Opinion | ‘It’s Become Increasingly Hard for Them to Feel Good About Themselves’


Is there a whole class of men who no longer fit into the social order?

A decade ago, Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan, economists at the University of Chicago and the National University of Singapore, concluded in their paper “The Trouble With Boys: Social Influences and the Gender Gap in Disruptive Behavior”:

Family structure is an important correlate of boys’ behavioral deficit. Boys that are raised outside of a traditional family (with two biological parents present) fare especially poorly. For example, the gender gap in externalizing problems when the children are in fifth grade is nearly twice as large for children raised by single mothers compared to children raised in traditional families. By eighth grade, the gender gap in school suspension is close to 25 percentage points among children raised by single mothers, while only 10 percentage points among children in intact families. Boys raised by teenage mothers also appear to be much more likely to act out.

Bertrand and Pan focus on the crucial role of noncognitive skills, on how “factors such as study habits, industriousness and perseverance matter as much as cognitive skills in explaining occupational achievement.” Noncognitive skills, they write, “are not fixed but are in fact quite malleable, and can be shaped by early intervention programs.”

The effects on boys of being raised in a single-parent household are particularly acute in the development of noncognitive skills, according to Bertrand and Pan:

Most striking are our findings regarding gender differences in the noncognitive returns to parental inputs. Across all family structures, we observe that boys’ likelihood to act out is sharply reduced when faced with larger and better parental inputs. For girls, the relationship between parental inputs and behavioral outcomes appear to be much weaker. As these parental inputs are typically higher and of better quality in intact families, this largely contributes to why boys with single mothers are so much more disruptive and eventually face school suspension.

There are a number of research projects that illuminate the ongoing controversy on the subject of men and their role in contemporary America.

First, an excerpt from a 2016 paper by David Autor, an economist at M.I.T., and four colleagues:

In the United States in 2016, the female high school graduation rate exceeded the male rate by five percentage points, and the female college graduation rate exceeded the male rate by seven percentage points. What explains these gender gaps in educational attainment? Recent evidence indicates that boys and girls are differently affected by the quantity and quality of inputs received in childhood.

Second, part of a 2015 paper by Francesca Gino, Caroline Ashley Wilmuth and Alison Wood Brooks, who were all at the Harvard Business School at the time of writing:

We find that, compared to men, women have a higher number of life goals, place less importance on power-related goals, associate more negative outcomes (e.g., time constraints and trade-offs) with high-power positions, perceive power as less desirable, and are less likely to take advantage of opportunities for professional advancement.

Third, a passage from an article by Colleen Flaherty, a reporter at Inside Higher Ed:

The study suggests that men are overrepresented in elite Ph.D. programs, especially in those fields heavy on math skills, making for segregation by discipline and prestige.

And fourth, a quote from a 2013 paper, “Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education,” by Autor and Melanie Wasserman, an economist at U.C.L.A.:

Although a significant minority of males continues to reach the highest echelons of achievement in education and labor markets, the median male is moving in the opposite direction. Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition; employment rates; occupational stature; and real wage levels.

I sent the four references above to Arlie Hochschild, a professor of sociology at Berkeley and the author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” for her views. She emailed back:

Since the 1970s offshoring and automation have hit blue collar men especially hard. Oil, coal — automating, manufacturing, off-shorting, and truck-driving about to go down. Non-B.A. males are in an especially vulnerable place. I saw it in Louisiana, and again where I’m interviewing in Appalachia. It’s become increasingly hard for them to feel good about themselves.

In a 2018 essay in The New York Review of Books, “Male Trouble,” Hochschild described the predicament of less well educated men:

Compared to women, a shrinking proportion of men are earning B.A.s, even though more jobs than ever require a college degree, including many entry-level positions that used to require only a high school diploma. Among men between twenty-five and thirty-four, 30 percent now have a B.A. or more, while 38 percent of women in that age range do. The cost of this disadvantage has only grown with time: of the new jobs created between the end of the recession and 2016, 73 percent went to candidates with a B.A. or more. A shrinking proportion of men are even counted as part of the labor force; between 1970 and 2010, the percentage of adult men in a job or looking for work dropped from 80 to 70 while that of adult women rose from 43 to 58. Most of the men slipping out lack B.A.s.

While many of the men Hochschild writes about see a future of diminished, if not disappearing, prospects, men in elite professions continue to dominate the ranks of chief executives, top politicians and the highest-paying professorships.

