Coloring the "Boys Will Be Boys" Chronicle: Race, Gender, and Behavior Problems across Two Decades

Jayanti Owens, University of Wisconsin-Madison

ADHD diagnoses and school suspensions have increased ten- and two-fold in the U.S. since the 1970s, with African-American boys' higher baseline levels ballooning into the largest gender gaps over the past three decades. Despite implications for black boys’ growing educational and economic disadvantage, neither the extent nor the origins of their growing disadvantage are understood. This study leverages consistent behavioral scales from two nationally-representative datasets to document mothers' reports of African-American boys' worsening behavior problems among even the "best-behaved" black boys -- not just among those with the highest levels of behavior problems. Neither gender differences in exposure nor response to salient, racially-patterned changes in families and health explain black boys’ growing disadvantage. Findings carry significant consequences for black males' future rates of delinquency, school drop-out, unemployment, and incarceration, which may result from heightened scrutiny and policing of even the best-behaved black boys’ behaviors beginning in early childhood.

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Presented in Session 206: Intersectionality in Population Research