American boys are “in crisis.” We’ve been told it for years. We fear their downward creep extends to men. It’s a cultural crisis, we believe, that demands a society-wide response.

But what if it just isn’t true?

Quietly, without anywhere near the fanfare that has greeted the claim that boys have become the weaker, worse-off sex, serious researchers have been arguing for years that boys — a lot of boys, at least — are doing just fine. That — so long as they’re white and from educated families, at least — they’re not dropping behind girls. That, when push comes to shove, they still outperform and out-earn their female counterparts once they enter the labor market. That the real issue — the real “crisis” in America is one of class (income and education level), not gender.

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Now comes a major new report that ought to get some noisy attention. Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, sociologists at Columbia and Ohio State universities, spent 10 years digging through all the data on boys’ and girls’ academic achievement, trying to figure out what’s true and what’s false in the boys crisis story. Drawing together all the best research, they found that, indeed, girls now take more advanced college preparatory classes than boys, and earn higher grades in those classes. They go on to earn more bachelor’s and master’s degrees than men.

Yet they also found that the academic discrepancy isn’t new. Surprisingly enough, girls have been outperforming boys in school for a century — so much so, Buchmann told me, that when the first U.S. colleges and universities began admitting young women, and quickly saw that they were winning the lion’s share of academic honors, some actually reversed their co-educational policies. What has changed, they say, isn’t the relative status of boys (a devaluing of maleness in the classroom), or a feminization of education (that much-cursed need to shut up and sit still), or a dearth of men in the teaching profession (boys, it turns out, do equally well with female and male teachers).  Instead, they say, there has come to be a real discrepancy in boys’ and girls’ attitudes and effort — backed up by the messages that boys and girls are getting about academic achievement at home.

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