There’s a lot of reason to be optimistic about gender equality. While the numbers of female CEOs is still dismal, the number of women earning college and advanced degrees outpaces men, we have record number of women running for political office these days and the level of awareness and public discourse around feminism and gender equality in the workplace feels like it’s never been higher.
But while much hope has been pinned on the “next generation” of millennial men and women, research released last week from the Council on Contemporary Families shows that attitudes among young people have become increasingly sexist since the late 90’s when their attitudes were most egalitarian.
Specifically, since 1994, Council on Contemporary Families Director of Research, Stephanie Coontz writes in the New York Times that the percentage of high school seniors who say that they think that “the best family was one where the man was the main income earner and the woman took care of the home” rose from 42% to 58% in 2014. Moreover, 40% say they believe that “the husband should make all the important decisions in the family” in 2014 versus 30% a decade earlier.
The only thing more discouraging than this is to learn that separate research by the same organization found the same increase in sexist and traditional views of family gender roles in the past decade. In particular, they found that in 2014, 45% of men and 28% of women reported thinking a male-breadwinning family was the superior outcome, compared to only 17% of men and 15% of women in 1994. That’s a huge increase in the number of young men who believe they should be the primary earner in the family.
The obvious question this raises is, why? Is there something about spending time on Snapchat that makes teenagers more apt to believe that men and women should hold “traditional” roles at home and in the workplace? Or is it that they are the offspring of families with working moms and dads, and somehow feel they have been maligned as a consequence? Was it a backlash to the witnessed loss of traditional male financial, household control after the devastating job losses of the Great Recession? And is this simply something that will change as they age and become older and wiser?
Coontz, noted that older millennials (men and women), too, seemed uncomfortable with the notion of a female Commander-in-Chief. According to exit poll data in the last U.S. President election, millennials just didn’t turn out for Hillary Clinton.
We’re not sociologists but we are very, very worried about what this new data suggests. If women and men have to fight an ideological battleground in their future homes, this means a long road for women to getting to 50/50 parity at the top of corporations and governments.