily more female over time. Only 24% of K-12 teachers now are male. That's down from 33% in the '80s. And fewer men are applying to teacher training year on year. And so, we've seen this steady shift towards close to an all-female environment. Elementary schools, it's 1 in 10 teachers are male. That has all kinds of consequences, for the ethos of the school, for the way we deal with different kinds of behavior among boys and girls, for example. And so, we need a very serious and intentional effort to get more men into teaching. The third thing I would do in this world where I have significant power to dictate policies would be significantly more investment in vocational education and training. That is an area where we do seem to see better results for boys and men on average, and one that's woefully underinvested in the U.S. The U.S. has really bet most of its dollars on a very academic, a very narrow route towards success, and less emphasis on vocational training. And that has actually put boys and men at a disadvantage. So apprenticeships, technical high schools are actually a really good way to help more boys and men.
NARRATOR: Why do most men today earn less than men did 40 years ago?
REEVES: I think one of the challenges with this debate is that if you're talking to women and men who are, say, at the top of the economic ladder, four-year college degrees, decent incomes, they look around and they don't see some of these issues. What they see is the fact that, take the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S.: 44 of them are led by women, which is a long way from parity, but also a lot more than what it was in the mid '90s, which was none. As we look around at the top, we don't see such big gender gaps. And actually, men at the top have seen increases in their wages. But that's not the same for working-class men; that's not the same for men lower down the economic ladder. So there's a danger that we're so busy, to borrow Sheryl Sandberg's phrase, "So busy leaning in that we don't look down." The reality for men further down the ladder is very different. Most American men today earn less than most American men did in 1979. So, as a whole, American men are poorer than they were half a century ago. That's an incredibly important economic fact. Whereas women's earnings have risen across the board, including at the median. We see 9 million men out of the labor market even though they're prime age, between 25 and 54. And really, that's driven by men with less education and fewer skills. And so, the way in which social class divides have opened up, economic inequality has widened, is really important to understand in the context of gender inequality. If we only focus on gender gaps, then we miss the fact that both men and women at the top have done increasingly well- but that's much less true of everybody else, and especially is less true of men who are lower down the socioeconomic ladder. The economic trends for men have turned downwards along four dimensions: One is wages. Most men today earn less than most men did in 1979. The average man has seen pay go down over time in employment, with a drop in labor force participation of eight percentage points, which means 9 million men now of prime age are not working. We've seen a drop in occupational stature. And so, there are now more men working in employment areas which are lower status, seen as lower status than they were in the past. And we've also seen a drop in the acquisition of skills, the kinds of skills and education that boys and men need. If boys don't get educated, and men don't get skilled, they will struggle in the labor market. And across all of those domains, we've seen a downwards turn for men in the last four or five decades. The biggest economic impact has been on men with lower levels of skill and education. Those men had the economic equivalent of a meteorite hitting them. So among men who have only a high school education, one in three are out of the labor force now. And there's lots of debate about what's going on there: Why is that the case? It's clear that many traditionally male jobs in manufacturing and industry have significantly reduced over the last few decades; a big economic trend has been to reduce those jobs. That's a combination of free trade and automation, a general shift towards service sector jobs. But there's also then some concern about the other side of the equation, which is: Are those men looking for jobs? Are they moving to find work? Are they moving into new employment areas? And there's lots of reasons to be concerned there too, which is that the labor market seems to be feminizing faster than men, if I can put it that way. It's that men still seem to be seeking the jobs of the past. They're looking for the jobs that their fathers had, rather than looking around to see the jobs of the future. And what that means is that men are stuck between the world as it once was, which could guarantee a pretty good income to men even if they didn't have particularly a high level of education, to one where that is simply not the case. And so, the need for that quick adaptation among men is clear, but men are not adapting to this world very quickly. And frankly, they're not getting much help to adapt to this new world either.
NARRATOR: Which occupations are the most gender segregated?
REEVES: We've seen advances by women across the economy and into most occupations, including very male dominated ones such as law and medicine- but there's been a particular emphasis on getting more women into STEM jobs- so science, technology, engineering, and math; needing math skills. If we go back to 1980, of those in STEM jobs, fewer than 1 in 10 were women- that's now risen to 27%. So 27% of STEM jobs are held by women, which is about tripling over the last few decades. So 27% still obviously a lot well shy of 50%, but it has been a significant increase nonetheless. But I think it's important to note that that hasn't just happened by itself; it's happened as a result of concerted government action, concerted action by philanthropists. There's been a whole series of non-profits. There's been a campaign to get women into STEM. And that's great. I really applaud the efforts of that movement, and we still have further to go, including in some particular areas like engineering and tech. But as a movement, the women into STEM movement really has been very successful. On the other side, we have what I call HEAL jobs: So that's health, education, administration, and literacy- almost if you like the the opposite side of the coin to STEM jobs. And that's where a lot of the jobs are coming from: Health and education alone are huge and growing sectors in the U.S. And so, by my estimates, for every one job we're gonna create in STEM between now and 2030, we're gonna create three in HEAL jobs. So that's where a lot of the jobs of the future are coming from. But those jobs are at least as gender-segregated as STEM jobs, but in the other direction, and unlike STEM, becoming more so over time. So if you look at the HEAL sector, only 24% of the workers in those sectors are male, and that number is falling. And in particular sectors, we're seeing a really precipitous drop in the number of men. We have a drop in the number of male teachers. We have a very sharp drop in the number of male psychologists: that's dropped from 39% male to 29% male in the last decade alone. And among psychologists under the age of 30, only 5% are male. So we roll that forward, and we're going to see psychology becoming essentially almost an all-female profession. Very big drops in other areas such as counseling, social work, etc. So these jobs, which are both crucial, I think, for society and where it be very useful to have more diversity, are actually becoming more gender-segregated. And so, on the one hand, we have a huge, and successful, and laudable effort to get more women into STEM, but we have absolutely no effort to get more men into HEAL jobs, which is where I think the future lies, and where we should be helping men to move. One of the big challenges for men who may want to go into some of these kinds of jobs in health, or childcare, teaching is that they face a stigma. They can face all kinds of barriers, but one of them is: Why would you want to go into that? My own son, one of my sons worked in childcare, and he's actually been denied employment because he's been told the parents are uncomfortable with a man looking after their kids. Men who go into these professions do face stigma in a similar way that women faced when they went into very male jobs before. To be a female engineer, just a few years ago, really was: "So, well, why would you want to do that?" It went against your gender identity. But it's even more true today for men going into those professions, so we have to reduce the stigma. The mere fact that we can say the term, "male nurse," without really thinking about that, it's a long time, I think, since you've heard someone say "female lawyer" or "female doctor," because those professions are at parity now. And so, it would be a very odd thing to point out the fact that they were female when it's 50/50. But it's not odd to say male nurse, male childcare worker. And so, we'll know we're getting somewhere when that does feel odd, and you are not the exception. The mere fact you have to put the modifier in front of the word tells us that the men who do enter those professions have to crash down a lot of barriers, barriers that are just as high as the ones women had to break down to get into traditionally male jobs. But, we did a huge amount of work to help break down the barriers to get women into traditionally male jobs. As far as I can see, we're doing almost nothing to break down the barriers to men going into those jobs.
