The Coming Gender Divide in Social and Political Attitudes

A year ago, Financial Times data whiz John Burn-Murdoch noted that millennials are “shattering the oldest rule in politics”, that is, that young people start out progressive and become more conservative with age. Millennials, if anything, were getting more left-wing over time.

But if this leftward shift is to be a long-term trend, it’s going to play out with marked gender differences. New data developed by Gallup polling show that among 18-30 year-olds in the US, women are 30 percentage points more liberal than men. The difference is also 30 percentage points in Germany and 25 in the UK, while similar results were found for other countries like South Korea and Poland.

Unsurprisingly, this gendered difference in attitudes is wide for questions about gender, for example, agreeing or disagreeing with, “What women really want is a family and children”, or, “Women try to attain power by controlling men”. In fact, for some questions, men aged 18-30 are more likely to have conservative attitudes on gender than older men.

But the gendered split is much broader than just the politics of gender itself. In Germany and the UK, young men are four times more likely than young women to see a problem with immigration. Young German men are in fact as conservative on immigration as men aged 45 and over. And in Poland, 46% of young men voted for the far-right in the October 2023 election, compared to 16% of young women. 

What does it all mean? In recent history, political attitudes have mainly differed by generation rather than by gender.

Most commentators on this new development contemplate the digital shift in lifestyles in the past decade and a half. Because digital spaces are much more gender differentiated than physical social spaces, this could mean the genders are being socialised more differently than ever before.

It’s convincing, albeit speculative. But one thing all of this definitely demonstrates is that a shift to more progressive attitudes over time is not inevitable.

Article image courtesy @helloimnik and feature image courtesy @brucemars via Unsplash.

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