Are Our Future Fathers Falling Behind?

Across Canada and in most of the developed world, studies show boys and young men are increasingly falling behind their female peers in literacy levels and educational attainment rates. This Father’s Day gives us time to pause and think about the ramifications of these troubling statistics and ask: what do they mean for the well-being of our future fathers-to-be and their families?

In 2012, Ontario provincial-wide testing indicated that 9% more females than males are at or above the grade 3 provincial standard in terms of reading levels and 14% more are at or above the provincial standard in writing levels. Females are also 8% more likely than males to pass the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test on their first attempt. The 2009 Programme for International Student Attainments’ (PISA) results showed Ontario’s 15 year-old females outperformed their male counterparts in reading by an average of 36 points. To put this number into perspective: this difference means that an average boy is generally over a year behind his female peers in reading scores.

In fact, in every demographic group women are significantly more likely to complete high school and earn a college or university degree, while young men are increasingly likely to become part of an “at risk” group known as NEETS (Not in Employment, Education or Training). It’s clear that while certain challenges persist, over the past few decades women have made remarkable educational progress. Young men, however, are increasingly falling behind.

Some economists and educators believe these troubling statistics mean there are significant social and economic challenges on the horizon as these young men exit the educational system and move into the labour market.

“These young men are lost, often demoralized and unable to find a way out,” says Lesley Brown, Executive Director of the non-profit organization, Essential Skills Ontario. “It’s something we should all be concerned with - lower levels of education and an inability to find secure employment can result in long-term scars that disrupt future careers and families.”

These scars are also often associated with significant social and economic costs for society as a whole.

“I think the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not,” said Michael Greenstone, an M.I.T. economics professor, “and it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation” (New York Times, March 20, 2013).

As one’s educational levels become a central determinant of their social and economic success, some are concerned that many young men are destined to diminished employment opportunities, lower wages, a higher probability of needing income support and poorer socio-economic outcomes for their families.

While this issue has been more thoroughly investigated in other jurisdictions, in Ontario much more work needs to be done in terms of research and strategic responses that can better meet the needs of our future fathers and, in turn, our families and communities.

Later this summer, Essential Skills Ontario will be issuing its final Becoming State of the Art research brief which will examine in detail the challenges related to male educational attainment, future social costs and some potential training approaches that may have promise for young men who are out-of-school.

For more information please contact:

Allison Mullin, Manager of Communications and Marketing
Essential Skills Ontario
(416) 963-5787 Ext. 28

News Date: 
Friday, June 14, 2013