NARRATOR: Which skills impact male employability?
REEVES: Men have effectively faced a one-two punch, from free trade, where the entry, particularly of China, into the World Trade Organization, generally, globalization has undermined a lot of manufacturing jobs; we've lost up to 3 million manufacturing jobs to free trade. And automation, with many of the traditionally male jobs that were based on physical strength or physical labor being easier to automate than other jobs. And so, men are facing this twin risk from both free trade and automation, which have significantly reduced the share of jobs that could be seen as the ones that were traditionally male. More of our jobs now require relational skills. They require what sometimes are called 'soft skills,' the ability to talk to people, communicate, and so on too. And to some extent, there does seem to be a bit of a difference between men and women just in terms of whether those skills come naturally to men or to women. They seem to come somewhat more naturally to women than to men. But that doesn't mean, first of all, that distributions don't hugely overlap. It's not that all men are incapable of doing this kind of work, or that we can't learn those skills, but it is important for men to be helped to learn those skills, which are more about communication, relationship building in the workplace, and the provision of service. So work's become more personal, and less physical, and that has, right now, put men in a bit of a disadvantage. And so, what we need to do is help men to move into that new world by developing those skills.
NARRATOR: How have fatherhood and motherhood changed?
REEVES: One of the problems that we face is, what I call in the book, a 'dad deficit.' And that can be seen in various different ways: So one in four fathers don't live with their children. If parents split up, they're much more likely to lose contact with their fathers than with their mothers. And so, one in three children, if their parents split up, don't see their father at all after a few years post the separation. There's the growth in what you might call the dad deficit or fatherlessness because of a real shift in the shape of families, and a danger, frankly, that we're just benching dads. If they don't fit the traditional model of what it used to mean to be a father, to be a breadwinner and a provider, then the danger is that they feel benched as a result, and that they get benched by societies, benched by families. And when 4 in 10 children are born outside marriage, and most children to less educated parents are born outside marriage, then we have to reinvent what it means to be a father. Because right now, men are still being held to an old standard of what it meant to be a successful father, in a world where that is neither possible for many of them or even desirable, because what we've seen is as women have grown in economic power and economic independence, then of course they're going to choose to be with a man rather than being forced to, as in the old days. This is probably the greatest liberation in human history, honestly, that women can now choose to whether to be with a man or not. But it does post some really sharp questions about what fathers are for. And until we escape the obsolete model of the breadwinner father, then we will continue to see more and more men being left out of family life. And the kicker is that boys in families that don't have a father presence suffer much more than girls. And so, then what happens is that male disadvantage can become intergenerational, because if the fathers are struggling and therefore not really involved in their kids' lives, then the boys are the ones who suffer most, who will then go on to struggle themselves in education and the labor market. What's happened with women, I think, and in particular mothers, is that an old script has been replaced with a new script. The old script was to find a husband, to raise your kids, etc. The new script is: Get an education, get ahead, become economically independent, and so that you can raise your kids yourself if you need to. So there's a very strong, powerful new script for women to follow. But men, they had the old script which was: Get yourself an education, get a job so you can raise a family, to no script. It's not clear what the new script for mature masculinity is now, or for fatherhood. And so, what that means is that many men are left out of this equation because women are able to do both the traditionally male role of breadwinning- more than two out of five households in the U.S. now, a woman is the main breadwinner. 40% of American women earn more than the average man. These are huge economic changes, and all for the good, but they do mean that the fundamental basis on which family life has been built for a very long time, hundreds of years or thousands of years depending on who you believe historically, means that we are just in this whole new world now. And men are understandably disoriented, dislocated in this world where what it means to be a good father, is actually just a really sharp question now. And we're in danger of not just saying "Fathers matter, period," and instead saying, "Fathers matter because they're protectors." "Fathers matter because they're providers." No, no, no: Fathers matter, period. Whether they're married to the mother or not, whether they're living with the mother or not, whether they're breadwinning or not- all the evidence is that fathers matter to their children's flourishing. But if we don't update our model of fatherhood and expand our model of fatherhood in just the same way we've expanded the model of motherhood to include breadwinning as well as caring, we now have to do the same for fathers. We haven't expanded the role of fatherhood. And so, that's the result of that. And so, the result of that is that fathers very often are simply benched. I think we have to change the way that both men think about men, and women think about men. Some of these ideas about what it means to be successful are not just held by men, they're often held by women too. Even as women have become more economically powerful, there's an irony here that actually the bits of our society where men are least able to meet this traditional breadwinning role, so the poorest parts of the country and men with the less education, are actually where some of these views about what men should be like are held most strongly. And so, actually, the men who are least able to meet this traditional definition of masculinity and fatherhood are the ones who are held to it. And so, it's very different at the top: Equality is much easier for the affluent, where you've got college-educated men with rising earnings who are marrying college-educated women with rising earnings, and figuring out a new way to be together- but that's a such a different world to the one we see in many of these other communities.
NARRATOR: How is all of this affecting the well-being of men?
