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Why Young Men & Women Seem to Be Drifting Apart


The Economist: Why young men and women are drifting apart (economist.com)

Diverging worldviews could affect politics, families and more

illustration: louise zergaeng pomeroy

Mar 13th 2024|atlanta, beijing and warsaw



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In a trendy food market in Warsaw, Poland’s capital, two female engineers are discussing how hard it is to meet a nice, enlightened man. Paulina Nasilowska got a big pay rise a few years ago. Her boyfriend asked: “Did you have an affair with your boss?” He is now an ex-boyfriend.

Ms Nasilowska’s friend, Joanna Walczak, recalls a man she met on Tinder who revealed that he was a “red-pill” guy (a reference to “The Matrix”, a film, meaning someone who sees reality clearly. In the “manosphere”, a global online community of angry men, it means realising that men are oppressed.) He thought household chores and child care were women’s work, and that women could not be leaders. They didn’t have a second date.

Typically for young Polish women, Ms Nasilowska and Ms Walczak support parties of the liberal left, which take women’s issues seriously and promise to legalise abortion. Young Polish men, they complain, hew more to the right, or even to the far right. Consider last year’s election. Then the top choice for 18- to 29-year-old men was Confederation, a party that touts free-market economics and traditional social values. (“Against feminists. In defence of real women” is one of its slogans.) Some 26% of young men backed it; only 6% of their female peers did.

Young Polish men have their own set of complaints. Feminism has gone too far, say two firemen in their 20s in a small town. Lukasz says he used to be able to go to a village dance party and “the women there were wife material.” Nowadays “they’re all posting shameless pictures of themselves on social media,” he laments. The media are “all biased and pushing the culture to the left”, complains Mateusz (neither man would give a surname). People no longer admit that men and women often want to do different kinds of work.

In much of the developed world, the attitudes of young men and women are polarising. The Economist analysed polling data from 20 rich countries, using the European Social Survey, America’s General Social Survey and the Korean Social Survey. Two decades ago there was little difference between men and women aged 18-29 on a self-reported scale of 1-10 from very liberal to very conservative. But our analysis found that by 2020 the gap was 0.75 (see chart 1 ). For context, this is roughly twice the size of the gap in opinion between people with and without a degree in the same year.


chart: the economist

Put another way, in 2020 young men were only slightly more likely to describe themselves as liberal than conservative, with a gap of just two percentage points. Young women, however, were much more likely to lean to the left than the right, with a gap of a massive 27 percentage points.

In all the large countries we examined, young men were more conservative than young women (see chart 2). In Poland the gap was 1.1 points on a scale of 1-10. It was a hefty 1.4 in America, 1 in France, 0.75 in Italy, 0.71 in Britain and 0.74 in South Korea. Men and women have always seen the world differently. What is striking, though, is that a gulf in political opinions has opened up, as younger women are becoming sharply more liberal while their male peers are not.

For young women, the triumphs of previous generations of feminists, in vastly increasing women’s opportunities in the workplace and public life, are in the past. They are concerned with continuing injustices, from male violence to draconian abortion laws (in some countries) and gaps in pay to women shouldering a disproportionate share of housework and child care. Plenty of men are broadly in their corner. But a substantial portion are vocally not. Young women’s avid liberalism may spring from a feeling that there is much work still to be done, and that opposition to doing it will be stiff.


chart: the economist

The gap does not translate straightforwardly into voting patterns, but it is visible. One poll found that 72% of young American women who voted in House elections in 2022 backed the Democratic candidate; some 54% of young men did. In 2008 there was barely any gap. In Europe, where many elections offer a wide array of parties, young women are more likely to support the most left-wing ones, whereas young men are more likely to favour the right or even the radical right.

In France in 2022 young men were much keener than young women on Eric Zemmour, a presidential candidate who wrote a book rebutting Simone de Beauvoir, France’s best-known feminist. Germany’s election in 2021 saw the largest ever left-right gap between the votes of young women and men, according to Ansgar Hudde of the University of Cologne. In Portugal, where the far-right Chega party surged in an election on March 10th, support for it is concentrated among voters who are young, male and less educated. And South Korea in 2022 elected an overtly anti-feminist president; more than 58% of men in their 20s voted for him. Some 58% of women in their 20s backed his rival.

Young and cranky

The attitude gap between the sexes is also visible in how they view each other. People in 27 European countries were asked whether they agreed that “advancing women’s and girls’ rights has gone too far because it threatens men’s and boys’ opportunities.” Unsurprisingly, men were more likely to concur than women. Notably, though, young men were more anti-feminist than older men, contradicting the popular notion that each generation is more liberal than the previous one. Gefjon Off, Nicholas Charron and Amy Alexander of Gothenburg University use a Dutch analogy to illustrate the difference between young (18-29) and old (65+) European men. It is as great, on this question, as the gap between the average supporter of Geert Wilders’s radical-right Party for Freedom and the Liberal Democrats.

A similar pattern holds in other advanced countries. Although a higher share of young British men think it is harder to be a woman than a man than think the opposite (35% to 26%), they are likelier than old British men to say it is harder to be a man than a woman. Young British women are more likely than their mothers to believe the opposite. Nearly 80% of South Korean men in their 20s say that men are discriminated against. Barely 30% of men over 60 agree, making their views indistinguishable from those of women in their 20s or 60s.