Frances E. Jensen, chair of the department of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, taking a different tack, argues that boys’ brains mature more slowly than girls’ brains do, a difference that is particularly striking in the adolescent years. In a 2017 interview with the School Superintendents Association, Jensen stressed the crucial role the still maturing brain plays in the lives of teenagers:

Teens go through a period of increased emotional fluctuation and are like a Ferrari with weak brakes. The emotional center of the brain, the limbic system, which controls emotions, is fully connected, but the frontal lobe that sharpens critical thinking isn’t well-connected. That means the part of the brain that makes them pause and say to themselves, “Bad idea. Don’t post that on Facebook because it might hurt my chances of getting a job in the future” or “Don’t jump in the lake, there may be a rock,” isn’t mature.

The brain also becomes more efficient, Jensen said,

during a process called myelination. This is when a fatty substance called myelin grows slowly and wraps itself around miles of brain cells to better insulate them. Insulation makes the brain more efficient at sending and receiving signals. Myelination is a slow process that finishes in the mid-20s. Our brains have thousands of miles of networks and to insulate all of them with myelin takes over two and a half decades to finish.

Using M.R.I. images, Jensen continued,

you can actually see the brain is laying down a layer of myelin over time when looked at year over year. You can measure those layers and see a dynamic process where the insulation is sharpening the rapidity of our signaling from one part of our brain to another.

And then she added a crucial point:

In adolescence, on average girls are more developed by about two to three years in terms of the peak of their synapses and in their connectivity processes.

A major 2015 study, “The Emergence of Sex Differences in Personality Traits in Early Adolescence: A Cross-Sectional, Cross-Cultural Study,” on which Marleen De Bolle, then of Ghent University, was the lead author — with contributions from 48 additional scholars — described some of the consequences of differing rates of maturity and development:

Our findings demonstrate that adolescent girls consistently score higher than boys on personality traits that are found to facilitate academic achievement, at least within the current school climate. Stated differently, the current school environment or climate might be in general more attuned to feminine-typed personalities, which make it — in general — easier for girls to achieve better grades at school.

What are some of the other factors contributing to the differing academic performance of boys and girls?

The U.S. Is Lifting Its Travel Ban. Who Is Allowed to Visit?


On Monday, the White House announced that come November, it will lift the ban on most travelers from the European Union, China, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India, as long as they can show proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test.

The new rules were widely celebrated by many countries whose citizens have been prohibited from entering the United States directly — unless they went through inconvenient, and often expensive, maneuvers.

It will, for instance, put an end to one of the odder pandemic workarounds that sprung up: Travelers from the prohibited countries spending two weeks in an intermediate country — often, Mexico or the Dominican Republic — and then obtaining a negative coronavirus test there before flying to the United States. (Travelers did not have to quarantine while visiting this other country, simply having spent 14 days before entry in a destination that wasn’t on the banned list gave them travel privileges.)

Over the past six months, Fabienne Walther, 28, from Switzerland, has helped about 20 Europeans enter the United States via Mexico. Some have rented a room in her temporary home in Playa del Carmen. In other cases, she simply offered moral support and tips about where to eat.

“The whole travel through Mexico thing is a joke,” she said, given that contracting the coronavirus is actually more of a risk in the Cancún area than in the hometowns of many of the travelers she has helped.

Soon the Mexico workaround will no longer be necessary. But the new policy, which applies to everyone traveling from abroad by air, has raised plenty of questions. Many details are yet to be worked out, but here is a look at what is currently known about how the new policy will affect entry into the United States.

For the past 18 months, virtually all visitors from the banned countries, including those that are members of the European Union and a handful of others, have been prohibited from traveling directly to the United States. Come early November, this policy will no longer apply, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, announced on Monday. Individuals from these countries can fly to the United States, as they did before the pandemic, so long as they can show proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test taken within three days of boarding a flight. No quarantine will be required.

The C.D.C. will also issue an order directing airlines to collect phone numbers and email addresses of travelers for a new contact-tracing system. Additional details of the contact tracing system have not yet been outlined.

Unvaccinated people who are not Americans citizens will not be permitted to enter the United States.

The Biden administration has not yet indicated when in November the new rules will be in place.

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that the agency is still in the “regulatory process,” but said that people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, such as AstraZeneca and Oxford, will also be valid, the C.D.C. said.

