Are there too many men in Britain? One of the less-discussed patterns of the first tranche of 2021 census data is a pronounced imbalance between the sexes in younger age groups. Put simply, every year there are more baby boys than girls born in England and Wales
Now, this isn’t a new phenomenon – in fact it is a pattern that has repeated itself for 180 years. A ratio of roughly 1.05 male births for every one female birth is widely seen as both natural and normal.
The explanation for that is fascinating in itself. As this BBC report explains, from an evolutionary point of view it makes sense for more males to be born because, to be blunt, men are more likely to die early than their female peers. A combination of accidents, risk-taking, suicide and health problems all combine to make male life expectancy lower than female – although the gap is much wider in some countries than others.
What’s interesting is the census shows that for the population aged 15-24 years, there are significantly more males than females – 3,550,300 to 3,446,400 (a difference of 103,900 and a ratio of 1.03 males per one female). Deep into teenage years and early-stage adulthood, there are more males than females in modern-day Britain.
That matters because in a highly competitive society, men have started to fall behind.
The problem is particularly pronounced in schools. When it comes to average ‘Attainment 8’ scores (pupils’ results across eight GCSE-level qualifications and scored out of 90), girls average 53.9 and boys just 48.1. In every ethnic group, girls had a higher average score than boys. The largest gender gap was among pupils of Black Caribbean origin, with girls outperforming boys by 7.6 points (47.8 and 40.2 respectively). Girls have also recently overtaken boys in both GCSE and A-Level mathematics.
In terms of the labour market, the Financial Times’ Sarah O’Connor argues that young men are ‘slipping quietly through the economy’s cracks’ – with a positive employment trend for young women masking a rising proportion of inactive young men. Indeed, the proportion of young men who are inactive (neither working nor looking for work) has climbed steadily from 5% in 2000 to 9% last year – that’s an awful lot of men not getting on with their lives.
Not only will Britain’s younger males be ‘competing’ for a smaller pool of women in their age group – they are now more likely to be less educated than the opposite sex, and struggling to find the kind of secure employment that would make them more ‘marketable’ in a romantic sense.
Given that young men are often hyper-competitive, scoring low on the key markers of social status – education, salary and, ultimately ‘romantic advancement’ – is a recipe for the kind of frustration and dissatisfaction that breeds extreme behaviour.
Clara Neupert-Wentz, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University, has written that sex-ratio imbalances can have ‘grim consequences for societies’. This is about far more than some sob story about young men not being able to find the woman of their dreams, as Neupert-Wentz notes:
While frustrations from being unable to find a partner may seem familiar to many people, an enduring and large shift in the ratio between males and females can become much more than an individual problem. In general, young men are often drawn to risky behavior (which also explains their higher mortality). But coupled with frustrations stemming from an overly male society, their actions become a risk factor for the entire country.
Britain is in the process of creating a surplus of frustrated young men with limited economic and social prospects. This runs the risk of fostering a society which is less stable and secure – including for those young women making significant and hugely welcome strides in education and employment.
What are the policy implications then, given these socio-economic and socio-cultural developments?
Nonetheless, the disturbing truth is that any growth in resentful young males with fairly low economic and romantic prospects is fertile ground for inceldom and misogynistic radicalisation. That means that combating gender-based violence and the impact of aggressively misogynistic ideologies should be better prioritised by Britain’s law-and-order and counter-terrorism communities.
Dealing with the symptoms is one thing, but we also need to urgently tackle the root causes of young boys’ underachievement and the reasons for economic inactivity among younger men – understanding how this contributes towards forms of social isolation that digital anti-female extremist subcultures tend to thrive on. It also means a laser-like focus on academic under-achievement, especially among white, working class boys – the most ‘left behind’ cohort in the country.
Above all, as with so many of our social and economic problems, we need to tackle the rise of inactive, frustrated young men as quickly as possible – not wait for problems to pile up then lament the fact we didn’t act sooner.
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