What is happening to young men?

The question may take you by surprise. Indeed, few things have been as under-reported as the way a rising generation of American men is failing in every important measurement, from obtaining a higher education to establishing a foothold in the labor market and taking responsibility for the children they father.

In his recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama spent a bit of time decrying a well-worn statistic that reportedly shows women in America earning 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This, he said, “is an embarrassment.”

But while it is true that women ought to be paid equally for the same work as men, the real embarrassment may be that the 77-cent figure is misleading.

If you account for differences in education levels and the choices people make to pursue lower-paying professions, the wage gap closes to about 91 cents on the dollar. But if you look closer, the gap may not only disappear, it may exist in the other direction. A number of factors indicate trends will put males, not females, in danger in the workforce of the future.

A few years ago, researcher James Chung found that single, childless women under the age of 30 in the largest U.S. cities earned on average 8 percent more than their male peers.

A report by Tad Walch in today’s Deseret News cites other statistics, such as that men today earn only 38 percent of all associate degrees, 43 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 40 percent of master’s degrees. Over the past 30 years, women have earned almost 10 million more college degrees than men.

Also in Walch’s report: The National Center for Education predicts the growth in female enrollment in college will outpace the growth in male enrollment 16 percent to 7 percent between 2011 and 2021.

Some may cheer this development or see it as a long-awaited turning of the tables against male domination. But education, the workforce and the rearing of future generations are not zero-sum games. One gender does not win by virtue of the other losing. That is especially true when it comes to raising children.

About 40 percent of all babies these days are born out of wedlock. A wide range of studies show the disadvantages they will face, as well as that married couples earn more money than single mothers and are, in the aggregate, much better prepared to provide for their offspring materially and emotionally.

Studies also have uncovered a destructive downward cycle involving young boys, in particular, who grow up to repeat the cycle of creating, then abandoning, children. These men tend not to obtain college degrees.

These changes are coming at a time when a bachelor’s degree is considered a minimum requirement for earning a decent living, and when the gap in earnings is widening between those who are educated and those who are not.

Reasons for this are many and varied, but the culture plays a huge role. Young men seem conditioned to regard things other than an education as most valuable in life.

This, however, is not true for all, and the reasons for the difference are worth noting.

Walch’s report highlights members of the Loan Peak High School national championship basketball team, as did reporting earlier this week by reporter Trent Toone. Many of the players, despite the high-profile glamor of athletic scholarship offers, are currently serving full-time missions for their church. Not all have had easy lives, and yet the team was characterized as much by the politeness and positive outlooks of its players as by the way they played on the court.

Clearly, religious conviction played a large role in the way these young men learned to prioritize their lives. Religious training is a key to guiding the wayward boys of America toward success.

America must be awakened to the plight of its rising generation of men. Governments need to orient themselves more toward strengthening families, providing opportunities for young men to obtain educations and protecting religious liberties. A lost generation of American boys will ripple through society and many and varied ways, with devastating results.