REEVES: It's clear by now that marriage, and social institutions, and a sense of purpose matter more to men, if anything, than to women. And so, as we've seen these real challenges faced by men in education, work, and family, you're seeing some really difficult and troubling health consequences. And so, the so-called "deaths of despair," from suicide, overdose, to alcohol; three times higher among men than among women. Suicide itself, three times higher among men than women and rising very quickly, especially among middle-aged men and younger men. So we can see these as symptoms, I think, of a broader malaise, which is what's troubling boys and men. And for men in particular, the sense of purpose is very important. I think it's a human universal that we need to be needed. There's a wonderful piece of work by an academic called Fiona Shand, who looked at the last words that men had used to describe themselves before committing suicide or attempting suicide. And the top of the list were "worthless" and "useless." I think if we create a society in which so many men do feel like they're not needed, then it's no surprise that we see these deaths of despair, we see problems with opioids- opioids are a much bigger problem for men than they are for women- and one of the great tragedies of opioid deaths is the death rates are higher in part because the users are on their own. This is not like a drug you take to go to a party, or chill with your friends, this is a drug you take to retreat. And one of the reasons we see such high death rates is that even though you can administer something to save someone, very often there's no one with them. And so, in some ways the opioid epidemic is a perfect illustration of a whole series of things we're talking about, which is a loss of role in the family, a loss of status in the labor market, turning to drugs, and being isolated and withdrawn. And so, in that example, I think you can see a symptom of this broader male malaise that we just need to take it more seriously. There's nothing wrong with men. There's nothing wrong with boys. There's some troubling stuff around them. They're just facing new challenges. And we have a cultural responsibility, as a society, men and women together, to help men and boys to adjust to this new world, because right now, many of them are really struggling. One of the real challenges here is that if there are men missing from certain crucial areas of our society, in our economy, that makes it harder for other men and boys to flourish in those areas. So we have an education system that has a dearth of male teachers to help our boys. We have a labor market where the jobs that are growing fastest are ones where we have the fewest men- and so, not acting as models for men to move into that space. And in families, we see so many where men are effectively being left on the sidelines of the lives of their children. And you put all those three things together, and what you create is something like a vicious cycle because as men are struggling in each of those areas, what you'll see is it'll be harder for other men to follow in their footsteps. It's harder for boys to flourish if their fathers aren't engaged. It's harder for men to enter occupations where there aren't men. It's harder for boys to do well at school where there are no male teachers to be seen. And so, there's a very real danger that unless we act quite soon, that we will set in train something of a vicious circle here.
NARRATOR: Part 2: The friendship recession.
REEVES: I think a big question now is whether we're facing a "friendship recession." That's the term that Daniel Cox, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has used to describe this rise in a number of people who lack a certain number of close friends, who have fewer people to turn to in times of crisis. We've seen a decline in lots of traditional institutions, including the family, people marrying later if they do marry, obviously in areas like religion, in some cases the labor market. And so, what that means is there's more of a need for people to have social relationships, connections outside of those institutions- that's where friends are hugely important. But during the same period, we've seen a real decline in the number of people who say that they have a number of close friends. What's striking about this trend is it's much greater for men than for women. So today, for example, 15% of young men say that they don't have a close friend- that was just 3% back in the 1990s. And so, we're seeing a fivefold increase in the number of men who have no close friends. Back in 1990, almost half of young men, 45%, said that if they had to turn to someone in a time of trouble, it would be to a close friend- but now that's dropped to about 22%. And in fact, there are more men, about 36%, who say that they would go to their parents. And so, that's quite a radical transformation in the social networks that we've seen, particularly of young men more likely turning back, if you like, to the family and to parents than outwards to friends. And so, there's this decline in the number of friends that men are reporting, in particular, and particularly close friends, but also a declining desire to reach out to those friends, for your friends effectively to be the the person you talk to; who's the person you turn to when you need someone that you need. You need a shoulder to cry on or at least someone to have a conversation with- that's less and less likely to be a friend now. And as society changes in all kinds of ways- technologically, economically- that I think it's important we pay attention to what is very often an underappreciated human relationship, which is the friendship.
NARRATOR: What was the traditional view of friendship?
REEVES: Friendship was something that the ancient philosophers used to take very seriously. If you go back to Aristotle, for example, in some ways seen as the ideal relationship. And one of the reasons why friendship is, I think, so important and so idealized is 'cause it's a relationship of genuine and radical equality, and one in which you're not in the friendship in order to get something out of it for yourself. There's no sense of dependency, there's no sense of exchange; it's not a transactional relationship in any way. And in most other occasions, relationships do contain some kind of transaction, some kind of, 'What's in this for me?' But the definition of friendship is a relationship where there is nothing in it for you other than the relationship. And so, in that sense, it's very often been seen as a very pure kind of human relationship. And it only survives as a friendship if it is equal. If you introduce some kind of inequality into it, one of you cannot be better than the other in a friendship. And so, in that sense, I think it's played a hugely important role in human societies, especially societies that are very unequal in some ways. Because even if we're desperately economically unequal, with different kinds of social status, we can as friends look each other in the eye, give each other a hug, and just be, in that relationship, pure equals, and only there for each other. And that's a very precious thing which we should be careful not to abandon.
NARRATOR: What factors are getting in the way of people having more friends?
