Refuting the “Boys’ Crisis” Myth

May 16, 2008

When AAUW released its landmark report, How Schools Shortchange Girls in 1992, the startling results found that girls in grades K-12 received an inferior education to boys in America’s schools. Among other findings, the report revealed that girls received less attention in the classroom than boys, and girls were not pursing math- and science-related careers in proportion to boys. Girls have been making steady educational gains since then but some argue that those gains have been at the expense of boys, creating a “boys crisis.”

On Tuesday, May 20, AAUW will release Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education. This comprehensive look at the educational achievement of girls over the past 35 years pays special attention to the relationship between girls’ and boys’ progress.

Have reports of a “boys crisis” been exaggerated? Find out what the data tells us and learn the facts about gender equity in education.

Avatar By:   |   May 16, 2008


  1. Avatar ann duckworth says:

    Females are not succeeding at the expense of Males. However, the treatment Males receive from a more unstable society exacerbated an over all mistreatment of Males in general to make them tougher. This amounts to long-term mistreatment for information age skills.
    The Male Crisis is more complex than many think. The Male Crisis is increasing in many countries. Our society is now entering into a much greater need for information age skills that require a much different manner of upbringing for boys.
    This is the reversal – In the nineteenth century, we lived in a very physical world and one that required much strength and courage for boys and later men. This created a form of treatment from a young age to create this strength.
    1. Boy children even less than a year old were (and are) given more aggressive treatment to make them tough to compete in the big physical world.
    2. Boys were (and are) not given kind, stabilizing, nurturing, mental, emotional, social, verbal, interaction and other kind, caring treatment for fear of coddling the Male child, again to make them tough.
    3. Boys were (and are) by design not given love, honor, respect unless they display some form of achievement, status, image, etc. All of this was designed to make boys tough.
    Girls were (and are) given more protection from that big physical world, because it was very physical and bad back then. Since girls did not have to be tough, girls could be(and are) given much kind, stabilizing, mental, emotional, social, verbal, interaction from a young age without regard to need for strength. Also since girls did not need to be strong, they were (and are) given love honor, and respect simply for being girls. This protective treatment extended (and extends today) through adulthood.
    Now we are living in the information age where the need and means to make a living have been “completely reversed”. The toughness, aggressive, neglectful treatment given boys is still in place even from infancy. This is creating higher average stress that impedes thinking, learning, and motivation to learn (mental reward received for mental work expended). It also creates higher activity in working class Males, less stability there – activity is used as a natural stress relief. In addition, boys fall behind in writing due to higher muscle tension created by the high average stress that greatly affects handwriting ability and motivation to write. This is “not some natural, genetic weakness”. Note, nice Middle/Upper class boys do not have this problem of need for higher activity nor do they have the higher muscle tension that inhibits handwriting skills and motivation to write. The lack of kind, caring mental, emotional, social, verbal interaction create a tremendous lag in mental, emotional, social, and verbal skills. In addition, this creates more wariness of social contact due to lack of accumulated skills and more aggression given to boys from a young age. This defensiveness also creates the Male Ego or defensive front boys, later men put on to help protect them from aggression they have received. This further impedes positive social interaction with significant others (teachers).
    Girls on the “other hand” are now reaping a windfall of many fine information age skills. The much protection and care girls receive from infancy onward create lower average stress, ease of nature (less need for activity for stress relief), and lower muscle tension that makes handwriting easier, more neat, and more rewarding. The much kind, positive, stabilizing, verbal and other social interaction increase their mental, emotional, social, verbal, and academic skills along with a feeling of love and support as they use that instilled social knowledge in a school setting with teachers. Since girls were (and are) given love, honor, respect, (no need to be tough) simply for being girls, they have an almost assurance of good treatment in society through adulthood. This protection also allows for much more freedom of expression to both vent, gain further support, and more care. This is why girls mature faster than boys. These differences have been socially created.

  2. Avatar Renee says:

    I think that many females have benefitted from the focus of obtaining their education at higher levels. I think its very important to remember not only those who go to college, but those who do not have the opportunity to do so because they fail to complete their high school experience. I don’t necessarily believe that programs for girls which emphasizes higher education is the impetus for the crisis. Nonetheless, there is a crisis and we all most address the issue and make sure that all are reaching education goals which can lead to higher income levels.

