Politics

'The gap is worrying': Young men and women are increasingly split on gender and politics, study finds

Gen Z are becoming “polarised” on gender issues, a study from Kings College London has revealed, with starkly different opinions on the impact of feminism.

A man holds a sign reading: 'Boys will be feminists' at a march in 2021. Image: Robin Utrecht/Shutterstock (11853694f)

Is it harder to be a man than a woman? An increasing number of young men think so, according to new research – but young women strongly disagree.

Gen Z are becoming “polarised” on gender issues, a study from Kings College London has revealed, with starkly different opinions on the impact of feminism and terms like “toxic masculinity.”

Two-thirds (68%) of women aged 16 to 29 say that it is harder to be a woman than a man, Kings College London and Global Institute for Women’s Leadership researchers have revealed, compared to just over a third (35%) of men the same age.

Some 30% of men in this demographic think it will be harder to be a man than a woman in 20 years, compared to just 10% of women in the same age group.

Nearly half (46%) of young women think feminism has done more good to society than harm – 10 percentage points higher than the share of young men who feel this way (36%). And one in six (16%) young men say feminism has done more harm than good.

There is a risk of “real fractious division” among Gen Z, said professor Bobby Duffy.

“It’s very unusual to get these divides within a generation on these types of social issues and norms,” he told the Big Issue.

“Young women are particularly far in one direction and young men are particularly far in the other direction. That gap is worrying.”

What is happening to young people?

It’s not just gender issues where young men and women are split. Gen Z men are becoming increasingly conservative, while their female counterparts are becoming more and more progressive.

Gallup poll data shows that British women are roughly 25% more liberal than men the same age. Young men are likely to resist immigration, resent changing social norms, and vote for conservative candidates. Young women, on the other hand, are far more likely to lean left and support progressive policy.

Researcher Alice Evans has termed this “the great gender divergence.”

Economic decline is partly responsible; Brits born into areas with high unemployment are more likely to say, “Husband should earn, wife stay at home”, partly due to an “unmet need for status.”

Where there is economic immobility, zero-sum mentalities become common. That is to say, some men are more likely to feel as though women are benefitting at their expense, Evans explains. This is despite data that shows that women are far more likely to be caught in the poverty trap.

“Under a ‘zero-sum’ mentality, resentful hostility makes sense. Economic stagnation and intense competition foster jealousy,” she said earlier this month.

It’s not easy to be a young person in 2024. Many are saddled with student debt, house prices have soared and starter wages haven’t kept pace with inflation.

But when these resentments poison gender-relations, things get dangerous, Duffy says.  

“You can disagree on politics, but when it’s about the relationships between men and women, and ‘toxic masculinity,’ and whether feminism has gone ‘too far’, it seems much more pointed and much more personal,” he warns.

Around 37% of men aged 16 to 29 think “toxic masculinity” is an unhelpful phrase, the new KCL research has revealed, roughly double the 19% of young women who feel this way. Correspondingly, young women (47%) are considerably more likely than young men (29%) – or any other age category – to find it a helpful term.

People still “agree on more than they disagree on,” Duffy says. But the divide seems to be growing. It’s important not to demonise one side – the professor adds that a ‘culture war’ framing helps no one.

“There are still really huge gender inequalities that penalize women, and also there are things that are concerning for men – for example, is the education system is working well for them? 57% of university graduates are women,” he said

“It’s possible to hold both of those things together, both are true. If we don’t engage with these challenges, the void will be filled by celebrities and influencers.”

Andrew Tate – an online commentator who peddles misogynistic opinions to millions of devoted followers – is one such example.

Tate is currently unable to leave Romania, where he is facing charges of rape, human trafficking and forming a criminal gang. He is a self-proclaimed sexist, saying, “I’m a realist and when you’re a realist, you’re sexist.”

According to the new KCL research, one in five (21%) men aged 16 to 29 who have heard of Andrew Tate say they have a favourable view of him – three times the share of women in this age group (7%) and men aged 30 to 59 (7%) who say the same.

His popular videos are poisoning young men’s minds, warns Debbie Brazil, founder and chief executive of End Sexism In Schools, an organisation that works to end ‘cultural misogyny’ in schools.

“Andrew Tate combines confidence, wealth and charisma with dangerous misogynistic rhetoric and actions. This, alongside easy access to porn, can teach young men harmful ideas of what sex should be like,” she said.

“It also reinforces harmful ideas among boys and young men that the only ‘acceptable’ emotions for them to express are anger and violence, and that only through dominance can they be truly masculine.”

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