The new policy applies to everyone who is not a U.S. citizen, including individuals from Japan, Singapore, Mexico and many other countries whose citizens have been able to fly to the United States throughout the pandemic. Though vaccination status does not currently affect whether or not these individuals can enter the United States, in November only fully vaccinated travelers will be permitted.

Already these individuals have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within three days of boarding a flight. This requirement will remain.

The policy applies to all “foreign nationals,” meaning that long-term residents of the United States who are not American citizens would not be able to leave the country and then re-enter unless they are fully vaccinated.

The vaccination stipulation does not apply to U.S. citizens. But the new policy does require Americans to provide proof of a negative result from a test taken within one day of their return flight to the United States, and to test again after they land.

Most countries that currently require vaccination for entry make exceptions for children too young to be vaccinated. It seems likely that the United States will do the same, but the White House declined to comment on specifics of this policy. It is not yet clear what other exceptions will be made.

People flying from Canada and Mexico will face the same restrictions as people flying in from other countries: They must be fully vaccinated, obtain a negative coronavirus test and provide personal information for contact tracing. Currently, the land borders with Canada and Mexico are closed for all but essential travel, a policy that is expected to remain in place until at least Oct. 21.

The new policy for international visitors only applies to people boarding an airplane, according to Mr. Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator. Therefore it’s possible that an unvaccinated person could still enter the United States by land if their reason for traveling was considered essential. The definition of “essential” offered by the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada includes “work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care, and safety and security.”

In Monday’s news conference, Mr. Zients declined to comment on the future of the land-border restrictions after Oct. 21, when the current policy runs out.

For people from many parts of the world — even before the pandemic — access into the United States was not easy. One of the reasons that the travel ban had such a profound impact is that it applied to many of the countries whose citizens traditionally could avoid U.S. visa requirements and had the easiest time gaining entry.

The new policy does not rewrite who can enter the United States without a visa, or rewrite the consequences for breaking visa rules by, for instance, staying in the country for longer than allowed.

But it does severely limit who can enter the United States. Only four percent of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated; less than a third of residents are fully vaccinated in many parts of Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. In some cases, not getting vaccinated is a choice; in others, people simply do not have access to vaccines. Regardless of their reasons, these individuals will no longer be able to travel to the United States.


Ceylan Yeginsu contributed reporting from Turkey.



F.D.A. Authorizes Pfizer Booster Shot for Higher-Risk People


WASHINGTON — After weeks of internal strife at the Food and Drug Administration, the agency on Wednesday authorized people over 65 who had received Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine to get a booster shot at least six months after their second injection.

The F.D.A. also authorized booster shots for adult Pfizer-BioNTech recipients who are at high risk of becoming severely ill with Covid-19 or are at risk of serious complications from the disease due to frequent exposure to the coronavirus at their jobs.

The authorization sets up what is likely to be a staggered campaign to deliver the shots, starting with the most vulnerable Americans. It opens the way for possibly tens of millions of vaccinated people to receive boosters at pharmacies, health clinics, doctors’ offices and elsewhere.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting F.D.A. commissioner, said that the authorization would allow for booster doses “in certain populations such as health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others.” Her statement suggested that agency leaders took a permissive view of the subgroups it deemed eligible for an extra injection.

Roughly 22 million Americans are at least six months past their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of them are 65 and older.

Millions of Americans who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still waiting to learn whether they, too, can get boosters. The F.D.A. is expected to take up the question of boosters for them in short order.

The F.D.A.’s decision will be followed as soon as Thursday by a recommendation from the C.D.C., which issues guidance on vaccine policy for clinicians and public health officials throughout the United States. An advisory committee of the C.D.C. is now in the midst of a two-day meeting on the issue. But even if the C.D.C. takes a different stance, health care providers are now authorized to offer third shots to Pfizer-BioNTech recipients who meet the F.D.A.’s eligibility criteria.

The ruling followed weeks of internal disagreement at the F.D.A., where some vaccine regulators openly challenged the idea of offering booster shots to the general population. Public health experts and state officials have criticized what they said were confusing public messages from the Biden administration about who should be eligible for a booster shot and when.

Regulators have significantly slowed the booster rollout that top federal health officials drafted and President Biden announced in mid-August. At the time, Mr. Biden said that pending regulatory approval, he wanted to offer third shots to every American adult who had been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least eight months earlier, starting this week.

Wednesday’s authorization made the United States the most recent wealthy nation to offer people booster doses, joining a list that includes Germany, France, Israel and Britain. Some public health experts say those doses should instead be directed to countries that have vaccinated far fewer of their residents.

