If we believe in true equality, we must help boys
IT’S BARELY mid-January but already we have a contender for the “Least Politically Correct Study Of 2019 Award” – a powerful research paper that has completely flipped the telescope on gender inequality.
Called “A simplified approach to measuring national gender inequality” it dared ask the forbidden question: might it be men and boys who are at the bottom? And, sensationally, it has concluded that in 68 per cent of countries, that is precisely the case.
The study arrived at such a contra-narrative conclusion by devising a new – and more egalitarian – way of measuring equality than is the accepted norm. Called the Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI), the paper analysed three “primary factors” common to all men and women: educational opportunities, healthy life expectancy and overall life satisfaction.
Written by Gijsbert Stoet, of the University of Essex (who has 10 years’ expertise in the field of gendered differences in psychology), and the University of Missouri’s David C Geary, it has sparked a global debate that’s raged for the past week.
That’s because Stoet’s BIGI scores for 134 nations (6.8 billion people) concluded that men are, on average, more disadvantaged in 91 countries, compared with just 43 for women.
Stoet measured primary issues that affect everybody, as opposed to secondary issues which affect only a small number, such as disproportionately high male suicide rates or jail inmates (men make up 75 per cent of suicides and 95 per cent of prisoners), or how many women MPs or CEOs there are (32 per cent of British MPs are female and there are only six female bosses in the FTSE 100).
The good news is that the world’s most developed nations come closest to achieving equality (women slightly in front) and the bad news is that in the least developed countries, women nearly always fall behind men – largely because they have fewer opportunities to get a good education.
The brilliant news is, Britain comes second in the world for overall gender equality, with women slightly ahead. Men are ahead of women in only one country in the top 20 – Israel. Bahrain was top and Chad bottom.
Stoet included inequalities faced by males by ditching the commonly used Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), the standard to measure inequality since 2006.
The GGGI focuses on areas where women are known to be behind, such as economic participation, earnings and political empowerment. Stoet believes its methodology is skewed towards boosting inequalities suffered by women and girls, downplaying those endured by men and boys.
There has been a backlash to Stoet’s work but he is resolute, telling me: “This shouldn’t be a gender war. It’s simply admitting that boys and girls have different problems and need different support. In Africa, we should be helping girls get a better education. In the UK, we should be helping boys get the same. Both genders deserve our full attention.”
That’s hard to disagree with, if you believe in true equality for society’s neediest, irrespective of gender, as I do. In November 2016 I co-founded the Men & Boys Coalition in Parliament (Stoet is a member) to shine a light on the areas the study dared highlight.
But what is driving these inequalities and what can we do to address them?
Firstly, men typically die younger, as they are more likely to abuse alcohol, smoke, go to war, have dangerous jobs or die in accidents.
Much of this is preventable through awareness yet while Britain has a women’s health strategy, there is none for men. Perhaps the UK should emulate Ireland and Australia, which have pioneering men’s health policies.
But the greatest need is helping boys in education. Currently, for every socio-economic and ethnic background, British boys are behind.
At primary school, 68 per cent of girls reach Key stage 2 SATs compared to 60 per cent of boys. At GCSE last year 17.1 per cent of boys in England attained an A or 7 and above, compared with 23.4 per cent of girls, and that gap persists at A-level.
There are now 65,000 more women in British universities than men and that gender gap is widening. Girls born today are 75 per cent more likely to attend university than boys.
At the bottom of the stack are white working-class boys. In fact those who speak English as a second language – both girls and boys – outperform white workingclass boys.
As Conservative chairman of the education select committee Robert Halfon told the Men & Boys Coalition conference in November: “The plight of white disadvantaged boys is a stain on all our consciences.”
Today’s boys start at the bottom and never catch up. Thirty years ago I was the first lad in my family to get to university. Would I make it today? Boys like me are now least likely to go to university. It moves me to tears when I ponder how many working-class boys will never fulfil their potential. As Stoet puts it: “The real scandal about boys failing in education is that it isn’t a scandal.”
In late 2017, I co-wrote Harry’s Masculinity Report, the UK’s biggest study into men’s wellbeing. It proved that the biggest indicator of wellbeing is a fulfilling job.
To help men achieve that, we must give boys the education they deserve. Post-Brexit, we desperately need cross-party action on boys’ education, and the Men & Boys Coalition is demanding that.
BOYS at the bottom of education’s stack, directionless and often fatherless, are the most likely to be groomed into gangs, peddle drugs and drive knife and gun crime. They are the most likely to kill or be killed. As well as fighting gangs with tough policing and community action, why don’t we offer hope (and an escape) via targeted, boy-specific education?
Politically homeless, undereducated, underemployed, jobless, jailed or a likely victim of violent crime, these are an abandoned generation, left to scrap it out, sometimes literally to the death.
The burning question remains: is anybody in our corridors of power prepared to put political correctness to one side, put their principles first and step up to help rescue them?
‘Today’s boys start at the bottom in education and never catch up’
HARD WORK: Getting some young lads to reach their full potential is far from easy these days