Photo by Jeff Djevdet via Flikr

The term “millennial,” according to Frank Furstenberg, is an overly simplistic blanket term frequently used to describe the generation born anywhere between 1980 and 2004. This leads to confusion when we see debates in the media about where millennials fall on either side of the conservative or liberal binary, even when research shows significant complexity in millennial attitudes and behaviors. This month, I asked Barbara Risman, Professor of Sociology at University of Illinois at Chicago and President of the Board for the Council on Contemporary Families, about new research for her forthcoming book Where Will the Millennials Take Us: Transforming the Gender Structure? The research is in Social Currents. Risman’s findings suggest that as gender itself challenges binaries, so do millennials’ negotiations with the gender structure. Rather than a clear-cut conclusion about “millennial” approaches to gender, Risman finds four unique typologies that situate millennials within the gender structure: the true believers, innovators, rebels, and straddlers.

Q: In your typology, I was intrigued by the gender rebels: This is the millennial group that seems most different from previous generations. They emerged in your investigation when you demarcated material and cultural dimensions of the gender structure. Can you tell us more about how you came to recognize the gender rebels?

BR: I agree with your assessment that these gender rebels are perhaps the one group in my research that appear to be an invention of the millennial generation. Gender rebels are very much like a group I call the innovators; both could be described as trying to walk the walk of feminism, even if feminism is so in the air they breathe, they sometimes do not use the word. At the individual level of analysis, both groups reject being constrained to stereotypically feminine or masculine personality traits, both reject the cultural expectations that men and women should live different kinds of lives, and both are ideologically opposed to gender inequality. They are very similar in their cultural rejection of gender at the individual, interactional and macro ideological levels.

But when it came to the material aspects of gender, not ideas, but bodies and the class between their bodily presentations and the organization of social life, rebels and innovators couldn’t have been more different. The rebels rejected the notion that just because they were born female (or in one case, male) that meant they should present their bodies as feminine (or in one case, masculine). These rebels rejected the material expression of gender with their bodies. At the individual level they were androgynous, or if female, they presented their bodies in ways traditionally associated with masculinity. This had repercussions for how people treated them, with gender policing especially dramatic for men who challenged gender norms, but also for women who challenged how they presented their bodies once they reached puberty. At the macro level of organizational design, anyone who falls between the binary of male and female faces constant oppression as they do not fit within standard social categories. As you suggest, my distinction between cultural and material dimensions of the gender structure help us to understand why the experiences of rebels are so different from those of innovators.   

Q: What do you see as the practical/policy implications of your findings about the complexity of millennial gender typologies for the advancement of gender equality?

BR: There was one response that didn’t differ across groups. It didn’t matter if someone was a true believer in essential gender differences or a rebel, everyone, male or female, or somewhere in between, expected to work throughout their lives. That has great policy implications. We need to change our workplace policies to reflect the reality that all people in this generation expect to work in the paid labor force, and thus, workplaces have to be re-designed to be more family friendly. In this and no doubt future generations, employed adults will also be caretakers of young children, sick relatives and aging parents. We must use social policy to re-design the world of paid work to make this possible. Every society needs both economic activity and caretaking, and if the same people do both, social organizations have to reflect that reality.

A second policy implication reflects the needs of the rebels. Now that we have people who refuse the label of man or woman, and gender categories themselves are under siege by at least a small group of millennials, we have to begin to allow for gender variation in our social world. If there are people who are neither women nor men, then we need bathrooms that anyone can use. One policy implication is to move beyond single-sex bathrooms. Why not continue to require all stalls to have doors, and perhaps add curtains for urinals, and allow everyone to use every bathroom, and wash their hands next to people who are their same sex and those who are not? Why gender products? Why do we need different colored razors for men and women? At the end of my book, I call for a fourth wave of feminism that seeks to eradicate not just sexism but the gender structure itself. Only then will people who are constrained by gender, all of us, will be free.

