A link between fidgety boys and a sputtering economy

May 04 2014, 17:00 IST
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By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys
SummaryA gender difference in behavioural skills, seen as early as kindergarten, is hurting boys’ academic prospects and their earning potential

The behaviour gap between rich and poor children, starting at very early ages, is now a well-known piece of social science. Entering kindergarten, high-income children not only know more words and can read better than poorer children, but they also have longer attention spans, better-controlled tempers and more sensitivity to other children.

All of which makes the comparisons between boys and girls in the same categories fairly striking: the gap in behavioural skills between young girls and boys is even bigger than the gap between rich and poor.

By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys, according to a new paper from Third Way, a Washington research group. The gap grows over the course of elementary school and feeds into academic gaps between the sexes. By eighth grade, 48% of girls receive a mix of As and Bs or better. Only 31% of boys do.

And in an economy that rewards knowledge, the academic struggles of boys turn into economic struggles. Men’s wages are stagnating. Men are much more likely to be idle—neither working, looking for work nor caring for family—than they once were and much more likely to be idle than women.

The New York Times reported last week that the United States had lost its once-enormous global lead in middle-class pay based on international income surveys over the last three decades. After-tax median income in Canada appears to have been higher last year than the same measure in the US. The poor in Canada and much of western Europe earn more than the poor here.

These depressing trends have many causes, but the social struggles of men and boys are an important one. If the United States is going to build a better-functioning economy than the one we have had over the last 15 years, we are going to have to solve our boy problems.

To put it another way, the American economy—for all its troubles (and all of the lingering sexism)—looks to be doing pretty well when you focus on girls. The portion of women earning a four-year college degree has jumped more than 75% over the last quarter-century, in line with what has happened in other rich countries. Median inflation-adjusted female earnings are up almost 35% over the same span, census data show—while male earnings, incredibly, haven’t risen at all.

“We know we’ve got a crisis, and the crisis is with

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