That’s Men: What’s going on? Why do boys and young men lack drive?

Boys and young men may have rejected society’s notions of success - or they may be demoralised


It is over a decade since a man who was involved in training male apprentices expressed some exasperation that they did not seem interested in pushing him to one side to solve problems.

Instead, young men were content to be told the solution by him. Surely, he thought, they should be impatient to put their own solutions forward and to promote their own views against his?

Does this mean young men are in trouble or that they have worked out that much of what society tells them is a sham? The possible lack of ambition in young men in the educational sphere could be interpreted either way.

Five years ago, a Department of Education report called Sé Sí noted that since the expansion of second-level participation in the late 1960s, girls have demonstrated consistently higher rates of secondary school completion. Of those pupils who drop out before the Leaving Cert, almost two-thirds are boys. Of those who leave without any qualifications at all, two-thirds are also boys.

Since official records began in 1864, slightly more boys than girls have been born in Ireland. Yet in 2005, almost 7,000 boys of Leaving Cert age failed to sit that exam compared with about 3,000 girls. And about 1,350 boys failed to sit the Junior Cert compared with about 350 girls. You can find similar trends elsewhere. In the US boys are consistently doing worse in tests than girls of equal ability. Because they have equal ability, researchers have concluded that boys are just not putting in the effort compared with the girls.

I asked earlier if boys have copped onto the notion that much of what society tells them is a sham. I was being somewhat mischievous. All the same, we know that higher incomes do not necessarily lead to significant increases in happiness so long as people are able to meet their basic needs.

Despite this, many of us work ourselves into the grave in order to gain some illusory advantage by earning more money which, in fact, does us no good at all.


So you could argue that perhaps boys at some level have realised this.

What’s the point in putting in a big effort to climb the ladder if the view from the top isn’t all that great?

I would like this to be true but I fear that something else is going on. If that something else is some sort of general demoralisation or loss of energy, then the future for boys is not great. Nor is the future great for the girls who may end up supporting them.

What is the answer? I simply don’t know. I expect we will understand the phenomenon when it is too late.

Addendum: On a visit to the Aillwee Cave in Co Clare, I was delighted to learn that the farmer who discovered the cave in 1944 took 30 years to tell anybody about it. Reticence is, I believe, a core characteristic of the Irish farmer. An uncle of mine, if asked how much he had got for cattle at the mart would reply “enough” and leave it at that. This, although the mart was a public event.

The man who found the cave was Jack McGann whose dog chased a rabbit inside and it took him more than three decades to mention it to cavers from England whom he met in a local bar.

I take my hat off to Jack McGann, a man who knew how to keep it under his hat.

Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@yahoo.
com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.