  3. Avatar Beatrice says:

    This is just silly. I find it interesting and hypocritical that this organization is consistently fanning the embers in higher education to increase the representation of young women in the hard sciences- gender (in)equity programs- because girls are underrepresented- yet find no reason to address the same disparity in achievement, college admissions or social sciences for boys. Our department chair is even beginning to flex her muscle to float the Title IX for hard sciences argument.

    One poster earlier touched on a salient point. Funding. We fund and earmark funds specifically for girls much more so than boys.

    As to the lunacy of applying Title IX standards to the hard sciences – that will eventually harm girls because those protections would have to be afforded to boys in the social sciences and perhaps even in admissions.

    Another flaw of the study is that it does not address the environment of the classroom, and socialization of boys in the educational environment. Following the AAUW’s stance to its logical conclusion one must begin to address this as well. The AAUW has asserted in the past, that access to the hard sciences is barred to women because of discrimination and sexism by the males who dominate the field. And given that their are no differences in the capabilities of men and women, then it would seem to follow, that the female dominated teaching field of K-12 must also exist as discriminatory and sexist.

    In the end the argument between achievement gaps and pay is a non-sequitar, and reads more like an excuse so as not to change anything because boys are disposable.

    It has been fortunate to see the majority of feedback to this report has been dismissive because of the AAUW bias- save for the feminist blogs- which gives me hope that most of us do want what is best for boys and girls.

  4. Avatar pclark says:


    Thank you for sharing your experience and your frustrations. While I am not a teacher nor am I an expert on the issue, I would seem that your argument is not entirely in opposition to the findings of the report. You say, “I am the only male teacher in a predominately “disadvantaged” inner city school that graduates 4/10 of its male students versus 8/10 of our female students. Demographically we are primarily African-American and Latino.” The report specifically states, “If a crisis exists, it is a crisis for African American and Hispanic students and students from lower-income families—both girls and boys.” Just today, my sister, a graduate support specialist for a 100% African-American middle school in the inner city, was sharing her frustrations for the prospects of many of her students – all girls. One student, currently in the 80th percentile will statistically be more likely to graduate high school, if at all, in the 50th percentile. I mention this not to say that one experience or the deplorable graduation rates cited above trumps another, but the devastating reality of socioeconomics cuts across all genders.

    All of these numbers are frightening to me as an African-American mother of a son. While my child currently has the “advantage” of a pretty middle-class existence, the school he will enter in about a year is 54% limited English proficiency, predominantly Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander, with 60% receiving free/reduced priced meals. Will these socioeconomic factors impact my child’s education? Yes. How? Only a crystal ball can tell. But my child has the “advantage” of a two-parent home, another socioeconomic factor, to help guide him.

    I’ve read hundreds of comments about the report at, USA Today, Inside Higher Education, on various blogs, etc. While a lot of the comments were obvious attacks on “AAUW – Angry Annoying Ugly Women” (enough said) and while I would not revel in any side being “crushed,” there has been a lot of great discussion. No research is without flaws. What I’m hoping is that rather than just rail against the organization as some have done, teachers and true leaders like you will take the conclusions found in the study as an opportunity for debate and to bring about change.

    God bless you and the work that you do!

  5. Avatar Ken says:


    Actually, when the AAUW originally published “How schools shortchange girls: A study of major findings on girls and education” in 1992, women had long since passed men as a majority of college students, which actually happened in 1978. You make a good point, though, about the selective emphasis that the AAUW uses to determine who really has a problem.

    In a better world, the AAUW would be lending its voice in helping the boys of this country instead of publishing these types of reports which actually often have the net result of further hurting boys because people who don’t know any better may defer to the AAUW’s report, erroneously thinking that is was published by some sort of objective and academic group (shouldn’t university women be academic and objective?) instead of a political action committee.

    To turn around a phrase that I saw on the side of a van at a YWCA a few months ago, “Helping boys does not mean hurting girls.”

