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Are Boys the Weaker Sex? Why Girls do Better in the Real World


Mulrine, A. (2001, July 30). Are Boys the Weaker Sex? Why Girls do Better in the Real World. US News & World Report.

Not until 1996 did analyses about boys become widespread public reading. That was when Michael Gurian wrote The Wonder of Boys, followed a couple of years later by William Pollack’s Real Boys. A year later (1999) came Dan Kindlon’s and Michael Thompson’s Raising Cain, James Garbarino’s Lost Boys, and Eli Newberger’s The Men They Will Become. (Jawanza Kunjufu had been writing about black boys years before and Olga Silverstein and Beth Rashbum wrote The Courage to Raise Good Men for mothers in 1994.)

Just what is this crisis among boys in the U.S.? Consider the following statistics:

  • 70% of Ds and Fs are given to boys.
  • Two-thirds of young students labeled “learning disabled” are boys.
  • Boys account for 9 out of 10 alcohol and drug violations.
  • Boys are alleged to have committed 4 out of 5 juvenile crimes.
  • Boys make up 80% of high school drop-outs—and attention deficit disorder diagnoses.

Boys are increasingly less likely to go on to college. “By 2007, universities are projected to enroll 9.2 million women to 6.9 million men.” While girls have narrowed the gap in math and science skills, “the average 11th-grade boy writes with the proficiency of the average eighth-grade girl.”


A recent study found girls ahead of boys in almost every measure of well-being: Girls feel closer to their families, have higher aspirations, and even boast better assertiveness skills. (p. 42)

More boys than girls are conceived (it is speculated that the sperm carrying the male Y chromosome may swim faster), but after that, the male is more vulnerable. Male fetuses are more at risk in the womb, and baby boys are six weeks developmentally behind girls at birth. Although newborn males have been observed to be more “emotionally demonstrative” than newborn girls, parents tend to encourage female emotion while stifling the expression of emotions in boys.

…parents react differently to upset daughters and sons. ‘The actions can be as subtle as asking a girl what’s wrong when she’s crying but patting a boy on the head and saying, “You’re OK; now get back out there.’ ” (Michael Thompson) The result can be emotional isolation that starts in boyhood and plagues men in middle age…(Mulrine, p. 42)

When parents in workshops have been asked, “What’s the only emotion that is OK for boys to have?” the answer in unison tends to be “anger.” Boys think differently than girls. Although the brain size of males is on average larger (and size tends to correlate with IQ), women’s IQs are as high as males. Men have more white matter (that controls gross body motion) while women have more gray matter (that processes information). The brain bundle that connects the two sides of the brain is also thicker in women.


“We associate girls with sharing secrets, the emotional intimacy, and boys with sports and activity-oriented friendships,” says Niobe Way, professor of psychology at NYU. “But what’s interesting is that these very tough boys talk about wanting friends to share their secrets with, to confide in.” (Mulrine, p. 44)

Boys may take more time to shift gears, to process questions, to respond. Girls are generally comfortable talking to a counselor while sitting in a play-room. Boys will talk more openly while in action. Principal Debbie Murphy of St. Joseph, Missouri’s Thomas Edison Elementary) has found that discipline for boys needs to be different than for girls.


‘I will not make the children talk when they’re angry, for starters. Boys, in particular, just have trouble verbalizing when they’re upset.’ Once they’ve cooled down, Murphy takes them for a stroll. ‘I find boys have an easier time talking if they’re walking—it seems to tap into something in their brains.’ (Mulrine, p. 46)

Some experts are suggesting that boys be delayed in entering kindergarten in order to catch up. Concern is also expressed about the number of boys being prescribed Ritalin. Both boys and girls may profit from same-sex classes at some point in their development. School and life generally must be made a little more boy-friendly, and parents need to take time to encourage expression of feelings in their sons.


  1. What was most alarming or impressed you most in this article?
  2. Why do you think it has taken so long to realize that the difference between boys and girls is both innate and cultural? How do you see these differences?
  3. What mistakes have you made or seen made in dealing with boys?
  4. How can we make life safer for boys and encourage their growth and maturity?
  5. How do boys need to be cautioned and disciplined?
  6. Do you think new information about the way society damages boys and girls will help the next generation?


  1. You understand a great deal about a society when you see how it cares for its young.
  2. All that helps boys grow into full manhood is good; all that hinders such growth is bad.
  3. What we feed children, what we encourage or allow them to see and play, how we teach and discipline them, are important indicators of our future.
  4. The turn of the century has been a time for learning how the media damages girls and how families and early schooling miss much in getting boys started on the road to real manhood.
Dean Borgman cCYS