It's the fear of failure that makes men losers

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Fear of failure is holding men back from achieving the success they are capable of at work

A new report says that while women are taking advantage of further education to get them the job they want, men are drawing back saying that going to college is not "macho" or that they are duty-bound to be the breadwinner in a family.

Researchers were alerted to the problem after a survey in North Yorkshire revealed that twice as many women were in further education as men. As a result 1,000 men both in work and unemployed were questioned about their attitude to college and work.

Psychologists say that men's attitudes to work is so important because it becomes they way they identify themselves. "If you ask a woman she'll say she's married, with two children and she's a dental hygienist," said Andrew Marshall, president of the British Men's Counselling Association. "A man will just say he's a dental hygienist. Men are using their jobs as a source of their identity. But that means if they lose their jobs it's very difficult because they've put all their emotional eggs in one basket which makes them very vulnerable."

While work is such a central part to a man's self-definition he faces problems without qualifications - one in 20 boys is not entered for any GCSEs - as the job market is increasingly narrowing. A survey last week warned of a growing underclass of twentysomethings while those who would in the past have carried out unskilled labour, have seen such jobs fall away.

The survey was carried out by North Yorkshire Training and Enterprise Council but Professor David Melville, chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, says national statistics confirm the local pattern. "Disaffected" men aged 16-24 who left school with few if any qualifications and are now unemployed were a particular worry said the researchers. Around half are living independently, mostly in rented bedsits, but as many as one in ten were homeless and most have no practical or emotional support from family and friends.

Men in the survey described college as "a step up for women... a step down for men". The majority of men over 25 felt they were too old to change jobs or begin new training.

There was an overwhelming view that men should still be the breadwinners and that it was not macho to return to college and expect their spouses to support them financially. Men who had bad experiences at school were even less likely to pursue further educational courses or vocational training.

But the most pressing worry was fear of failure if a man returned to college. "I think by virtue of being men, men assume they are `it' but also they find it very difficult to portray to others that they aren't already it," said Professor Janet Sayers at present working on Boy Crazy, a book on boys' attitudes. "It's different for women - after all we're the failed sex so it's no big deal to us to admit we aren't it, that we can fail but it's not consistent with images of masculinity."

She said that such old- fashioned values had not been helped by recent scientific reports. "The stereotype is being reinforced by bad publicity such as the paper in Nature which suggested that it's biologically connected to gender not to express feelings," she added. "They're paying lip service to New Man but they don't want to be wimps." Another reason boys gave was "they were afraid if they expressed their feelings they would be thought to be gay."

"It's still incredibly strong that men feel they have to bring the money in and not have financial problems." said Mr Marshall. "A lot of men feel they have to get a job straight away with a lot of money so they may be aiming for a job in the middle of an organisation whereas women in a similar position often don't mind starting out at as a temp or at the bottom."

He also said that men felt that women found it easier to change direction, particularly if they had had time out to look after children: "They can take a step back and think about what they want whereas men get on one track and stay that way. If they are made redundant it is a major life crisis because they have not stopped to think what they want or where they are going."

Professor Melville said that the FEFC would be publishing its own report on the subject this week "which will call for a dramatic shift in post- 16 government policy. The committee wants to see post-16 resources focused on re-engaging people in learning such as the men identified in this study who left school with few or no qualifications."