    This issue is too important to be politicized like this, and those of us like Raul who are actually at the ground level on this issue see it all too clearly. Sisters, we need your help, not your hate 🙂

  6. Avatar Horace says:

    Raul, The AAUW does indeed serve a valuable purpose: It provides a means for women who are not doing anything particularly useful to achieve “validation” by publishing pseudo-intellectual diatribes that get crushed in the blogs and on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

  7. Avatar raul.rivero says:

    I wonder after reading this sexist drivel, what is the aim of the AAUW? Since they insist on commenting on boys issues perhaps they should offer some solutions? I am the only male teacher in a predominately “disadvantaged” inner city school that graduates 4/10 of its male students versus 8/10 of our female students. Demographically we are primarily African-American and Latino. From the forbidden male viewpoint our school is very anti-boy and anti-male in its curriculum, programs offered and focus. Fortunately, in our school, there are some teachers who recognize this disparity, and are quietly working to address the problem. Sadly, most of the teachers and administrators are not- and it is valid to point out that they are female – they tout irresponsible reports like this to deny gender includes boys and their needs. Gender feminist organizations like this seem bent on maintaining the status quo as if it is healthy for our society and good for the well being of our country. Yet what they advocate and support is an educational gender apartheid. Discounting the numbers, and the social ramifications is not only sexist, it is hurtful to the well being of the nation, and will not disappear if we fail to act. This report reminds us that the AAUW are biased pundits and ideological hacks motivated by a paradigm that is ultimately failing all students, but yes, most of all, boys.

  8. Avatar Ken says:

    This from USA Today:
    Our view on gender and education: Yes, university women, there is a boy problem
    Males at all socioeconomic levels are falling behind in school.
    Looking at the college graduation numbers — where women earn about three-fifths of all degrees — you’d think a higher-education group with the mission of “advancing equity for women and girls” would be celebrating.

    Instead, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) seems intent on trying to debunk something that’s virtually irrefutable: that men are falling behind women at all levels of education, and that this is creating societal problems that need to be addressed.

    In a highly publicized report released Tuesday, the AAUW asserts that:

    * What have become known as the “boy troubles” are a myth.

    In case they’re not a myth, the gap is limited to poor and minority children.

    * Regardless, feminists are not responsible.

    They’ve got the last one right, but the other two are simply nonsense.

    The facts show that gender gaps start to emerge in elementary school and widen in middle school. Over the past 30 years of federal testing, girls’ advantages on verbal tests have widened while the boys’ advantages in math have narrowed. Girls end up graduating from high school at higher rates, earning far better grades and reaping most of the academic honors. This trend continues into college — the key to economic success in today’s economy — where women are earning 62% of associate’s degrees, 57% of bachelor’s and 59% of master’s.

    As for the contention that the gaps are a function of race and income, not gender, that can’t be true when researchers in urban, predominantly black school districts such as Chicago are learning that girls outperform boys from the same families, same neighborhoods and same schools.

    While the problem is particularly acute among low-income, minority males, it’s hardly limited to them. At colleges that draw heavily from white, working-class families, men often make up as little as 35% of the student body.

    As for white boys from wealthier families, studies of high-income K-12 schools show that boys lag behind girls academically and yet enroll in college at about the same rates. Why is that? For one thing, wealthy parents can almost always find a willing college. For another, to maintain a gender balance, many colleges now resort to offering affirmative action admissions to males.

    A typical second-tier private college is stocked with overachieving women and average or underachieving men. By remaining silent about admissions practices while pointing to the equal college-going rates, the AAUW undermines its credibility.

    A dated, fringe accusation that feminists bear responsibility for boys’ troubles appears to be a genesis of the group’s latest report. Yet that charge is so obviously false that it hardly merits rebuttal: Boys are falling behind in parts of the world that never experienced a feminist movement.

    True, plenty of boys are doing fine in American schools, and many are high-achievers. Unfortunately, as a whole too many are lagging, a trend that becomes obvious in the college-going rates.

    The message here is pretty simple: Help the children. A generation ago, those most in need were girls. Today, they are boys.

    The AAUW should relish the successes girls and women have achieved rather than trying to impede attempts to help boys.

