As gender roles change, are men out of step?

Are men in crisis? 07:02

(CBS News) Remember the old saying: IT'S A MAN'S WORLD? It's a concept that seems increasingly out of step with our times. Or is it men who are out of step? Our Cover Story is reported now by Susan Spencer of "48 Hours":

Summer break at Kenyon College in Ohio . . . peaceful and quiet, no hint of the firestorm of few years ago when the dean of admissions said the unthinkable: College girls are doing a lot better than boys.

"Gender politics are alive and well in this country, let there be no doubt," said Dean Jennifer Delahunty, who laid it all out in a 2006 opinion piece in The New York Times exposing the widening gap in achievement.

"There's a kind of anti-intellectualism of young men that really bothers me," Delahunty said, "that it's not cool to be smart. That it's not cool to be engaged. That it's not cool to do your homework. That bothers me.

"Not only do they not enroll in college at the same rate as women, they don't graduate from college at the same rate. They don't retain at the same rate."

The numbers don't lie: Male college enrollment has been sliding for more than four decades - and it's expected to just get worse.

Sociologist Michael Kimmel - the go-to guy when it comes to guys - talks of the "boys crisis."

"Twenty five years ago when I started I would ask the women in my classes, 'What does it mean to be a woman?'" Kimmel told Spencer. "And they would say, 'Well, you have to be nice and pretty and smart and smile a lot.' And you ask them now, you know what they say? 'I can be anything I want. I can do anything.'

"You ask the guys, you know, 'What does it mean to be a man' - 25 years ago? 'John Wayne.' Now? 'Arnold.'"

Boys aren't saying "hasta la vista" to these outdated He-Man ideas, but sadly, many ARE saying it to education.

"Boys think that academic disengagement is a sign of masculinity," said Kimmel. "The less you can do in school, the less connected you are, the less interested you are, the more manly you are."

Which may explain why about 70 percent of valedictorians today are girls. And it's not just about grades: It's about jobs.

"The economy shifting to a service economy, a knowledge-based economy, a words-based economy rather than an action-based economy has certainly been to the detriment of that traditional ideology of masculinity," said Kimmel. "And those men who most strongly subscribe to it are those men who are going to be left behind."

In a stunning role reversal, a new study finds that young women today value high-paying careers more than young men do.

Should there be a sort of affirmative action for boys? Delahunty says no: "That's not the answer. The answer is to look at this problem systemically. I don't believe in affirmative action for men in higher education."

But in her divisive op-ed piece, Delahunty hinted it's happening anyway. She wrote, "The reality is that because young men are rarer, they're more valued applicants," and she apologized to girls who'd been rejected because of "demographic realities."

"I think that, you know, the idea of an affirmative action program for men is engaged in by a lot of college admissions offices these days, because they're worried that the women are much better qualified," said Kimmel. "Now they do this sometimes by infrastructure, which is to say they build a new athletics facility. They build a new student center with lots of pool tables and videogames.

"Guys who come on college tour go, 'Well, this is cool. I could go here,' right? So that's an affirmative action program, where they spend money on that, rather than on other things."

But in a country where women get paid roughly 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, how much help do guys really need? Are they in crisis, or are they just in transition . . . to a new definition of what it means to be a man?

"I think that masculinity is more flexible than we give it credit for," said journalist Liza Mundy. "I think that our ideas of what's masculine change."

In her recent book called "The Richer Sex," Mundy argues that with new challenges, have come greater opportunities for men - and they have women to thank.