Opinion | The Gender Gap Is Now a Gender Gulf

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In a June 2023 essay, Cox asks in the headline, “Are Young Men Becoming Conservative?” He points out that the trends among young men are less easily explained than the trends among young women.

Young men, Cox wrote, “have not had the same type of formative experiences as young women.” Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ended the constitutional right to abortion,

was a political accelerant for young women. The #MeToo movement and Donald Trump’s election were seminal political events in the lives of many young women. These experiences continue to shape the outlook of young women who increasingly perceive society as hostile to women and believe that the experiences of other women in the U.S. are connected to what happens in their own lives.

There were, in Cox’s view, no “comparable experiences for young men.”

Without formative political experiences, Cox argued,

what emerges is a type of political apathy. Young men are less engaged on key political issues. For young women, three issues are uniquely salient: climate change, gun policy and abortion. Young men express far less interest in these issues.

Young men seem to care more about economic issues — inflation is high on their list of priorities — but they appear less invested in culture war topics or issues that do not affect them directly. Despite being generally supportive of abortion rights, it is hardly a priority for young men. In a poll we released late last year, young men were approximately 30 points less likely than young women to say abortion was a critical concern (32 percent versus 61 percent, respectively).

All of this led Cox to ask:

Are young men adversaries or allies when it comes to issues such as gender equality? Young men appear to be quiescent when it comes to ceding the historic advantages men have enjoyed in American society. Whether this is due to the fact they believe these changes are just and fair or simply inevitable is unclear.

At the same time, “nearly half of young men believe that American society has become ‘too soft and feminine.’”

The growing gender divide between young men and women in the United States is part of a decade-long international trend, according to a survey of 300,000 men and women in 20 mostly advanced nations.

In “Polarization Extends Into Gender via Young Adults Who Lose Hope,” Glocalities, a marketing firm based in the Netherlands, found that

young women have significantly strengthened their embrace of liberal and anti-patriarchal values over the last decade while young men increasingly are lagging behind in this trend. In 2014 older men (aged 55 to 65) were the most conservative and younger men (18 to 24) were significantly more liberal; almost 10 years later, young men have become even less liberal than older men.

Both here and abroad, Glocalities reported:

Feelings of hopelessness, societal disillusionment and rebelling against cosmopolitan values partly explain the rise of radical right anti-establishment parties. Now young men are stagnating in their progress toward liberal values. The radical right in many countries increasingly resonates with disillusioned conservative segments among them, who do not feel that establishment parties are serving their interests.

This trend has already impacted elections in Poland, Portugal, Germany, Netherlands and South Korea. If policy priorities and electoral strategies remain unchanged, this trend will likely impact the European elections in June, the U.S. presidential elections in November and more to come.

While feelings of hopelessness are common among young people of both sexes, the sense of despair is pushing males and females in opposing directions. Glocalities survey determined that there is a growing “anti-authoritarian trend among young women” who

are more worried about sexual harassment, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect and mental health problems. These worries explain the increasing anti-patriarchal trend among young women and, for example also the rise of the #MeToo movement since it went viral in 2017. Young women demand better prospects in combination with social justice and equality at home, in the workplace and beyond. Globally, young women are likely the most liberal group in human history.

Young men, in contrast, are “more focused on competition, bravery and honor” and “are more patriarchal in their orientations overall when compared with women and even when compared with older men.” The radical right “increasingly resonates with conservative segments among young men.”