  9. Avatar Ken says:

    No serious researcher doubts the role of race and class in achievement, but as poorly as Hispanic and Black girls are doing in this country compared to White and Asian girls, the performance gaps between Black and Hispanic girls and boys are even greater than those between White and Asian girls and boys, so the AAUW’s continued insistence that gender is not a factor is simply not substantiated. Further, according to USDOE stats, there were 2.1 MILLION more women than men enrolled full and part time in US colleges and Universities in 2003. The gap grew to 2.3 million in 2004. The AAUW can tease out the data all it wants, but the fact remains that many more women are attending college and getting degrees of virtually all types than men. I’m waiting for the AAUW to take on the back door affirmative action programs going on at colleges and universities in order to recruit more males to campuses precisely because of the data above. But then we already know that won’t happen, don’t we? Because that might mean that the AAUW might have to acknowledge that just maybe there is a little problem with the boys after all.

  10. Avatar Ken says:


    The largest disparity in high school graduation rates between genders, ironically, is between Hispanic boys and girls (10.5% gap girls over boys) and African American boys and girls (13.4% gap girls over boys) – data supplied from the US Dept. of Education and reported last summer (June 12, 2007) In Education Week. Moreover, even the high school gap among America’s most successful students, Asian (5.6% girls over boys) and White (5.6% girls over boys) students ought to be reason for concern, but the AAUW keeps insisting that this issue is strictly about race and class, never gender, unless of course females are shown to be the disadvanataged group. The NAEP data (readily avaliable from the USDOE) shows the same trends, and if you work in public schools anywhere in this country the numbers are staggering. To be sure race and class are clearly factors in all of this, but to suggest that beyond that boys and girls are having the same educational experiences is to ignore the facts. The AAUW keeps looking for these big headline-grabbing propaganda “reports” instead of addressing the real issues, and here’s why I bother at all. I work with real teachers, the vast majority of whom are women. The women that I know who really work in schools see the issue each and every day, and they also know that they are part of the solution. I’m hopeful enough, because I’ve been taught, mentored, and cared about by many wonderful female university professors, to think that the AAUW is really capable of better than this.

  11. Avatar strosea says:

    Where the Girls Are reaches two basic conclusions, 1) there is no boys’ crisis and 2) if there is a crisis it is among African American and Hispanic students and students from lower-income families- both boys and girls in all cases. Therefore, to suggest, as some of the comments here have, that AAUW is showing disregard for boys is not correct.

    Anyone who reads the complete report will see that we point out where boys and girls on average are doing better or worse over time, and where there are differences if those differences are increasing or decreasing over time. By looking at race/ethnicity and family income level along with gender, we were able to better identify which boys, and which girls for that matter, are struggling on certain widely accepted measures of educational achievement. Quite frankly, identifying which boys are most urgently in need of attention and intervention is necessary and critical given the limited resources available for education and the need to target polices and programs more effectively.

    Arianne points out that there are two sides to this argument. I would argue that there are more than two sides. For a long time, the issue has been oversimplified to a boys versus girls framework that had limited reach and effectiveness. Today, there is a greater acknowledgement that to effectively address disparities between groups of students we need to look at gender in conjunction with race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. AAUW responded to that thinking in writing this report.

    Several people also point to the differences in college enrollment and attainment to argue that our conclusion that there is no boys’ crisis is incorrect. Again, we report and show that since the 1980s women have earned the majority of bachelor’s degrees (see Figure 31). What Figure 31 also shows is that women’s gains have not come at the expense of men. Men are also earning more college degrees than ever before. Additionally, among traditional age students from higher income families, men and women are equally likely to attend college (Figure 35). This is true across race/ethnicity. Where we see larger differences is among dependent students from lower-income families.

    Figure 33 also provides another perspective on college enrollment and attainment. This figure shows that among adults age 25-29, African Americans and Hispanics, both men and women, are much less likely to have earned a bachelor’s degree than their White peers. The differences by race/ethnicity are larger than the differences by gender. These findings along with others detailed in the report support our conclusion that there is no boys’ crisis, but rather that disparities between students by race and family income level deserve our attention. Addressing those disparities would go a long way to helping the boys and girls who are most in need.

  12. Avatar JM says:

    Can you say “conflict of interest”. No way this should be taken seriously. Fortunately, it won’t be.

