“Jobs for the Boys” – addressing men’s wellbeing

Head of Society Programme Antti Halonen blogs about the Institute’s new education project.

After co-organising the highly successful Oppi learning festival earlier this year and a  precedent series of education seminars, the Finnish Institute’s education programme is taking a slightly new direction.  

According to latest education outcome surveys, such as OECD’s biannual PISA survey, girls in Finland outperform boys in almost every core skill. Similarly, the gender gap in university enrolment has continued to widen in favour of female applicants. Male students are outnumbered by females in almost every subject, including traditionally male-dominated subjects, such as mathematics and medical studies. Subsequently, boys lack crucial skills and confidence when applying to higher education and when starting their working careers. A recent study, in fact, found out that for the first time in Britain women in the age group of 22-39 enjoyed higher average per hour salary than men.

Swedish scholar, Svend Dahl, argues in a recently published report that in Sweden school has simply let boys down. There is a huge difference in learning outcomes and boys struggle especially in reading and social skills, but also increasingly in mathematics and science. Furthermore, according to Dahl, society’s sketchy attitude towards boys’ problems is a growing cause for alarm. Boys’ catastrophic learning outcomes have not gathered enough interest and this negligence is now pointing towards a society where a growing number of men are increasingly excluded.

Simultaneously, we need to bear in mind that men are still disproportionately overrepresented in executive-level jobs, such as CEOs and board members of publicly traded companies and also in other key positions in society. Overall, the pay gap is still in favour of men and needs to be diminished. However, in terms of fairness and equality, it is important to engage both female and male voices in discussing equality and to address problems faced by all genders. A project focusing on men’s well-being does not mean belittling the efforts of improving women’s equal rights.

Men’s well-being touches a number of areas in society, not only in Sweden but similarly in the UK, Ireland and Finland. The problems of men are visible for instance in education, health care, mental health services, the job market and crime prevention. Improving the conditions of young men is crucially important for the sake of society’s overall well-being.

The issue has gradually started to gain space in the British media, with observations from highly respected commentators from right and left alike, such as Telegraph’s Fraser Nelson and Guardian’s Owen Jones. Furthermore, Dr Pasi Sahlberg, the author of award-winning book Finnish Lessons: What Can The World Learn From the Educational Change in Finland, has copiously argued in favour of renewing the Finnish education system whilst Finland is still on top of the global PISA rankings. He has identified the lack of motivation and passion for learning and increasingly differential learning outcomes between girls and boys as some of the key challenges facing the Finnish education system. Communication and social skills, in particular, are amongst the skills boys have lacked so far.


The Finnish Institute will start searching for solutions to men’s problems in Finland, Britain and Ireland using the means of social sciences, art and communications. The “Jobs for the Boys” project started in September 2014 with a brainstorming session, in which the project plan was outlined and different means of influencing men’s well-being were discussed. Based on ideas stemming from the session the following action plans were formed:
Being a Boy/Man Today – video campaign about the challenges of everyday life faced by boys and men
  • a series of video interviews to be shared on Twitter in which Finnish, British and Irish boys and men tell about their perceptions on men’s challenges
  • possible topics: social pressures, challenges of manhood, education, mental health issues

Exercise in participatory budgeting for Finnish and British boys:

  • a Finnish-British collaborative project in which the boys are given the power to decide how to use a predetermined amount of money to improve their own well-being
  • participatory budgeting has had positive results in past and it is vitally important that young people get to experience direct influence in matters concerning themselves
Structural changes and young men’s employment:
  • a discussion or seminar organised in Britain with topics such as adapting to structural change, creating new jobs or supporting entrepreneurship
Study: new ways of supporting boys’ learning and employment:
  • a survey of how boys’ learning and employment issues are being tackled in Britain
  • the objective of the research is to produce new information on how boys’ challenges in learning and employment has so far been addressed and to produce tangible suggestions of policy ideas
  • a discussion event on boys’ learning

It is crucial that men are not left alone with their problems. There needs to be a culture change in regard to perception of manliness and men’s role in the society. With these project ideas in mind we start to bring together a various group of societal actors: individuals, universities, charities and NGOs with a goal of raising awareness of boys’ and men’s challenges. Should you wish to take part or should you have an project idea you’d like to discuss with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us at antti.halonen(at)finnish-institute.org.uk.

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