There is a growing buzz around the idea that young men are falling behind in our society, or that they are being forgotten. The current generation of boys and young men are experiencing a range of social and economic problems. For instance, they are less likely to succeed in school than girls, are less likely to apply and get into university (although Oxbridge still takes more men than women). Teenage boys are more likely to take drugs, drink and commit crime or antisocial behaviour…and if they do, they are less likely to be directed to the right support networks, or to seek help from peers and family.
The consequence is that young men are much less likely to desist from crime and antisocial behaviours such as substance abuse than girls, and tend to spend longer out of work and training. Understanding how the social status of masculinity has changed, and how this has in turn impacted on the way in which boys and men engage with peers, family, and public services (schools, health services and the police) is key to this debate.
But there are practical as well as sociological issues to explore: public services have revamped the offer to young women, in an effort to tackle high profile, national concerns that are distinct to women, such as teenage pregnancy, the gender pay gap and antenatal and maternity services. Men often feel excluded from such services and debates. It has been difficult to gather momentum around a public service offer for men or a policy agenda for men and boys’ issues in the UK. Elsewhere, for instance in Sweden and Norway and Northern Ireland, some headway has been made in developing an offer to boys that might prevent some of the problems the UK is struggling with from getting worse.
This project explores how society and public policy could better support men’s changing roles in their relationships, in their workplaces and in their homes.
In this project, we would focus on the following key areas of young men’s changing lives:
Education and development For boys and young men, rising levels of ‘antisocial behaviour’ and educational disengagement are symptomatic of low emotional resilience: a lack of coping mechanisms to deal with the ups and downs of adult life. Many of the skills and capabilities needed to navigate the adult world – like self-regulation, application, or empathy – are developed throughout childhood through interaction with trusted adults. The importance of fathers and male role models is paramount here but missing for many boys and young men.
In the classroom, there is much hand wringing about boys’ lower academic attainment (GCSE attainment is 10% lower for boys, fewer young men than women graduate from university, etc). Many have put this down to educational approach and curriculum being more suited to girls. The increasing ‘feminisation’ of the teaching profession is more and more frequently cited. These issues are particularly salient given the current economic climate.
Identity and Independence Young men are living at home for longer and marrying later than in previous generations. Sociologists have identified a ‘failure to launch’ syndrome that is afflicting the confidence and wellbeing of young men and researchers have also identified a growing crisis of confidence amongst boys. Young men suffer badly from divorce, are less good at adjusting to parenthood particularly at younger ages and tend to feel excluded from the support services and peer networks that young women are so good at accessing. There is a need to better understand what a positive image of masculinity looks like today, now that women ‘have it all’ and economic circumstances prevent them from realising many of the markers of adulthood until later in the their 30s.
Health and wellbeing Young men are much less likely to access support services than women if they are depressed or anxious and are more likely to turn to alcohol or drug abuse. Suicide rates for working age men remain stubbornly high compared to their female counterparts. While men’s health is one area of men’s policy that has been embraced domestically and abroad (Australia, Ireland, and Norway showing particularly progressive approaches), the UK is still trailing behind. As a result, we are not seeing the dramatic improvements in men’s health and longevity that some other counties have experienced.
In understanding the situation of boys and young men, we must understand the contemporary familial and social context in which they are growing up and building identity and social awareness. So, we will also explore the experiences of older men – fathers and grandfathers – at home and in the workplace.
Family and care At home, men are still doing a fraction of the childcare and housekeeping that women do and the idea that a man can be a primary carer is far from mainstream. In their relationships, one in four women are victims of domestic violence from men. Although men are being encouraged and increasingly expected to take more active roles in the home and in child rearing, at key transition points in family life such as becoming a parent or going through a divorce, services are tailored overwhelmingly for women. In many cases, this is with good cause and justification – after all, even modern men can’t give birth, and women remain the overwhelming economic losers in the outcome of divorce (even though they initiate over two thirds of them). However, family packages and parental leave offer much better rights for mothers than fathers and examples from the Scandinavian countries tells us that increasing men’s statutory rights to paternity leave and flexible working – and making it non transferable – can encourage more men to take on their new roles in the home. The infrastructure of society and public policy is influencing men’s decisions as much as it is limiting women’s choices.
Work and money While traditional measures like the pay gap and board room representation show that men are still firmly ‘on top’ at work, in general men are still heavily tied to inflexible, full time jobs, often working overtime and with lower working conditions and lower job-satisfaction overall. Gendered occupations pushing women towards and men away from caring and teaching roles are also causing problems earlier along the line for boy’s education and development. Men are being hardest hit by the recession, both in terms of job loss and mental health – men now make up two thirds of jobseekers and four in ten men have reported anxiety and depression concerning money and work.
To find out more about Demos' work on masculinity, contact Jen Lexmond.