  13. Avatar Arianne Gomez says:

    Stunningly short sighted, myopic and irresponsible. What saddens me most, aside from the misguided and clear idealogical power play of this report, is this arrogant presumption that the AAUW, an organization for women and girls, consider its scope to include dictating to boys and men that their opinion of gender is more valid than theirs. There are two sides, women’s organizations, like the AAUW, continual disregarding manner of boy’s issues reflects why the AAUW should be dismissed as an objective arbiter when discussing men/boys issues. The demonstrable failure to analyze statistics objectively, listen to what boys and men are saying about their education experience disqualifies this organizations input.

    Politicizing a social problem to make it expedient to promote your own biases interests is not academic at all.

    A sad and mad professor and mom!!!

  14. Avatar Ken says:

    There are other studies that demonstrate that when controlling for factors such as leaving the work force to have and/or raise children, when educational attainment is equal there is no disparity in earning between men and women. Further, that the AAUW could even use this line of logic to draw its conclusions is really a reach. Using the same logic, boys also lead girls in special education referrals, so shouldn’t we conclude that boys are already getting a disproportionate share of help from schools? CConley, please continue to look closely at your little boy and his friends. If you really try to be objective (or if you are unlucky enough to have a son that doesn’t ‘fit’ quite as well as others) my bet is that you may “get it” sooner or later.

    The earnings metric is much too complex, disagreed upon, and hard to inference to what is happening to boys and men for it to be used as a conclusion for anything related to what is happening to ten-year-old boys right now. The AAUW, who has plenty of members who know better, would carry much more credibility if it stopped dressing the political opinions of some of its leaders as science. This is not an either-or issue. Just as what happens to our girls and women is important to us all, so too what happens to our boys and men is important to us all. The AAUW is capable of better, and acknowledging the overwhelming data that supports that boys are doing relatively poorer than girls in most things related to school would in no way mean a retreat from the wonderful academic gains that girls and women have achieved in this country.

  15. Avatar Horace says:

    I see three possibilities: (i) boys are not being disadvantaged in schools and later in life earn more money than girls; (ii) boys are being disadvantaged in schools and later in life earn more money than girls but the income disparity would be even greater than it is today if boys were not being disadvantaged in schools; and (iii) boys are being disadvantaged in schools and later in life earn more money than girls but the income disparity would not be greater than it is today if boys were not being disadvantaged in schools.

    I take it, cconley, that you are satisfied with boys being disadvantaged in schools as long as their income disparity is perpetuated, possibly because you think that the system should get back at your little boy, possibly out of spite over the income disparity that currently exists among people much older than he, as long as he makes lots in money in later life.

  16. Avatar cconley says:

    While you are correct, Horace, in suggesting that higher earnings aren’t the only outcome of education, they are an important one. And since men continue to outearn women in the workplace, I don’t see how anyone can suggest that boys or men are in crisis.

    While men aren’t earning as many degrees as women are, they are earning more degrees than ever before according to the report. And they are apparently earning enough degrees to earn more money than women in the workplace. So where’s the crisis?

    Now I have to go take care of my little boy.

  17. Avatar Horace says:

    The statement on page 9 of the report demonstrates that the authors were more concerned with “refuting” a crisis in education than in looking objectively at the data:

    “Perhaps the most compelling evidence against the existence of a boys’ crisis is that men continue to outearn women in the workplace. . . . After controlling of factors known to affect earnings, regression analyses demonstrate that a portion of these pay aps remains unexplained.”

    Is it possible that education and earnings do not express a delta-1 correlation? In a report that supposedly is aimed at assessing educational results, why look at income as the “proof of the pudding” unless the authors were groping around for some way to dismiss the relevance of the disparity in college attendance rates and other factors that may demonstrate a pervasive bias against young men? Many factors influence income, including life choices — do I become an academician or an investment banker, do I spend time caring for children instead of burning the midnight oil on the job do I interrupt my career to have children, am I an aggressor or a nurturer?

    The point is that the AAUW paper is clothed in apparent “studious” garb, but is little more than a screed aimed at papering over what may well be a serious problem. Therefore, it deserved little more than the dismissive comment I made earlier.