At a virtual Covid-19 summit on Wednesday, Mr. Biden pledged an additional 500 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to countries that need them.

“We believe boosters have an important role to play in addressing the continued threat of this disease, alongside efforts to increase global access and uptake among the unvaccinated,” said Albert Bourla, the chairman and chief executive of Pfizer.

In an interview, Dr. Peter Marks, the F.D.A.’s top vaccine regulator, described the need to offer boosters to Pfizer-BioNTech recipients aged 65 or older as a “no-brainer.”

But the agency’s decision to specify other population subgroups as eligible could set off a more spirited debate.

It is unclear, for example, whether the C.D.C. will decide to recommend booster shots for people considered at high risk because they are health care workers, teachers or grocery store clerks, or because they live in homeless shelters or prisons, as the F.D.A. clearly favors.

Asked why Dr. Woodcock said in her statement that those groups should be considered eligible for extra shots, Dr. Marks said it was important to identify examples of people who are at special risk because of their jobs or the institutions in which they live.

“If she hadn’t put that there, what would your first question have been?” he said. “‘Who are you talking about?’”

At a meeting last Friday, members of the agency’s advisory committee of experts said that health care workers should be eligible for boosters because of their work.

The F.D.A.’s decision to include those who are at high risk of severe Covid-19 captures another significant swath of the population. An estimated 60 percent of Americans suffer from obesity or other chronic medical conditions that heighten their risk of suffering from severe Covid-19, but not all of them might be included.

Pfizer had asked the F.D.A. to approve a third shot for all recipients of its vaccine who were 16 and older, six months or more after their second injection. Regulators scrambled to collect and review safety and efficacy data fast enough to meet the administration’s goal of offering shots this week.

At a dramatic meeting last week, members of the F.D.A.’s outside advisory committee said the available data was too limited to justify additional injections for so many people and voted 16 to 2 against approving Pfizer’s request. Some of the committee’s experts were concerned that Pfizer’s clinical trial results on boosters included only about 300 volunteers, a point that was brought up repeatedly by the C.D.C.’s experts.

But the advisory committee voted unanimously for the narrower option reflected in the regulatory decision.

The F.D.A. not only narrowed Pfizer’s request, but authorized the third shot on an emergency basis instead of fully approving it.

As a practical matter, since the F.D.A. fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a two-dose regimen last month, physicians have had broad latitude to prescribe a third dose to people they deemed in need of one. Many Americans have already sought extra shots on their own, typically by finding a cooperative pharmacist or pretending to be unvaccinated.

“There’s anxiety about this public expectation that everyone should go get a booster,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents state health agencies. “If we pull back on that, then states are going to get left holding the bag.”

Dr. Jesse L. Goodman, a former chief scientist at the F.D.A., said that because of some uncertainty around the benefits of boosters, regulators were right to grant only an emergency clearance for the shots while continuing to study their safety and performance.

“A stepwise approach is very judicious,” he said.

Some state health officials greeted the F.D.A.’s move enthusiastically. Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s Covid-19 czar, said that his state’s success vaccinating older residents early meant that they were overdue for extra protection.

He also said that strained hospitals in the state could not afford to lose more staff, and that booster doses could protect frontline workers from milder infections that would require them to stay at home.

“Anxious would be an understatement,” he said of those waiting for extra shots. “We’ve asked them to be patient with us. We’ve gotten texts and emails from people saying they’re living like hermits again with Delta variant, asking when is it going to be safe.”

The decision is the latest in a series of important ones that the F.D.A. is expected to make in the next few weeks. Ahead lie complex decisions on whether to authorize booster shots for recipients of the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines, whether to authorize the use of Moderna’s vaccine for children ages 12 to 17, and whether to authorize Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11.

Top federal health officials have said they needed to publicly announce plans for a booster campaign so that states could prepare for a rollout. But some state officials said it was a challenge to sort out conflicting messages from federal officials.

For instance, the president said people should be eligible for a booster eight months after their second shot, but the F.D.A. set the interval at six months. Patrick Allen, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, said that the switch has thrown off the state’s planning and caused officials there to “scramble” to prepare for many more residents who now could be eligible.

“We thought at an eight month window we were going to be OK with supply and demand, with our core infrastructure being clinics and pharmacies. But if we have 350,000 people eligible at the beginning, we’re going to have some challenges,” he said, referencing estimates the state has made. At least one county is now preparing to reopen a fairgrounds site for booster doses, he said.