Our Problem With Young Men

24/08/2011 22:29 BST | Updated 24/10/2011 10:12 BST

It has been the most serious 'silly season' in years. The looters' one positive notch was to defibrillate the left and right into genuine reflection about the health of British society - how sick it is, what caused it, and how to heal it.

Everyone is, understandably, looking for the elusive causal link. The left see structural inequalities and the right suspect diminished personal responsibility. I would like to propose something far simpler: the UK has a problem raising its young men.

The mode demographic for gang members is either 15 or 19 year old males, depending on the source. The mode demographic for those on ASBOs is 14-17 year old males. The mode demographic group for drugs users is 16-19 year old males. The highest rate of serious crime is committed by 17 year old males. The average age of the looters (at least those that have been before a magistrate) is 22, overwhelmingly male. Two third of those who have committed Islamist related offenses in Britain over the last decade are under thirty, and almost all male. 17-24 year olds males have more drink driving accidents per miles driven than any other group.

Some of this could perhaps be partly explained by higher unemployment levels and other generation Y disadvantages. Perhaps. But I doubt young men feel structural inequalities any more acutely than young women; or that they would necessarily be more vulnerable to infection from dropping moral standards.

So I have another thesis, to which I'll return, empirically, very soon. Which is that the last 20 years has seen a narrowing of opportunities for restless young men to expend their testosterone: fewer wars to fight (at least in terms of conscription); diminished physical and manual labour; and fewer opportunities for sport and physical combat in cramped suburban enclaves.

Of course this is not the whole picture - and I'm not proposing we start more wars. But I am surprised more is not made of it, as this all strikes me as fairly obvious. For all the hand-wringing about fixing our broken society, we should also re-think how we handle young men, and provide better, and more meaningful physical outlets for them. That really would require some radical thinking.