    I do know something about the subject, having spent several years on the board of education of one of our nation’s most highly regarded public school systems. I have seen the pressures to read Toni Morrison instead of Shakespeare, to subject high school students to Alice Walker’s “Color Purple” instead of, e.g., Faulkner or Hemmingway. The feminist-driven movement against the DWEMs in university curricula is a disgrace. Harold Bloom skewers these false prophets and leaves them like, in T.S. Elliot’s words, bugs wriggling on a pin.

    There is a risk, pclark, that your children will be misdiagnosed as learning disabled, or worse, simply because they are too rambunctious for some of their teachers. A greater risk perhaps, particularly in public school, that the teachers will resent the economic prosperity and intellectual power of their students, particularly given the often mediocre abilities of all too many public school teachers and the all-tto-prevalent tendency of school administrators to coddle the incompetent members of their faculties. But the risk that boys are being differentially mistreated is too important to gloss over in a flashy piece of academic hokum like the AAUW study.

  18. Avatar pclark says:

    Horace, your comment seriously leads me to believe that you didn’t even bother to read ANY of the report before launching into anti-feminist profanity. TYPICAL. Why not get the facts first before showing your ignorance?

    As a mother of a young son, I am very concerned about his educational achievement. Will he be one of a growing number of boys marked with ADHD or other learning disability? Will he be given the same opportunities as other students? But as an aunt to several young nieces, I am also concerned that they be given the same opportunities to achieve, throughout life, on an equal footing. Why, as your comment suggests, is the issue “us” vs. “them” (and at so many different levels)? If we continue to think and act in this way, the United States will continue to fall even further behind students globally.

    In an April NY Times op-ed written by Bob Herbert, Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was reported as saying, “In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”

    While U.S. students may be achieving and graduating, we are ALL still falling behind the rest of the world. As the Where the Girls Are report states, the real crisis is not one of gender but of race, ethnicity and income. What can be done about that situation to truly improve the achievement of all students?

  19. Avatar Horace says:

    This piece of trash shows how much of an off-kilter pressure group the AAUW has become. A r** m*******’ paradise.

  20. Avatar Benjamin.L says:

    I was disappointed to see how much of the report’s case depends on selective emphasis and interpretation of data, and simple assertions that a given set of facts do or do not amount to a crisis.

    The report makes a strong case that girls’ gains don’t come at boys’ expense, and that income- and ethnicity-related gaps do amount to a crisis.

    On the question of whether boys’ performance, in and of itself, amounts to a crisis situation, the report can offer no more than hand-waving. It simply asserts that, since boys are doing as well in school as they have in the past, there must not be a crisis. But this ignores the central fact of the transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy.

    With factories closing, everyone needs more education now than they did in the past, and if boys are not improving their performance, that does amount to a crisis, since they can no longer take the manufacturing jobs they once could. It is astounding that one could examine the report’s Figure 31 (“Number of Bachelor’s Degrees Conferred, By Gender”) and not conclude that the male college graduation rate is a problem.

    Furthermore, the discussion of salaries does not even address the problem of unobserved characteristics, nor that of men’s greater interest in unpleasant and dangerous jobs (i.e. cleaning out sewers, working on oil rigs).

    cf. Roy Baumeister “Is there anything good about men?”

    and Becker and Posner on the gender gap

  21. Steffen, our comment policy states, “Our editorial staff will moderate all comments on AAUW Dialog. While we do not censor based on point of view, we will delete comments (or links in comments) that are offensive or off topic.” Your comment just hadn’t been approved yet.

  22. Avatar steffan says:

    I guess comments that you don’t agree with get deleted.

  23. Avatar steffan says:

    I believe AAUW published their report about women being behind at about the same time that women caught up with men in college (1970’s). Now that men are behind (numerically) they want to refute the fact that a problem exists. The numbers do not lie. Look at college enrollments — NOW. Is is only a problem when women are behind ? Is the AAUW a male hate organization ? Does anyone at AAUW know what hypocrisy is ?

  24. Avatar Veronica says:

    OMG, thank you!!!

    First – I’m so blogging this as I’m a policy wonk wanna be.

    Second – This relates so much to my work as a director of a women in science program. More data to refute the “but we need to focus on boys now!” line.

    Third – I’m giving a talk on gender equity in STEM fields on Thursday and I’m already putting the boys’ crisis in there, but now it’s gonna take up even more.

    Again…THANK YOU!!

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