German men fall behind women in key benchmarks | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 06.03.2010
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German men fall behind women in key benchmarks

They are more likely to smoke, drop out of school, and die younger: German men are being surpassed by women in terms of health and education.

A boy writes on the chalk board in a classroom

Boys may be at a disadvantage in school, say experts

German men have lost ground in comparison to women in several important areas like health and education, according to studies from recent years including the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the KiGGS Study of Youth Health in Germany.

German men face a greater risk of heart disease, have a life expectancy five years lower, and commit suicide at a rate nearly three times that of women.

Young men may also struggle more than women in the German education system. Well over the majority of dropouts in Germany are young men, and girls now earn nearly 60 percent of the high school diplomas, or Abitur, conferred in the country. The Abitur is the highest degree available in German schools and allows students to begin a university education.

Men's unmet needs

A doctor and male patient are seated in the doctor's office

Men are often reluctant to get help for their problems, says Matthias Franz

These facts are unsurprising to teacher Ingrid Sumpter, who currently works in an all-boys German high school. "I think that lesson plans elsewhere and even at our school are often geared more toward girls than boys - both in terms of their content and how they're presented," Sumpter told Deutsche Welle.

Sumpter believes that boys need more variety, particularly more exercise and movement, during their time in class in order to remain focused. "Unfortunately," she said, "the structure of the school day often doesn't accommodate their needs well enough."

Psychotherapist and professor Matthias Franz echoed Sumpter's concerns at a major conference last week in Dusseldorf which he helped organize to address the challenges facing men in Germany today.

Part of the problem is that men are less willing to seek the help of doctors or psychologists, according to Franz. "We also lack political initiatives that support boys and men while taking into account and accepting their masculinity," he added.

Changing the rules in school

The lack of support for the problems boys face in German schools is also an issue highlighted by Klaus Hurrelmann, a leading German sociologist.

"We have clearly been successful in encouraging young women in school - who were systematically disadvantaged for a long time - but we now need to make similar efforts on behalf of boys," said Hurrelmann.

German sociologist Klaus Hurrelmann

Young people in Germany are a central point of Hurrelmann's research

The sociologist suggested several reforms for German school systems to address the difference in male and female achievement, including a move to make the classroom's social rules and expectations more transparent. In a system where the vast majority of caregivers and teachers for young people are women, Hurrelmann stressed that boys struggle more than girls to understand and play by the rules.

The ability of boys and girls respectively to internalize the rules of the educational system may help explain the difference in dropout and Abitur completion rates between the two sexes.

The impact of feminism

The negative trends in education and health for men accompany broader developments in society's attitude toward gender, according to Swiss sociologist Walter Hollstein. Part of his research traces the image of men presented by prominent feminist authors.

"Many feminist intellectuals characterized men in deeply negative ways. This picture of men passed into the popular media and finally into the population's attitudes at large - including among men," claimed Hollstein.

Both Hollstein and Hurrelmann agree that an important step in addressing the problems men face today lies in changing the face of early education. He believes men should assume more responsibility for children as they begin school in order to serve as role models for boys at that critical stage of development.

Author: Greg Wiser

Editor: Kate Bowen

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