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Imagine a man: what is it like to be a boy or young man in Scotland in 2021?

Istock Two Teenage Boys
Published: May 2022

The research project was run by YouthLink Scotland to explore views on what it means to be a boy or young man in Scotland in 2021. ScotCen Social Research supported the development of the survey questionnaire and conducted the analysis of the survey data.

The research questions explored included:

  • What are the stereotypes and expectations about being a boy or young man in Scotland?
  • How prevalent is violence and risk-taking behaviour amongst boys and young men?
  • What does an ‘ideal’ future look like for boys and young men in Scotland?

Through exploring these questions, the research aimed to move away from viewing boys and young men as a problem, to exploring the route to positive masculinity. The research looked at an ‘ideal’ future to help understand some possible ideas and solutions to support boys and young men to be their best selves.


  • The survey showed that boys were more likely than girls to engage in risk taking behaviours that could be seen as pre-cursors to an escalation to violence. Although many boys and young men did not.
  • Boys and young men were seeking stability and security for their futures through owning their own homes, gaining financial stability and having a partner or being married.
  • Boys and young men would like everyone to be equal and not to have stereotypes about what it is to be a boy or young man in Scotland.
  • Boys and young men demonstrated a willingness to talk about their feelings, but they were often thwarted in this by lack of space or relevant people willing to create and facilitate this space.


The research involved three elements:

  • A web survey promoted by YouthLink Scotland through its networks and social media channels. This was completed by both boys/young men and girls/young women.
  • Focus groups with boys and young men.
  • Qualitative interviews with practitioners working with young people.

A total of 1230 young people across Scotland completed the survey, 25 young people took part in focus groups and 5 adult practitioners were interviewed. The themes explored included stereotypes and expectations, risky behaviour, community and relationships, ideal futures and support needed to explore masculinity. The development of the survey questionnaire was supported by ScotCen Social Research, who also collected and analysed the survey data. The qualitative research was conducted by YouthLink Scotland.

Read the report here