Q: Your qualitative research makes a strong argument for the heterogeneity of millennials’ relations to the gender structure. That heterogeneity is very important to understanding things as they are, but sometimes in media the message gets lost. What advice do you have for researchers communicating nuanced findings to public audiences, when many in popular media depict millennials as falling on one side of a progressive/not progressive dichotomy?

BR: This is a problem for both qualitative and quantitative researchers. For qualitative research, I suggest creating catchy names for groups that differ, and insisting that the range of responses be covered. For quantitative researchers, I think a suggestion often given by Stephanie Coontz is right on target, and that is to discuss both means and standard deviations, especially when there is great variation around the average, and so people are really having different experiences.

Braxton Jones earned his MA in Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and serves as a CCF Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar.

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials, originally released March 31, 2017. 

The 2016 election occasioned much debate about how strongly Americans support gender equality. Was this election “a referendum on gender,” as a Newsweek article claimed, one that “women lost”? Or was it just bad luck and campaign missteps? Now that Women’s History Month is over, the Council on Contemporary Families takes a look at the complexities involved in assessing the future of gender equality.

One reason political forecasters did poorly last year was that they ignored growing alienation among their traditional supporters. New research by sociologists Joanna Pepin of the University of Maryland and David Cotter of Union College suggests that those who have been counting on the younger generation to complete the gender revolution may be making the same mistake. For CCF’s Gender and Millennials Online Symposium, Pepin and Cotter summarize their findings in the lead briefing paper, and five other researchers comment.

Whoa! Looks like young adults are less supportive of equality at home than at work. People frequently attribute the dramatic increase in support for gender equality since 1977 to generational replacement, assuming it will continue as the so-called Millennials, born between 1982 and the early 2000s, come to dominate the population. But examining almost 40 years of surveys taken of high-school seniors, Pepin and Cotter report that fewer youths now express support for gender equality than did their Gen-X counterparts back in the mid-1990s.

Since the 1990s, nearly 90 percent of every class of high-school seniors has supported the principle that women should have exactly the same opportunities as men in business and politics. However, when it comes to home life, youths have become more conservative since the mid-1990s. In 1994, only 42 percent of high-school seniors expressed the belief that the best family was one where the man was the outside achiever and the woman took care of the home. In 2014, 58 percent said this was true.

Black high-school seniors and females, in general, were more likely than White males to give egalitarian answers throughout the years of the survey, but all sectors of students became more conservative between 1994 and 2014. Pepin and Cotter suggest that this across-the-board increase in support for traditionalism helps explain the stall in women’s workforce participation and in occupational desegregation.

A growing gender gap among youth in their early 20s. CCF research intern Nika Fate-Dixon examined the General Social Survey (which has reported on the same questions for 40 years and breaks the answers down by age) to see whether similar changes had occurred among the next-oldest age group, those 18-to-25. She found that by 1994, 84 percent had come to disagree with the claim that a woman’s place was in the home. In 2014, however, the percent disagreeing had dropped to three-quarters.

In the GSS survey, the decline in egalitarianism was driven primarily by young men, who went from 83 percent rejecting the superiority of the male-breadwinner family in 1994 to only 55 percent doing so in 2014. Women’s disagreement with this claim fell far less sharply, and their confidence that an employed woman could successfully parent a preschool child increased slightly over the period, while men’s confidence dropped.

A dip in gender egalitarianism revealed by the election? As for the larger group of young adults aged 18 to 30, they were the only age group to decisively favor Hillary Clinton in the election. Yet according to an analysis of exit polls prepared for this symposium by Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director of Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), their support for a White woman in 2016 was 10 percentage points lower than their vote for a Black man in 2008, suggesting a dip in enthusiasm for gender equality here as well. Only 25 percent of the women Millennial voters and 15 percent of the males identified as feminists.

Are new cultural values on the rise? Pepin and Cotter argue that most Americans have rejected the ideology of inherent gender difference that dominated American culture from the early 19th century up through the 1950s and remained embedded in law well into the 1970s. According to this view, women were best suited to raise children and society should protect home life by limiting women’s access to the public sphere of work, politics, and higher education.