REEVES: It's quite hard to measure friendships. There are many things that's hard to measure, but how do you measure a friendship? What's the quality of that friendship? What's the quantity? When people say they have a certain number of friends, what does that mean? Does it mean how many friends they have on Facebook? And so, it is difficult to get at this quantitatively. And also, people, I think, are a bit reluctant to admit sometimes to not having friends. Loneliness is, in some ways, quite a stigmatized condition. And so, actually getting people to admit to loneliness is something that social scientists really struggle with. But this is a general trend: As we've moved, in some ways, we've moved physically further apart from each other, with geographical mobility, people moving away from family, for example; obviously, technology has had a big impact on the way we spend our time- parents are also spending a lot more time than they used to raising their kids. We invented this new verb, "parenting," which is one that I can tell you my parents had no idea what that was. I had to break it down for them, that I said parenting, and they said, "What's that?" And I said, "It's the verb, to parent." And they looked at me and said, "What, you mean, having kids?" I was like, "No, no, no, no, it's a whole thing!" And the truth is that a lot of parents are spending, and this is good in many ways, they are spending more time trying to raise their kids, and so on too. But between the rise in dual-earner couples, most families now have both parents working, and parents spending more time with their kids, and the rise of technological differences, we're actually seeing a decline in those other relationships and friendships. So the way I see the friendship recession is in some ways a result of a squeezing out by lots of other activities, as well as by lots of mobility. There's obviously been a huge change in the number of people that we can be in contact with. It's an almost infinite number of human brains, of one kind or another that we can be online with, this interaction that we're having, which is unprecedented in human history, and I think something we're still struggling with frankly, is to kind of cope with that many potential connections to people. There's obviously a danger that we mistake a connection for a friend or an online like for a sign of real friendship too. But I will say that I've been struck- this is partly based on my own experience of raising three boys through an era where technology was certainly around- is that a lot of the basic patterns of friendships still seem to hold; that you will have a relatively small number of close friends, a small tribe of kind of broader group, you know, people you might go away for a weekend with, or do something with, and then more connections. And I think that technology here plays a double-edged role: On the one hand, you can see technology is getting in the way of developing, quotes, "real friendships" and so on. But on the other hand, during the pandemic, it was clear to me that it was really very helpful, particularly to my sons, to maintain their friendships. So for just an anecdotal example is my youngest son who was just at high school at the time, and the first things they did when the schools closed was get together and get a Minecraft server. Now, they're a bit old for Minecraft, but it meant that at any time of day, they could go on there and speak to each other, and build stuff together, and do stuff together even as the pandemic was raging around them. And those were physical friendships they had formed, but they were able to be sustained online too. And you do also people who form friends online. I've seen this with one of my other sons who's formed friendships online but then have become physical friendships too. So, I think it's too early to say that technology has been this 'friend slayer' in the way that I think some of the kind of techno-pessimists say. I think it's cutting both ways. But it is clear that just online is no substitute for flesh and blood. But I do think that online friendships can augment, and in some cases lead to and sustain those other kinds of friendship too. The pandemic has been a sort of stress test for our friendship networks. Obviously, being isolated from each other, shutting everything down has been a real test of our friendships. Interestingly, there, we see that it's women who've been most affected. Women who've actually typically got more friends and stronger friendship networks than men, seem to have suffered the most in the pandemic, with more than half of women, 59%, saying they'd lost touch with at least some of their friends, at much lower rates among men. I think that's because female friendships are more based on physical relationships, on face-to-face time, whereas male friendships tend to be more mediated perhaps through activities or technology. We don't know for sure, but that gender gap is suggestive of the fact that women's friendships are more in need of more regular physical contact than male friendships are, which is maybe why women's friendships have bore the brunt of the impact of Covid on those friendship networks.
NARRATOR: Why is it so hard to make friends as one gets older?
REEVES: It's clear people are less likely to make friends as they get older. We make most of our friends when we're younger, and then the line goes down. It's important, I think, to try and understand why that is, especially as we live for longer and longer. We have long retirements now. We're all hopefully going to live quite a bit longer. And so, the importance of friends, particularly perhaps when we've raised our kids and they've gone, is, if anything, some ways more important. And so, understanding why we don't have so many friends is important. As to why it becomes harder to make friends as we get older, partly I think it's because we've obviously filled our time with other activities perhaps, including work. But I think there's something deeper at work here too. One of the necessary steps to making a friend is to admitting that you want to make a friend, to being open to that. That requires a certain vulnerability. It requires you in some ways to reveal a need, a desire. And I think as we get older, there's sometimes a sense of shame that comes along with not having enough friends. Sometimes there's something wrong with you if you're still looking for a friend in your 50s. I speak as someone in my 50s, and my feed is actually filled with how to make friends in your 50s. So maybe the algorithm knows something about me, which is that we know it's hard. And I think part of it is because of the necessary vulnerability that comes along with making a good friend, which is harder and harder to admit to as you get older. You're supposed to have your act together by the time you're in your 50s. And actually saying, "I need a friend," is maybe one of the hardest sentences any human being can utter. Given that it's harder to make friends as you get older, it shouldn't be a surprise that it's hardest of all as you reach your senior years. And in some ways, that's when it might matter most, particularly if you perhaps lose a spouse, you end up on your own, or in new circumstances, perhaps you've retired, and so you have this new need for friends. And so, there's a certain tragedy in the fact that that turns out to be when it is most difficult for many people to make friends. And as we become more geographically isolated, in some cases, from extended family, that makes the need even more acute. And so, whilst I'm a bit hesitant to use terms like a "loneliness epidemic," which some people have used, I think where it's most accurate probably is with regard to our seniors. And I think that the thinning out of some of the social networks, the community ties, if you think about the decline in people going to organized religion, other community events, and so on too, in some ways we tend to focus on what that means for young people perhaps, but maybe the biggest victims of the decline of some of those social networks, and opportunities to make friends, are actually those who are towards the end of their life. And as retirements get longer and people live for longer, the problem of loneliness in old age is likely to be one that we need to take more seriously.
NARRATOR: What are the negative impacts of not having friends?
REEVES: There are a few downsides to being without friends, to being friendless: One is lack of access to opportunities. It turns out that many people get a lot of jobs, and opportunities, and chances to go and do things through their friends., so friends do act as a a communications information channel. But there are some quite profound effects on health too, mental health and even physical health. There are some studies that suggest, for example, that being without a close friend, being lonely, is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It's not exactly clear what the causal relationships are, what's going on, but it is clear that social support is hugely important for health, certainly for mental health, but also physical health too, that having friends is protective of your health in various ways. And so, it's not just that being without friends can make you isolated in a sort of economic or a social sense, but it can also make you sad. And being sad, it turns out, is also bad in terms of your physical as well as emotional health. There's obviously a dystopian version of how these trends could continue, which is a world of essentially atomized individuals without friends, isolated, sad, lonely, perhaps in ill health. I think that's why we have to pay real attention to these trends, and to recognize that friendship is incredibly important for human flourishing, and that people want to make friends. We're wired to want to be social creatures and to be friends, but that might be harder for us to do so in certain circumstances, circumstances where we're under too much pressure, where we're too segregated, where the opportunities to cultivate friendship are not there. And so, we need more opportunities to cultivate friendship if we are to avoid this dystopian future that some have foretold.
NARRATOR: Why is it beneficial to have a diversity amongst your friends?
