Beyond Male Role Models







Header image: © John Blanton /

Beyond Male Role Models

A research project funded by the ESRC in 2013 to explore the part played by gender identities in work with young men. The project was led by a team from The Open University in partnership with Action for Children. This team included Dr Martin Robb, Prof. Brid Featherstone, Dr Michael Ward, Dr Sandy Ruxton, Dr Gareth Terry and myself.

The project responded to increasing anxiety about the welfare of boys and young men – reflected in concerns about educational underachievement, poor mental health, and involvement in offending and anti-social behaviour. One popular explanation for these poor outcomes, both in the media and used by policy-makers, is that it is the absence of male role models from the lives of many troubled and troublesome young men. This has resulted in initiatives aimed at increasing male involvement in boys’ lives and recruiting more men to work in education and welfare settings.

The project sought to answer the following questions:

Is a lack of male role models really the cause of the problems faced by young men today?

Does involving more men in boys’ care and welfare really make a difference?

How much do we actually know about the importance of gender in work with vulnerable young men, and how it relates to other factors such as class and ethnicity?

To respond to these questions interviews and focus groups were conducted with young men at Action for Children services throughout the UK, and with the men and women who work with them. The study provides fresh insights into boys’ lives and has produced evidence that can be used to improve policy and support practice with the most vulnerable young men (see outputs below).


Ward, M., Tarrant, A., Terry, G., Featherstone, B., Robb, M., and Ruxton, S. (forthcoming) Doing gender locally: The importance of ‘place’ in understanding marginalised masculinities and young men’s transitions to ‘safe’ and successful futures, The Sociological Review

Beyond Male Role Models: gender identities and work with young men report.

Tarrant, A. et al (2015) Are Male Role Models Really the Solution? Interrogating the ‘War on Boys’ Through the Lens of the ‘Male Role Model’ Discourse’, Boyhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 8 (1):



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