Skip navigation

British author Richard Reeves says fathers need to be sent a clear message - they matter

In a recent podcast hosted by the US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy, writer and researcher Richard Reeves says changes to the labour market are contributing to higher levels of despair, isolation and loneliness among men.

“Employment is a big part of it,” he said. “More men are detached from the labour market.”

Consequently, men are losing a source of camaraderie and connection as part of the ‘de-institutionalisation of friendship’ and the erosion of activity-based communication.

Dr Murthy cited the Australian Men’s Sheds movement in the House Calls podcast, Why are Boys and Men Struggling for Connection?

The central premise of Men’s Sheds is that “women talk face-to-face, and men talk shoulder-to-shoulder. Men often build their friendships while they are doing something together.”

A man’s worth about whether he is a breadwinner was an antiquated notion, he pointed out.

Reeves said men had not upskilled relationally to compensate for the cultural change in their identity as breadwinners. While women had added new colours to their “identity palette” and being a worker was now a norm, men had not broadened their sense of identity beyond the breadwinner role.

“This has been a very rapid change in the economic role of men,” he said.

“In 1979, 13% of women earned more than the typical man, now it’s 40%. Now 40% of breadwinners are women. These are profound changes.”

What does this mean for men?

“What is in danger of being lost is fatherhood,” he said.

“We’ve got to reconfigure fatherhood. We’re missing an opportunity to send a message to fathers of all kinds, you matter. Even if you’re not in a job, even if you’re not making any money, even if you’re struggling, even if you’ve got mental health problems … your kids need you, period.”

The British author, who now lives in the US and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said parental leave should be accessible at different stages throughout a child’s life.

“Taking parental leave early on is in no way a substitute for the long game. It takes decades to raise a child. It’s a long haul,” he said.

“Adolescence is a hugely important time for kids, dads can bring something different to the party.

“There is a danger of early years determinism. We should be flexible about when you can take leave. Public policy should support the choice to take leave throughout the decades.”

Reeves and Murthy both expressed concern at the decline of after-school activities, and unstructured play, which particularly impacted boys.

“What’s great about extracurricular activities, especially for boys, is having that figure of the coach. Having that opportunity to go and be shoulder-to-shoulder, to be engaged in activities.”

Reeves said technology was replacing real-life activities and relationships, and that a gendered response was important to understanding the youth mental health crisis that, in the United States, had seen an 8% increase in the rate of suicide among boys and young men aged 15-24 in 2020 and 2021.

Where girls were more likely to engage with technology on social media platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram – leading to concerns about mental health and body image – boys spent long periods gaming (and watching pornography).

“It’s too easy to retreat, it’s given boys a place to go,” he said.

“It’s more likely to be driving isolation, loneliness and disconnection. A retreat from real-life connections.

“It’s replacing real-life activities and relationships.”

Richard Reeves has written several books, the latest being Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It

Listen to the full House Calls podcast: Why are Boys and men Struggling for Connection?


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.


Stay in touch with AMHF by signing up to our Men’s Health newsletters.