REEVES: I think one of the great gifts of friends, particularly as we get them from so many different parts of our lives- maybe where we come from, where we've moved to, what we work, and what we do- is there's a much greater diversity, very often among our friends, than there are in our workplaces or even in our neighborhoods because we are making friends in so many different areas. And I think the gift of that is to expose us to different perspectives, different backgrounds, to challenge us, I think. And if we think that the kaleidoscopic variety of humans is part of what makes life worth living, then having a variety of different types of friends from different backgrounds is an incredible gift to us in the sense, first of all, just to experience that variety, but also to learn from people of different kinds, so that we're not segregating ourselves off into environments where everyone's like us. Can you imagine a world in which you're only surrounded by people who think like you, and act like you, and come from the same place as you, and do the same work as you? And so, in that sense, I think friends can be perhaps the greatest contributor of a really vibrant diversity in our lives. And the more different they are to us, I'm thinking about my own friends now, that the friends who I perhaps hold dearest are the ones who are so very different to me, that they can hold up a mirror, and it's just more fun to be with someone that's very different to you. A key lesson that we learn is that friendships don't form themselves, nor do they fall out of the sky ready-formed for us. They're something that may result from certain interactions, certain places, you get thrown together, but what makes it a friendship as opposed to an acquaintance or something that's perhaps shallower, is an intentionality about the development of the relationship. It does take us, A) To be more vulnerable and open with each other, but it takes work. One of the things we absolutely know is that investment is required, investment of time and energy with each other. And so, if we are serious about making more friends, we have to think about what kinds of people would we like to develop that friendship with. Are there people who we think, "Yeah, I would like to be more friends with him or her." And then set about that. It's not going to grow itself. Friendship is not a flower that just blooms all on its own. It's more like a woodworking project that you have to carve out, and continue to work on. I sometimes think there's a danger that we somehow assume that friendships aren't supposed to be work, and that if they're work, they're not real friendships- and I think the opposite is the case. I think any friendship worth having is always a work in progress, and we have to be willing to put that work in to get the wonderful rewards that I think we all know we can get out.
NARRATOR: Part 3: The death of marriage.
REEVES: I think it's important we try to understand why people do get married in the first place; there are a number of reasons why you might do it. For some people, of course, it's a religious matter: It's a covenantal relationship. I think for many more people, there's an economic element to it, which is that, certainly traditionally, there's an economic dependency on marriage. It was the way that actually women very often survived, was by being married to a man who was the economic provider. And another reason people would get married was because they got pregnant. And so, the so-called "shotgun wedding" was one where, in between the child being conceived and being born, you had to go up the aisle. And so, there was a sense that if you were bringing a new life into the world, that that should be done within marriage. That's much less true today than it was in the past. There's obviously the companionship and love. You fall in love and want to spend the rest of your life with someone; so there's a romantic element to marriage too. And there's probably a bit of status signaling too sometimes. And this may be more true today than it was in the past; that being married is a way of signaling success and status within a society. And so, there's a blend of reasons between religion, romance, economics, and status that have traditionally led people to the marital state. The trends in marriage are one of those areas where there's a few myths that have to be exploded. This general sense that marriage has fallen, 50% of marriages end divorce, etc.- and the picture is much more complex than that. There has been a decline in rates of marriage, but very differently for different groups in the population. And so, very slight decline for those, say, with four-year college degrees, but a really big decline for those with less education. Rates of divorce are actually stabilized, and if anything, slightly dropped in the last few years, possibly because the sorts of people choosing to get married are the ones who were more committed to the relationship in the first place. And so, the death of marriage story is not right. What we're seeing instead is a growing class divide in marriage, rather than the complete collapse of marriage. It's worth saying that no one expected that. No one expected that it was Americans with the most choice and the most economic power, and especially the American women with the most choice and economic power, who would be the ones who were continuing to get married and stay married. So the typical college-educated American woman is almost as likely to get married as her mother was, and if anything, a little bit more likely to stay married than her mother was. So there really hasn't been much of a decline in marriage at all in the top ranks of American society- meanwhile, significant declines lower down. Although there has been a general decline in marriage, there are some key exceptions to that. And one of those of course is the historic victory for lesbian and gay couples to be able to marry. Within a couple of years of the Supreme Court decision, we saw most, three out of five, lesbian and gay couples choosing to get married. So what that tells us was there was some real pent up demand there for this institution that's very often seen as incredibly conservative, and a sign, I think, that it can have this powerful, symbolic effect too. So the story about marriage has become much more interesting and much more complex than it was even just a few years ago. Now, as you see, a big class gap opening up, you see lesbian and gay couples being able to opt into marriage, sometimes, again, around having children- and then fewer working class and lower income Americans opting into the institution. So it's a bit like the kaleidoscope has been shaken and the patterns haven't quite settled yet. So we don't quite know what marriage really even looks like now, let alone what it's gonna look like in a couple of decades.
NARRATOR: How has the concept of marriage in America changed?
REEVES: I think a useful way to look at post-war marriage in America at least is through the lens of the women's movement. So marriage in the 1950s in particular was seen, and Betty Friedan was famous for talking about the plight of the woman stuck in a suburban life, dependent on her husband, curtailed in her opportunities, and so on too. And that really drew a driving force, the women's movement, including people like Gloria Steinem saying, "The point is to make marriage into a choice rather than a necessity," and to actually free women from the economic bondage, as they would've put it, of marriage- and that was hugely successful. So in the '70s, you saw this huge move away from traditional marriage, which was seen as a patriarchal institution that effectively oppressed and constrained women. That was a hugely successful movement. But I think what they didn't expect was that coming out the other side of that movement was that, actually, women who were very economically independent were still choosing to get married because they wanted to raise kids with someone. It was not a traditional marriage exactly, but marriage has survived, indeed flourished among the most liberal, well-educated Americans. And it's perhaps appropriate that even Gloria Steinem herself got married at the age of 66, saying that, "Well, marriage is now a choice." There's much more freedom in marriage now. And so, even Steinem, who'd spent most of her career really campaigning against marriage, in the end, even she tied the knot. So if the old bottle of marriage was, for the woman, it was an economic necessity, particularly if she was gonna have children, to be with a man who would be the provider, and obviously that has hugely changed now. And for the man, it was a way to attach himself to children and to have children. And so, if he was gonna have children, he had to do that with a woman, she was going to raise the children. But if she was doing that, he had to provide for them too. And so, there was this complimentarity to that traditional view of marriage, which of course was founded on a very deep inequality between men and women. And that inequality is what's been successfully shattered, gladly, by the women's movement. And what that means is the very institution of marriage, which is central to human societies, has been fundamentally transformed in ways that are not always visible from the outside, but are very visible from the inside. And so, marriage now for women is a choice, not a necessity. It's one engaged in very egalitarian principles. Women have huge exit power. I think it's important to know that women are twice as likely as men to file for divorce. So women are using exit power from