But although Americans now overwhelmingly agree that society has no right to deny opportunities to individuals on the basis of their sex, many are uncomfortable with the idea that men and women can be interchangeable in the tasks they perform at home and at work. Pepin and Cotter suggest that the changing views of high school seniors since 1994 reflect the growing appeal of a hybrid ideology they call “egalitarian essentialism.” This combines a commitment to equality of opportunity with the belief that men and women typically choose different opportunities because men are “inherently better suited to some roles and women to others.” Egalitarian essentialism assumes that as long as women are not prevented from choosing high-powered careers, or forced out of them upon parenthood, their individual choices are freely made and are probably for the best.

CIRCLE’s 2016 exit polls found that only 20 percent of Millennial women disagreed with the statement that feminism “is about personal choice, not politics.” This represents a sharp departure from the 1970s feminist slogan “the personal is political,” with its insistence that personal choices often reflect political and economic constraints that should be removed.

…or have women’s gain’s provoked a backlash? Other contributors propose alternative interpretations of the decline in support for egalitarian domestic arrangements. Political scientist Dan Cassino suggests that the growth in women’s earnings power may have led some threatened males (and sympathetic females) to seek other ways to shore up masculine identity. Youth who have witnessed financial role reversals in their own families or communities may have felt a renewed need to validate men’s leadership in family finances and decision-making. Cassino’s research shows that many men react negatively to women’s economic gains. During the 2016 primaries, he asked prospective voters questions designed to direct their attention to how many women now earn more money than men. Men who were reminded of this threat to traditional masculine identity became less likely to express a preference for Hilary Clinton, though not for Bernie Sanders.

When masculinity is threatened, Republican men get more conservative, Democrats more liberal. Not all men react to threats to traditional masculine identity in the same way, however. In another study, Cassino was able to identify marriages in which a husband’s earnings fell substantially relative to his wife’s. And he was also able to track changes in these husbands’ responses to two political questions that generally divide liberals and conservatives. He found that men who were Democrats became more liberal as their share of household earnings fell, while Republican men became more conservative, perhaps explaining the increase in “strong” agreement with traditional values that Fate-Dixon describes. (Interestingly, Democratic men whose earnings rose substantially compared to their wives also became more conservative, illustrating the feedback effect between changing structural conditions and changing values.)

But wait: Married couples are less threatened by women’s gains than in the past. Is support for traditionalism a reaction to inadequate social policies?

University of Utah assistant professor of family and consumer studies Dan Carlson objects that Millennials who have embarked on family life seem less threatened by women’s gains relative to men than were couples in earlier decades. Since the 1990s, the higher risk of divorce for couples where the wife earns more than her husband has disappeared. And in contrast to the past, couples where husband and wife equally divide family chores and child-rearing now report the greatest marital and sexual satisfaction.

Carlson argues that the increase in young adults’ agreement that male-breadwinner families “are better for everyone concerned” may reflect the difficulties many families have had in sustaining egalitarian relationships in the current political and economic climate. When a man loses his job and the family reverses the conventional male-breadwinner arrangement, with the woman becoming the breadwinner and the man taking care of the family, this tends to create high levels of marital dissatisfaction. In other cases, young people may have watched the conflicts that arise when their parents struggle to share breadwinning and child-raising in the absence of supportive work-family policies and concluded that, whatever their ideal preferences, the reality of trying to share responsibilities is too stressful.

This interpretation finds some support in University of Leuven researcher Jan Van Bavel’s examination of European public opinion surveys. In Europe, where substantial public investments in affordable childcare and guaranteed paid leaves are now the norm, support for gender equality has continued to rise among all age groups. Van Bavel predicts this will continue. He argues that as women increasingly come to marriage with more education than their partners and have access to policies allowing them to integrate work and family responsibilities, they are less likely to cut back their work commitments after having children, further eroding the cultural norm of male breadwinning.

