A startling new study finds that millennials are not as modern as we assume compared to older generations when it comes to women and work.
According to two sociologists for the Council on Contemporary Families, more millennials believe that men should be breadwinners and that a woman’s place should be in the home. Millennials were defined by the study as people born between 1982 and 2000.
Looking at high school surveys over the past 40 years, the researchers found that in 1994, 58% of the high school seniors surveyed disagreed with the claim that men should work and women should stay at home for “the best household arrangement.”
But by 2014, that number had decreased and only 42% disagreed with the idea gendered family roles. More high schoolers in 2014 thought that “the husband should make all the important decisions in the family” than high schoolers in 1976.
Workplace equality — but not family equality
But in an interesting contradiction, the majority of millennials believe that even though men should be in charge at home, men and women should be equal at work.
The number of high schoolers who believe that “[a] woman should have exactly the same job opportunities as a man” has increased from 76% in 1976 to nearly 90% for the generations that followed.
Likewise, more young people in 2014 —76%— believe that “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work” than in 1976, when fewer than half of young people in 1976.
Men should do more chores
Researchers found the results “puzzling” as to why millennials were regressing back to the 19th century idea of “separate spheres” where women cared for the private sphere of children and the home, while men got to engage in the public sphere of being the “achiever outside the home.”
Under the logic of separate spheres, women are born to be mothers and wives and men are born to be providers.
What they concluded: you can believe “a woman should have exactly the same job opportunities as a man” and still think her place should be at home if you still believe, deep down in your heart, that there are inherent differences between men and women’s capabilities.
Under this attitude of “egalitarian essentialism,” women can choose to do anything, but they are more likely to choose work that’s “more consistent with their identity as women.”
What the researchers concluded is that we need to break the belief that capability is defined by gender. That belief dictates that women are more suited for housework and work in the domestic sphere.
How to make the home feel more equal? That starts with men doing more chores: “Achieving equity within families requires men to take on tasks that are culturally devalued (cleaning, laundry, and to a lesser extent cooking),” the researchers said.
Study finds that men are threatened by women’s earning power
One other theory as to why this may be happening: women’s advancement in the workforce is a threat to men. They then lash out about their economic loss by contributing less to the household, refusing to do “women’s work.”
A 2012 study found that men who earned less money than their wives also did less housework than men who earned more than their wives.
In a separate study on this perceived threat, researcher Dan Cassino found that “men’s political views polarize more when it seems like they are losing ground” as the dominant force in politics.
The problem: this kind of friction is only more likely to be apparent. Around 15% of men in the U.S. make less than their partners do and even bringing up spousal income with them becomes a touchy subject. During the 2016 U.S. presidential primaries, Cassino, the researcher, asked men in New Jersey about the candidates. The ones who were reminded that women may make more than men were less likely to support presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
One consistent conclusion that we can make from these studies? Gender relations may be less of a straight line towards progress and more of a circle.
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