marriage. They're not stuck in bad marriages anymore, which is a huge achievement for humanity. But for men, of course, the old role of just, 'Well, I'll just provide while you raise the kids,' that's out of the window too. And so, men's role in marriage and what it means to be marriageable, to use a slightly ugly term from social science, is very different now for men from what it was in the past. And women are looking for something much more than just a paycheck. So if we go back to 1979, marriage rates were pretty similar across social classes. There wasn't much difference in the chance of people getting married. But since then, there's been a 6% decline in marriage rates among college-educated Americans. But there's been a 20 point decline among those with a high school degree. So what we have is what my colleague, Isabel Sawhill, calls one of the main class fractures in American society now is around marriage. To some extent, being married has become a bit of a signifier of social status. Again, I think it's worth noting that this wasn't expected. It certainly wasn't expected by the leaders of the women's movement. If you'd said to the leaders of the women's movement in the 1970s that it was the most economically powerful women probably in the history of the world, i.e., college-educated American women, who would be opting into marriage at much higher rates than other women, no one would've believed that. They would've thought it would go the other way around. So this class fracture in marriage has significant consequence for the way we raise our kids. So if you look at the percentage of kids who are born outside marriage now, most kids born to mothers with a high school diploma are born outside marriage, about 60%, but it's about 1 in 10 of those who are college-educated, kids born outside marriage. So what we're seeing is very different patterns for marriage rates by class, and very different rates of marital childbearing by social class, too. And so, we can't tell a single story about marriage in America anymore in the way we could just 40 years ago. We have to tell different stories based on class, and race, and geography. We've seen this real divide opening up in marriage in the U.S. One of the other big changes has been a significant shift up in the age of first marriage, up to closer to 30 now. And I think about my parents who married at 21, having met at 17, and that was true for all their friends too. I mean, marrying in their early 20s, this is back in the '60s, was pretty common. And actually, as late as 1970, most women who went to college in the U.S., which was a minority of course, but most of them were married within a year of graduating college. That's a world that's very difficult to fathom now, where both men and women are entering the labor market, they're becoming economically successful, they're establishing themselves. In some ways, you do all that first, then you marry. And so, marriage has become more like the capstone: the signal of success rather than what you did at the beginning. And so, whereas my parents' generation, they started off with the marriage, and that was from that basis, they figured out family and figured out work, now, really, marriage is where you get to at the end. And so, what that means is that, sometimes, the marriage, particularly in a couple who are college-educated, even if they don't get around to getting married by the time they have their first child, they pretty much always do by the time they have their second child. So in some cases, literally after the first child is born, it's just getting around to it at the end. And so, it's increasingly, marriage is a signal of everything that has led up to the ceremony rather than the beginning of a journey. It's as much the end of a journey, to a position where people feel they can get married now.
NARRATOR: Is marriage now more about love than necessity?
REEVES: There is this rather optimistic view that we're shifting away from a world where marriage was an economic necessity, almost like, not an arranged marriage exactly, but a forced marriage in the sense that you were forced to marry- particularly if you were a woman- into one where we can be expressive and romantic, be swept off our feet, and find our soulmate. You know, the best example of that in popular culture would be the line from "Jerry McGuire," "You complete me." And so, people are looking for someone, they want to be able to say that to someone, "You complete me," which is a very different world to the world of marriage just a few years ago. I actually think what's going on is that it's more about parenting now. Most people, I think, find that that expressive, romantic thing can happen outside marriage. And only a minority people now think that it's important to be married to have a good life. So for sure there's the romance, and the love stories, and so on too, but as I look at the trends, and in particular these class gaps in marriage that we see, it looks to me as if marriage has become something actually no more romantic than it was before. So if before, it was based on economic dependency, I think now it's something like a joint venture for raising kids: Between more equal partners, for sure, but it's really a commitment device. It's really a way of signaling, "We're gonna have kids, we want to invest heavily in those kids, in time, and money, and so on, so let's do it together." And so, I actually think that it's much more about parenting than it is about love. And that's certainly better than one of economic dependency- but I don't think we should get dewy-eyed, and think that marriage has become this kind of wonderfully kind of romantic, expressive, individualistic thing where husbands and wives are now writing poems to each other on a daily basis- they're actually not. They're juggling childcare and figuring out who's gotta go to the parents' evening, and who's gonna pick up their kid from the baseball game, and sitting down on Sunday nights, and figuring out what the week's schedule looks like, which is much more egalitarian than the old model, but not much more romantic.
NARRATOR: What is is the future of marriage?
REEVES: Americans now are much less likely to see marriage as something that you have to do to be a complete person or have a good life. Only 1 in 10 Americans now believe that it's essential to be married to have a fulfilling life. There are many other ways that people think you can have a fulfilling life. Marriage could be part of that, but it's no longer seen as essential, and that's a huge cultural change. I think the idea that only a small minority of people think that marriage is essential for a fulfilling life is really an extraordinary historical shift, and it means that the role of marriage in our society has to be fundamentally rethought: Not abandoned, but definitely rethought. I think one of the most interesting divides in people's opinions is whether they think the 1950s was a good period or not. You'll see a disproportionate number of people, for example, who voted for Donald Trump saying life was better in the 1950s. Well, there are obvious rejoinders to that, of course, because there were many Americans, including Americans of color, and women for whom that's a questionable notion at best, and clearly false. But it does speak to a nostalgia for a world where people knew their place, where there was certain family stability, and where people knew what script they were supposed to be following- so they knew roughly what their role was. And of course families were quite stable then. So I think the instinct that lies behind it is a sense where people knew what to do, and institutions were a bit more stable. And so, to be generous to those folks, I think they are speaking to some of those desirable outcomes. The problem of course is that the stability of those institutions, even if we leave aside issues of racism and so on too, just focus on the family, was based on a profoundly unfair balance of power between women and men. And so, yes, the traditional family that some people seem to hark after did have some advantages. It was pretty stable, and it was probably not bad for kids because there was a stability and it raised the kids. It had this profound flaw of being incredibly unfair, and deeply immoral because it meant that half the population were economically dependent on the other half of the population. So the challenge we have now, now I think we've created models of the family that are much more equal and much fairer, but maybe not quite as stable in many cases too. And so, we've gone from a situation where we had quite stable but deeply unfair family structures to much fairer but quite unstable family structures. And the challenge we all face is to find ways to create more stability in our family life, but without sacrificing the goal of equality, which has animated the movement of the last 50 years. I think what we should be looking to is, how do we have strong relationships within which people can raise kids well? And if marriage has a part to play in that, then great. But there are alternative models around civil partnerships and so on too. What matters is parenting. What matters is how we raise our kids. And it's quite possible to imagine a renewed future for marriage based around egalitarianism between men and women, but a shared commitment to kids- but I think that's for us to create. And I think we should be careful not to assume that the way to restore marriage as an institution is to bring it back to the old model. If marriage is to survive, it will be in a new model, not a restoration of the old model.
