As a recent The Telegraph articles announces that “Britain has a boy problem”, and statistics show men and boys lagging behind, James Mildred says one answer is for the Church to be bolder in speaking God’s truth about marriage, family and equality 


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Whether it is at school, college, university or work, boys and men are having a tough time of it. As a recent Telegraph article explained, “The UK risks sentencing its next generation of men to life’s scrapheap.” These aren’t just alarmist words. It’s backed up with evidence: Boys are being outperformed by girls in education and are working fewer hours as well. Men might still be earning more, but even that is (rightly) changing.

The attainment gap begins at school. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), by the age of three, there is a “significant gender gap in both cognitive and socio-emotional development” between girls and boys. This is a gap that never completely closes, partly due to our education system and the shift towards more coursework-based assessment, which has benefited girls.

This problem is not unique to Britain. According to Richard Reeves, an academic and author of Of Boys and Men: Why the modern male is struggling (Swift Press): “boys now lag behind girls and men lag behind women at almost every level of education. This is true in nearly every rich economy.”

I think therefore I am

The attainment gap is especially prominent for white, working class boys. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When a white working class boy is expected to do badly, for example, no one is surprised when he does.

As one mum told The Times: “It’s like the whole agenda is to drive girls and women forward, while ignoring boys. Girls are told they’re smarter, both genders believe it, and SATS results reinforce it.”

Marriage and families matter enormously when it comes to life chances

This is having consequences for wider British society. As The Telegraph put it: “Economic growth is stalling, productivity is flatlining and public finances are creaking under the strain of growing benefits bills.” The article goes on to suggest that one of the reasons for this is economic underachievement among boys and men.

You might think this is a new problem. But consider this quote: “I’m not bothered by girls doing better but it is slagging boys down when they need support that I don’t like. There are no rules like there were for our parents. They knew what was what. We just make it up as we go along…It’s a new world. And it’s a scary place to be.”

Dan made those comments in 1999. So this is not a new problem. It is one that has quietly got worse and worse.

A Christian response

What should a Christian response look like to all this?

God creates boys and girls in his image. And they are equal. Therefore, the godly goal has to be equality of opportunity. Even if this is not attainable in an imperfect world, it is something we should strive towards.

One really obvious idea is to recruit more men into teaching. This would surely help ensure better role models were present in our schools to encourage and inspire boys.

But I also think it is important that we don’t fall into the trap of assuming education reform alone will solve this problem, because that will not be enough. Education has a vital role to play, but God’s word would have us think deeper.

The attainment gap is especially poor for white, working class boys. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

And this is where Christians have to be courageous and prophetic. We need to stop tiptoe-ing around the bottom line: marriage and families matter enormously when it comes to life chances yet family breakdown in the UK is at epidemic levels, costing in the region of £51bn a year. That, by the way, is more than the department of transport’s annual budget!

There is no doubt that family breakdown is a contributing cause to the poor performance of boys at school and beyond. God’s plan - for the common good of society - is that boys might grow up with both a dad and a mum. Research from the Fatherhood Institute found that dads who read to their children every day can help to close early attainment gaps. Of course this is not always possible, and please do not think for a moment that I am out to criticise single mothers – I’m not.

But we have to be able to say what is ideal for children. We have to be able to say, clearly and honestly, from God’s word: this is what we aspire to, as the very best for boys (and girls, for that matter!)

Act now

For too long, politicians have simply been unwilling to engage properly in addressing this issue. We’ve had divorce law reform making divorce far easier, but we have not had any serious policy initiatives designed to help families stay together.

This is not only short-sighted, it is negligent as well.

Of course, the Church does not need to wait for new policies to act. And many Christians around the country are involved. Some volunteer as foster parents or are going through the adoption process.

If we want boys to thrive, the Church needs to step into the gap. Without positive male role models, more and more boys will keep looking to the likes of Andrew Tate.

And politicians need to get over their squeamishness. God’s word gives us a beautiful blueprint to follow. Let’s enact positive policies to help families stay together. That, coupled with educational reform, might just help us start to solve Britain’s boy problem.

If I’m honest, this cannot come a moment too soon.