- According to the latest edition of the American Family Survey, Americans are more worried about boys in the U.S. becoming successful adults than girls. Conservatives and men are more concerned about the prospects for boys in general, but liberals are much more concerned than conservatives about the prospects for their own sons. (Brookings Institution)
- NH: Most policies and initiatives promoting gender equity are focused on women and girls. Yet according to this survey, more Americans are concerned about the future prospects for boys.
- When asked for their thoughts on the statement “I am worried about boys in the United States becoming successful adults,” fully 41% of Americans say they agree. A smaller share (33%) say the same for girls.
- Behind these results lie obvious partisan and gender gaps. Nearly half (48%) of conservatives are worried about boys; only 28% are worried about girls. Liberals, by contrast, are more worried about girls (44% vs. 41%)--though only by a small margin. Similarly, men are more likely to be worried about boys (45%) than girls (31%) by a wide margin. Women are also more worried about boys than about girls, though by a much smaller margin (38% vs. 35%).
- But all these differences fade when the respondents are asked the same question about their own sons and daughters. Fully 40% say they are worried about their sons becoming successful, while 34% say the same about their daughters. All four groups--conservatives, liberals, men, and women--express substantially more concern about their sons than their daughters.
- Sons also fare worse than daughters when parents are asked about how their children are doing in different areas of life. In every single category--education and career, financial self-reliance, family relationships, emotional maturity, and relationships with friends--parents are more likely to say that their daughters are doing “well” or “very well.” They are also more likely to say that the education system has served their daughters well, at 64%. For sons, it’s 54%.
- Anxiety about the future of boys is rooted in a growing sense of disconnect between male roles and what is welcome in school, in the workplace, and in civic life. In the culture, we fear masculinity is growing "toxic." (See "Consumers Divided on Gillette's #MeToo Ad.") In the economy, we wonder if "men's jobs" are becoming obsolete. (See "The Spread of the Pink-Collar Economy.") And when we aren't worrying about whether boys are too masculine, well, we're worrying about whether they're not masculine enough. (See “You’re Not the Man Your Father Was.”)
- The American Values Survey suggests that this anxiety remains largely hidden behind norms of gender equality--even among liberals, who are personally far more worried than conservatives about the prospects for their own sons.
- Gender has become such a politically polarized issue that it can feel like a zero-sum game. The “war on boys” conservatives and the “war on women” liberals act as if recognizing the challenges that boys and young men face is incompatible with addressing the obstacles that girls and young women face. But this isn’t true. Both men and women would be well-served by policies that consider how boys could be better served by our most basic institutions, whether it’s schools, the labor market, or the health care system. And this starts by acknowledging that boys and girls have differing desires--and needs.