NARRATOR: Part 4: The gender pay gap.
REEVES: The gender pay gap is, simply put, the gap in the pay levels of the median man and the median woman, so the middle of the male-wage distribution, and the woman, the middle of the female-wage distribution. And that's really been a rallying cry for the women's movement for at least the last 50 years, which is to see the gap between the earnings of women and men as one that signals less economic power for women, and therefore less economic choice for women, and therefore a good proxy for how far we've come in terms of leveling up the position of women compared to men. One of my heroes is someone called Hans Rosling, who wrote a book called "Factfulness." He's a Swedish public health physician, and sadly died fairly recently, a couple of years ago. He came up with this idea of the gap instinct. The gap instinct is the problems we run into when, if we hear about an average gap, what we imagine is the people in those two groups are completely separate. So to take the gender pay gap is a good example: It is true that the median woman earns 82 cents for the dollar earned by the median man. So there's an 82 to 100 gap there. And so, what we think is, "Oh, well, that means women earn less than men." But of course that's not true for most women and most men. The wage distributions of women and men look quite similar to each other- that's just the gap at the median, and the distributions overlap. So it's obvious when we think about it for a moment that that doesn't mean all women earn less than all men. And when we look quite hard at the picture, what we see is that 40% of women now earn more than the median man, which was only 13% in 1979. So again, imagine a world where the earnings of women and men looked exactly the same, it would be 50%. So we're not at 50% of women earning the same as the median man, but we're at 40%. And so, what that means is there are a lot of women who are earning quite a lot more than a lot of men- and that's great news. What that means is that we're getting closer and closer to gender equality even if we haven't got there yet in terms of earnings. We've seen huge progress in closing the gender pay gap from 64 cents on the dollar a few decades ago to 82 cents on the dollar now; so that obviously represents huge progress by women in the labor market. The question then becomes: Why is the gap there? Why was it there before? Why is it there now? And there are a number of things that could be causing the gender pay gap. And the one that's most commonly cited is discrimination, is that women are paid less for doing the same work as men. And that clearly used to be a relatively large factor in the past. It's one of the reasons why we have equal pay legislation, to make that illegal for employers to engage in. But as women have progressed, that's become less and less part of the story. A much bigger part of the story has become two really big factors: One, that women are tending to be in occupations that are lower paid. So there's differences in occupation, which we have to understand. But the really big one is differences in child-rearing and childcare. So if we look at the earnings trajectories of men and women until they have children, they look very similar now. There's almost no difference between the earnings patterns and rates of men and women. But then once they have children, women's earnings significantly decline relative to men. So, for women, having a child is the economic equivalent of being hit by a meteorite. Whereas for men, their earnings continue to go up. And so that's about the gendered division of labor between men and women. So what happens with the discussions about the gender pay gap is I think quite a lot of misunderstanding. You'll get people particularly on the right saying, "It's a myth!" Once you control for education, and occupation, and time spent raising kids, the gap almost disappears. It goes down to, say, three percentage points, four percentage points. And that's true. But then the question is: Well, why do we have that occupational segregation? Why are the women the ones taking the time out of the labor market to raise the kids? Maybe that's where the structural inequality is now. So it's not a myth, it's just math- it's still there. But it's also not true, as many perhaps on the other side will claim, that it's evidence of purposeful discrimination. That's really not the main driver of it anymore, even though that's a popular explanation. You hear the gap and think, "Oh, there you go, it must be discrimination." But it's not really employer discrimination driving it now: It is these different patterns of work. The gender pay gap now is largely driven by differences in the kind of work that men and women do, and the time they take out from that work to raise children.
NARRATOR: Why is there still a pay gap for women?
REEVES: The good news about the gender pay gap is that it has been shrinking: Over the last few decades, we have seen women really making good progress relative to men. The bad news is that we're now at a point where some of the structural obstacles to continued progress have become much clearer. And in particular, the different ways in which forming families and raising kids bears on women's economic progress compared to men. So there are two big reasons why having kids has this big effect on women's earnings and employment: Number one is the simple one- that they take more time out of the labor market to look after kids, especially when they're young. So most women with kids who aren't ready to go to school yet, so they're in the first four or five years of life, are either working part-time or not working. That's not true for the fathers. So there is simply this taking time out of the labor market factor, which is a big reason why there's the gender pay gap. But almost to rub salt in the wounds, the very age at which most women are taking that time out of the labor market or going part-time, in one way or another, slowing down or reducing their time in the labor market, turns out to be years that are really critical for career development, especially in certain careers. So late 20s, early 30s in particular, are simultaneously the time when people are taking time out of the labor market- mostly mums taking time off the labor market- and absolutely critical years, where you really can accelerate up through the career ladder. And so, it's almost as if some evil genius had designed this system to hit women or stay-at-home parents the hardest by saying, "We're going to have this difference in who does the care, but also we're gonna time it. We're gonna make sure that that hits you at just the worst point in your career." Just at the point where your career's starting to take off, you're taking on seniority, you're getting promoted into management roles, and so on, that's when you take this hit. And so, what that means is the impact of the time you take out of the labor market isn't just that time, it's the long run effect it's had on your career progression. So there is this double hit that predominantly women face in terms of having kids. Given the main reason for the gender pay gap is this parenting gap, the amount of time that women versus men are putting into raising kids, that doesn't mean it's not a problem- it means it's a different kind of problem. And there are various things we should and can be doing to address it. Number one is to reduce just how big an impact taking time out the labor market or working part-time has on your career. So much more generous paid leave, for example. The U.S. is about the only country of advanced economies to not have federal paid leave. And so, allowing parents to take that time out without derailing their trajectory. The second thing is we can redesign career ladders such that there isn't such a big impact as people are just getting to that point where they're gonna be promoted. So we have to redesign careers so that they are more compatible with flexibility. There's this line that what we need, we're going to create family-friendly employment, but usually what happens is that we try and create employment-friendly families, by having afterschool clubs for the kids, preschool clubs for the kids, etc. And so, not changing the labor market to fit the new world, where both mothers and fathers are working, but instead asking mothers and fathers to fit themselves into an unchanged labor market. And so, there are really important changes we have to make to the labor market. Employers can take the lead there, but also so can public policy. The other really big thing we have to do is both to encourage and enable fathers to do more of the work on the home front. So, in my own case, my wife and I did share the stay-at-home bits of raising our kids. We were determined not to just both work like traditional men and work full-time, all the way through and have other people raise our kids. And we were gonna raise our own kids, but that meant taking it in turns. It was more like a relay race, where you'd have to figure out who was gonna be on the home front at different times. I also think that it may well be true that going forward, women will still do more of the care in the very early years. I do think there's some evidence that that is a preference that women have, but that doesn't mean that they do it all the way through. There's a huge role for fathers all the way through parenting, including in adolescence. I sometimes feel like the discussion about parenting assumes that kids are grown up at the age of five, and it's just about the early years. And having raised three boys to adulthood, I tell you, it's not a few years. It goes on and on and on for decades. And so, finding a way for moms and dads to share more equally the tasks around parenting over that longer timeframe is hugely important. And that's why if we do have leave policies, they should be available to men equally as to women. And they should be available at any time in a child's life, and not just in the early years because parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. And I think we can ask fathers to do much more without necessarily saying they have to do it right at the beginning.