Even in the United States, the seeming stall in women’s workforce participation may mask important changes, according to a new paper by economists Claudia Goldin and Joshua Mitchell. As women enter motherhood at a later age, they work longer before taking time off for parenting. And the longer women work prior to having children, the longer they tend to work once they return. Furthermore, fewer women actually quit their jobs after a first birth, and more take leaves that make it easier for them to return to full-time employment in the same job. The proportion of women who quit their jobs around the time of the birth of their first child decreased from 30 percent in the 1980s to 22 percent in the early 2000s.

The problem with claims about “the” Millennials. Sociologist Frank Furstenberg criticizes the over-generalizations often made about “the” attitudes of such a diverse group as the Millennials and notes that the 18-to-25-year-olds interviewed in 2014 are not really comparable to those interviewed in 1994, being far less likely to be married or employed in permanent jobs. Their attitudes could go either way, depending on the economic and political changes that occur over the next several years.

Finally, as CCF Board President Barbara Risman observes, people are full of inconsistencies that may not be captured in their responses to single issues. When Risman did lengthy interviews with Millennials for a forthcoming book, she was struck by the wildly contradictory expectations about gender and family life that many of them expressed over the course of a single conversation. “You can read through a life history interview,” she reports, “and really not believe the same person is talking about themselves, what they think others expect of them because they are male or female, and what they expect from others in their relationships.” Those contradictions in people’s worldviews and sense of identity, Risman argues, offer opportunities for youths to imagine new possibilities as they encounter new experiences and new ideas. But as Pepin and Cotter warn, they also open the way to nostalgia for gender arrangements of the past, especially if youths continue to believe that their personal choices are not political.

Update: After this symposium was posted, 2016 data from the General Social Survey became available. The latest numbers show a sharp rebound in young men’s disagreement with the claim that male-breadwinner families are superior. GSS two-year trends are exceptionally volatile, due to the small size of the sample, and the overall decade averages still confirm a rise in traditionalism among 18-to-25-year-olds since the 1990s. But the new data shows that this rise is no longer driven mainly by young men, as it appeared to be in the General Social Survey results from 1994 through 2014. Nevertheless, other evidence for a Millennial gender gap still stands, so stay tuned for more updates on this moving target.

Stephanie Coontz is a CCF Director of Research and Education, and a Professor of History at The Evergreen State College.

Photo via Rowman & Littlefield

In the extensive discussion of crime and race in the U.S., Asian/American experiences are rarely considered. Asian/Americans—a diverse group—are neglected in studies, analyses, and media representations. A new book, Asian/Americans, Education, and Crime: The Model Minority as Victim and Perpetrator, edited by Daisy Ball and Nicholas Hartlep, aims to address this gap. A chief issue is the distortion generated by the “model minority” stereotype.

As Professor Ball discussed in our short interview, growing up under the shadow of a stereotype—those seemingly positive as well as negative—shapes the experiences of Asian/Americans. The pressure to live up to a stereotype can lead to strain on families. Indeed, individual Asian/Americans get more coverage when they fit the stereotype, and this deters a full understanding of the diverse and divergent realities of Asian/Americans. My conversation with Daisy Ball, a professor of sociology and coordinator of criminology at Framingham State University, brought this all into focus.

TC:  Your book focuses on Asian/Americans’ criminal involvement as well as how they are treated by the police. Why did you decide to investigate this topic?

DB: The idea for this book comes from two main sources: The first source was current conversations regarding race and crime, including police use of force and the responding #BlackLivesMatter movement. My co-editor, Nicholas Hartlep, and I follow these conversations closely. As the discussions increased and the voices of activists became louder (which we were thrilled to hear), we noticed conversations regarding Asian/Americans’ criminal justice involvement were absent.

