Brookings Institution’s Richard Reeves discusses his new book featuring controversial ideas on modern masculinity


Valerie Chu/The Daily Northwestern

Author and Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard Reeves discussed his new book, “Of Boys and Men,” with Institute for Policy Research Director Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach during a Thursday event.

Casey He, Reporter

Brookings Institution senior fellow and author Richard Reeves spoke about his new book, “Of Boys and Men,” to Northwestern students, faculty and alumni at a Thursday event hosted by the Institute for Policy Research.

In “Of Boys and Men,” Reeves identifies three areas in which he believes boys and men are struggling today: in school, at work and within their families. He then offers policy proposals to address his concerns. 

The moderator, IPR Director and SESP Prof. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, began the discussion by asking Reeves why he decided to write a book that could stir controversy.

Reeves said the book has a significant autobiographical component. As a father to three sons, he said he saw them struggle while growing up and drew on those experiences when writing the book.

He wants to create a forum to discuss gender equality for men even if people disagree with his ideas, he said. One example Reeves cited was the current education system, which he argued favors women and girls.

“In 1972, when Title IX was passed, the percentage point gap in four-year degree attainment (between men and women) was 13%,” Reeves said. “Today, that number is 15% but the other way around. So we actually have a wider gender inequality today in higher education.”

According to a Center for American Progress analysis of 2016 College Scorecard data for federal financial aid recipients, women’s earnings 10 years after they first enroll in college are lower than those of men six years after enrolling.

The reason for the alleged academic disparities is the structure of the K-12 system, Reeves said, because he believes boys and girls develop in maturity at different paces.

Reeves said men are also suffering in the family sphere because of current labor market conditions and family policies.

“We’ve been promised family-friendly employment for as long as I’ve been working,” Reeves said. “What we’ve actually very often been pushed towards is (a) work-friendly family.”

Reeves said the modern economy renders the post-World War II concept of marriage obsolete because women are no longer as financially dependent on men, but men remain emotionally dependent on their wives and families. He argued there have been no changes to the social conception of a father as the “breadwinner,” or employment benefits to encourage men to contribute to child care and create relationships with their children.

According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, moms that work from home all or most of the time are twice as likely as work-from-home dads to say they have “a lot” of child care responsibilities.

Reeves acknowledged the “political sensitivities” of his writing but said this prompted him to write the book.

“The left turn their backs to the problems facing boys and men,” Reeves said. “On the right, the response is to turn back the clock on women’s rights.”

Because policymakers from neither side are willing to engage in solving these issues, Reeves said an opportunity opened for people like former President Donald Trump, whose base skews disproportionately male, to exploit and exacerbate the gender divide.

He discussed several policies from his book that he believes will address issues facing boys and men today, including a suggestion to “redshirt” all boys, or delay their entrance into elementary school by one year.

Schanzenbach said she disagreed with the proposed solution because she thinks it unfairly burdens boys. 

“I feel like you throw your hands up and say there’s nothing we can do about schools,” she said, “so let’s force all the boys to lose a year in the labor market.” 

Reeves said he is open to alternative policies, but that he wants a system where boys start school at a more developmentally appropriate age.

Reeves also responded to several questions from the audience. Asked whether he thinks educational policies need to be gender-specific to help boys, he said he supports some gender-specific policies, like scholarships for male students and redshirting boys. 

Additionally, he said he supports sex-aware policies, which intentionally benefit male students at a disproportionate rate but don’t exclusively apply to them. He named an increase in technical schools as an example, citing research concluding that the schools disproportionately benefit males.

Weinberg senior Will Secker, who attended the event, said he has followed Reeves’ economics research and read his book.

“The thing I appreciate the most is recognizing that issues (facing men today) are not a zero-sum game,” Secker said. “Trying to fix that does not have to come at the cost of the progress that women have made.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @caseeey_he

Related Stories:

Women sports professionals discuss challenges, triumphs in Title IX panel

Obama speechwriter and alum Cody Keenan discusses new book during Reunion Weekend

Clint Smith discusses racial reckoning, slavery at One Book One Northwestern keynote