NARRATOR: Who else's is affected by a pay gap?
REEVES: One important trap to avoid is binary thinking, if I can use that term, which is just assume, let's look at male, female, let's look at at Black, white, let's look at rich, poor. And instead, what we should do is to use Kimberle Crenshaw's term, think about intersectionality and cut across these binaries- especially when you've seen such a huge change in the economic relationship between men and women. But actually, at the same time, huge rise in economic inequality, and a pretty stubborn race gap. And so, we have to think about how these different demographic groupings kind of overlap with each other. A really good example of that is what's happening to race and sex in the labor market: If we go back to the late '70s, Black women and white women earned about the same, and quite a bit less than Black men. White women have since blown past Black men, and earned way more than Black men. So if the gender pay gap, men and women, is $1, 82 cents, women earning 82 cents on the male dollar, let's look at Black men and white women: Black men earn 84 cents on the dollar earned by white women. White women overtook Black men in terms of earnings in the 1990s and have been going up ever since. Now, Black men do still earn a little more than Black women, but Black men have seen the slowest wage growth of any demographic group within society. And so, when you've got white women massively outearning Black men, Black men and Black women seeing pretty low wages and almost no growth in Black male wages, what that tells us is we have to think about these things in more than one dimension. It's no good just looking at the gender pay gap, or I would argue, just at the race pay gap. We've gotta look at these things at the same time, and see how these different things are playing out differently for different groups. When we do that, what we'll see is that the position of Black men in particular, on average, is really very different to that of other groups. In terms of discrimination, that's the group facing the biggest discrimination in the labor market today. Without any doubt at all, it is Black men who face the highest levels of discrimination. And so, if we're serious about an anti-discrimination agenda, we have to think intersectionally. And what that means is, very often, we're going to find that it's certain men who are at the sharpest end of the stick. And in a society like ours, right now, that turns out to be Black men. And so, if we're thinking about helping certain groups, then Black men should be right at the top of our agenda.
NARRATOR: Would you change anything about "Of Boys and Men?"
REEVES: As I've been talking to people about the book and thinking about it, there's a couple of things I would do differently or say more on- and the first is the role of friendship. It's become clear to me that friendship really matters to everybody, and that it's becoming a particular challenge for men, in part because of the challenges they're having in other parts of their lives, in family life and in employment. And so, the problems that men are facing are exacerbated by the difficulties they're having in keeping and maintaining friends. So I would put more emphasis on friendship. One of the reasons I didn't, frankly, is because it's not clear to see what the policy solutions would be here. It's not obvious to see what one would do about that. But in retrospect, I would've done that. The other thing that has really struck me as I've been talking about getting men into some of these caring professions, into health, education, and so on, is that it's less of an employment argument than I thought, and more of a, 'What kind of society do we want?' argument. And so, I've argued that we need to get men into those jobs because that's where the job's coming from. So that's the labor market economist in me sort of speaking, which is, here are the trends, we need to get men into them. But as I've thought about it and talked to people about it, the most resonant argument for why we need more men in our care homes, our hospitals, our schools, our kindergarten classrooms, is so that the boys and men in those environments have male carers. And so, the main reason we need more male psychologists, for example, is not just because psychology is a growing profession and it's an employment opportunity, it's because if you are a young man maybe struggling with addiction to pornography, for example, it might be easier to have a male therapist. If you are a man who's struggling in his marriage, you might wanna speak to a male therapist. And so, I now think that the social reasons to have more men in these caring professions, in classrooms, hospitals, and so on, is much stronger than the economic argument, which is where I previously led. And I've been struck by how many people- men, women, young, old-have immediately come with an anecdote about their father in a home who needed help getting to the bathroom or their kid in a classroom who could have used a male role model. And I now believe that that social argument is stronger than the one I made in the book.
NARRATOR: What do you hope to achieve with your book?
REEVES: I really do see my role as literally clearing some ground, clearing some space, and saying, "This is a safe space." You can talk about this stuff without abandoning prior commitments. Let's talk about the facts. Let's try and create a less febrile and feverish discussion around this. It's one of the reasons, frankly, that it took me so long to get the book written, because I thought not only was it important to get the facts right and the argument right, but it was crucially important to get the tone right as well. I really wanted it to have an inviting tone, to kind of give people this permission to do it. The last thing this area needs is another polemic. We don't need that. We need permission, and we need space, we need facts, we need good faith disagreements. And I'm getting lots of disagreement about what I'm saying, but mostly, I would say, and frankly, some of it, I'm thinking, "Yeah, maybe, yeah, maybe, yeah," I'm rethinking some of that. That's the conversation, not, "Well, you're obviously, you're a patriarch, you're misogynist, you know?" It's not being, of course, at the very fringes on both sides, but by and large, I've been really encouraged by people's willingness to get into this conversation. So if I've played a small part in just breaking a little bit of the stalemate that I think was around this issue, then I'll be really happy.
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