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The Dad Deficit: Why We Need to Rethink Fatherhood and Support Struggling Men

Since International Men’s Day came and went this year without much recognition or fanfare. (Honestly I didn’t even know there was a day marking the predicament men find themselves in). To highlight that oversight here are two resources that I found broadens the conversation about masculinity - as appose to Peterson-Tate-like hellish polarization of it.

Richard Reeves, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, sheds light on the often-overlooked issue of male inequality in modern society. While the movement for gender equality has predominantly focused on empowering women, it's imperative to also consider the struggles of men, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is not to detract from women's rights, but to promote a more balanced conversation on gender. There are systemic problems impacting men that necessitate urgent discussion and policy intervention for a just society.

The Widening Education Gap

Recent decades have seen a notable shift in educational achievement, with girls consistently outperforming boys. Girls generally receive higher grades and are more likely to excel in reading and writing, engage more in class, and display better study habits. They also have a lower high school dropout rate and are more likely to earn college degrees. Since the 1990s, women have earned more bachelor's degrees annually in the U.S., with projections suggesting an expanding gap. Various factors contribute to this disparity, including differences in brain development, cultural norms, and possibly classroom environments more conducive to female students.

Work and Income Disparities

Men's economic prospects have been declining, particularly in sectors like manufacturing and construction, which are prone to economic downturns. Despite the narrowing gender wage gap, women's median earnings still lag behind men's. Societal pressures often push women to career breaks for child-rearing, hampering their earning potential. This trend points to the declining financial stability of men, impacting their mental health and overall wellbeing.

Health and Longevity Challenges

Men face a range of health issues at higher rates than women, including shorter life expectancy, higher cardiovascular mortality, and greater incidence of major cancers. Behavioral and social norms around masculinity often prevent men from seeking timely healthcare. Alarmingly high male suicide rates further underscore the mental health crisis among men, intensified by cultural stigmas against emotional expression and insufficient support systems.

Mental Health

The data on mental health and substance abuse paints a troubling picture for men. Studies consistently show higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse issues among men compared to women. This is contrary to outdated stereotypes of men being less susceptible to mental health challenges.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), adult men have much higher suicide rates than women across all age groups. For example, the male-to-female suicide death rate ratio is 3.5 among those aged 15-24 years. Researchers also found men are more prone to risky behaviors like drug addiction and alcohol abuse as coping mechanisms. The reasons behind this are complex - traditional norms of masculinity, lack of emotional support systems for men, under-diagnosis of disorders like depression in men, and barriers to accessing mental healthcare all likely play a role.

The mental health crisis facing men warrants serious attention. Targeted public health campaigns, alternative therapy options catered to men, and destigmatizing conversations around masculinity and emotions are all crucial. Tackling issues like unemployment, poverty, and lack of education that disproportionately affect men can also alleviate mental health problems stemming from these structural factors. With greater awareness, resources, and openness around mental health, we can develop more adaptive coping strategies for men struggling with psychological distress.

Reimagining Fatherhood

The fatherhood role is undergoing rapid change in modern society. Research shows children with involved, loving fathers tend to have better educational, behavioral, and mental health outcomes. However, high rates of father absence remain problematic, especially in low-income and minority communities. Reeves stresses the need to tackle the "dad deficit" by promoting active fatherhood and policies that support it. Paternity leave, flexible work arrangements, and family-friendly work cultures can enable fathers to be more engaged. But we must also address systemic employment barriers facing men, including lack of education, criminal records, and chronic unemployment, which frequently prevent them from supporting families.

Beyond policy, cultural mindsets about fatherhood require challenging. Reeves argues for fully reimagining masculine roles and norms around parenting. Schools, media, and community programs should depict fathers as nurturers too, not just breadwinners or disciplinarians. Fatherhood education and support groups can provide networking and role modeling. Ultimately, children need loving, involved fathers. Supporting this necessity through systemic changes and societal rethinking upholds children's rights and improves family well-being. Tackling male inequality issues can create opportunities for men to thrive in the father role.

Reimagining Masculinity

Traditional notions of masculinity often box men into rigid gender roles that can be psychologically and emotionally limiting. The prevailing strong, stoic male stereotype teaches boys and men to suppress vulnerable emotions like sadness, insecurity or fear. But embracing a wider range of human emotions and dispelling outdated gender norms are key to promoting better mental health and emotional wellbeing in men. We need more diverse, multi-dimensional male role models in media and culture that allow boys and men to see a broader representation of masculinity. Moving beyond the alpha male trope of physical strength and aggression, and validating traits like nurturance, compassion and emotional intelligence in men, can have far-reaching benefits. It enables fuller self-expression, deeper connections, and supports mental health. Rethinking masculinity as more than just toughness, dominance and sexual prowess is an important step.

Alternative role models like Mister Rogers demonstrate a healthy version of masculinity that centers empathy, vulnerability and self-acceptance. We should highlight the value of men as involved fathers, caregivers, healers, and connectors, expanding the possibilities of male identity beyond restrictive stereotypes. Freeing masculinity from outdated constraints has the power to transform social dynamics and interpersonal relationships in positive ways.

Addressing male inequality requires a focus on policies like paid paternity leave and targeted men’s health initiatives. These measures could encourage more involved fatherhood and address the health disparities affecting men. The intersection of male inequality with race, class, and family background necessitates holistic solutions across various sectors, including education, healthcare, employment, and criminal justice.


Recognizing and addressing the challenges facing men today is crucial. This includes re-evaluating educational methods, improving men's economic opportunities, ensuring accessible healthcare, redefining masculinity, and supporting involved fatherhood. A multifaceted approach is needed, combining grassroots efforts and national policies to support families and redefine societal norms. This commitment to equity is essential for building a society where everyone, regardless of gender, can thrive.


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