IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Men falling behind women

As part of the series "America at the Crossroads," NBC's Lester Holt reports on the ways boys and men are falling behind women and efforts under way to close the achievement gap.

University of Georgia senior Chelsea Lipocky barely notices it anymore.

But go to almost any college campus in America today and you'll notice something missing.

“All my neighbors are girls,” Lipocky said. “Getting on a bus, you are surrounded by girls.”

Where did all the men go?

Once the vast majority, they now make up just over 40 percent of the nation's college students.

That can make women at schools like the University of Georgia sometimes feel like they go to an all-girls college.

“I definitely feel the gender imbalance here,” said junior Whitney Judson. “Walking down the street you see all kinds of girls, but guys are kind of rare.”

And it’s not just college.

Women dominate high school honor rolls and make up more than 70 percent of class valedictorians.

And where are the men going?

Lipocky’s high school classmate Justin Rivera operates his own bread delivery route. He dropped out of college after one semester, ironically, to make sure he had work in a tough job market.

“It just wasn't for me,” Rivera said. “They were good classes, but I didn't see any reason to be there.”

Experts used to explain away the college gender imbalance by noting that men had plenty of high-paying job opportunities to them in manufacturing and construction, but then came the last recession.

The numbers are staggering: 78 percent of the jobs lost since 2007 were held by men, leaving one out of every five working age men out of work.

“I don't think the old jobs for men are coming back,” said child and family psychologist Michael Thompson, author of the book “Raising Cain.” “And that means that we have figure out how to make school a place where we can make boys ready for the jobs that are going to be there for them. And that's going to take a different kind of education than what we've been doing.”

In the last 10 years, 2 million more women than men graduated from college in the United States. That’s an achievement gap that is having profound consequences on the economy.

“In order to be competitive over the next decade, we would like to have our share of young adults with degrees going up not down, so we need more young men to get degrees,” said Andrew Sum, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

In the nation's elementary schools, where many young men first start to fall behind, there's a growing sense that many boys need a more hands-on approach.

“By school age, three-quarters of the boys in the class are more physically active, more developmentally immature, more impulsive than girls of the same age,” Thompson said. “Boys like competition, they like teamwork, they like to produce a product. Boys tend on average to not like to sit quietly with a page of writing in front of them.”

Because girls develop verbal skills sooner, some schools are experimenting with single-sex classrooms.

Others, like Hackberry Hill Elementary, just outside Denver, have come up with a whole new take on the Three Rs. you could call it reading, writing, and recess.

Jumping jacks and stretching exercises break up reading lessons and combat boys’ short attention spans.

Video game obsessed boys can do their writing lessons with the help of specially designed computer programs.

“We can't make excuses for our boys,” said Hackberry Principal Warren Blair. “They can write. They can read. We have to figure out how to reach them.”

Among the fastest-growing jobs of the next decade, only two, janitorial work and computer engineering, are expected to be dominated by men.