As Stacey Lee (2009) notes, Asian/Americans are typically cast as the “model minority”: good students, conformist, and law-abiding. Unlike African Americans and Latinx, Asian/Americans are a racial minority group in the U.S. that are decidedly not associated with crime. Instead, they are associated with educational and economic success. Through our book, we seek to add to the current conversation regarding race and crime by focusing specifically on Asian/Americans and criminal justice involvement. In reality, Asian/Americans are the victims and perpetrators of crime as well as victims of unjust criminal justice practices.

Second, the idea for this book stems out of my greater body of research, specifically my examination of the aftermath for Asian/American undergraduates at Virginia Tech following two horrific crimes: the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre (the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history), and a beheading that took place on campus eighteen months after the massacre. In both cases, the perpetrator was of Asian descent. Following these crimes, the community spoke out—via emails, letters to the editor, and blog posts—against people of Asian descent studying at Virginia Tech. The conversation became so hostile that then-president of the university, Charles Steger, published an open letter to the campus community in which he asked for tolerance towards Asian/Americans and Asian nationals studying at Virginia Tech.

In my examination of the aftermath of these sensational crimes, I am interested in how members of a group typically stereotyped as the “model minority” respond when faced with a much more negative stereotype, that of “criminal threat.” So you can see how my book on Asian/American criminal justice involvement from various vantage points is linked to exceptional ways of looking at Asian/American experiences in these other sensational contexts.

TC: As mentioned in your book, there are a lack of studies, media representation, and analyses surrounding Asian/Americans which ultimately leaves them being misunderstood and misinterpreted. Do you believe this leaves a daily impact on Asian/American families? 

DB: Certainly. As I mentioned, although our society devotes considerable attention to criminal justice issues, Asian/Americans are largely absent from such conversations. This is problematic: although Asian/Americans are the victims of crime, they are often not consulted about their victimization by the media, or by the police. Oftentimes, when police arrive at the scene of a crime, they assume the Asian/Americans present do not speak English, and therefore turn to whites for information about what has occurred. At the same time, we know that Asian/Americans, in addition to being victims of crime, are the perpetrators of crime. Yet their histories, perspectives, and accounts from their family members rarely make the news to the same degree that members of mainstream culture do.

As several of the chapters in our book demonstrate, the more foreign an Asian/American or Asian national victim is perceived to be—by the community, by the media, by the police—the less coverage, care, and/or attention they receive. For example, in his chapter “Newspaper Portrayals and Emotional Connection Strategies: Commemorating Model Minority Murder Victims,” Alexander Lu illustrates that the more Asian national murder victims conform to the model minority stereotype, the more positive attention their cases receive, and the more they are memorialized by the community in which the crime occurs. In terms of the family, one way family members of victims are impacted by crime is the degree to which they are given a voice after the crime has occurred. Lu compares the murders of Won-Joon Yoon and Deepak Sharma, two young Asian national male graduate students studying in the U.S. Based on his analysis of the two cases, Lu concludes that because Yoon closely fit the construction of the model minority stereotype, he received considerably more media coverage, and was memorialized at several community-wide commemorations. Through media coverage and commemoration of his murder, his family was given repeated opportunities to speak out about Yoon. Conversely, because Sharma did not conform to the stereotype of the model minority, his murder received scant attention, and his family’s voice was essentially silenced when it came to speaking out about Sharma. The only exception was when his father was quoted in a Hindustan Times article about the logistics of transporting Sharma’s body back to India for last rites.

In her chapter, “Anonymous Victims and Invisible Communities: U.S. Media Portrayals of Chinese International Students Involved in Homicide,” Ke Li illustrates that when it comes to news media coverage of crimes involving Chinese international students, the crime is rarely considered from the vantage point of the international student. The Chinese students themselves are not asked, nor are their family members, friends, classmates, and professors, for input about what happened. Instead, more mainstream members of the community, such as police officers and their affiliates, are asked to interpret the crime. What results is an imbalanced portrait of the crime, for the story is only being told from the mainstream (most often white) perspective. This phenomenon is naturally a frustrating experience for grieving family members.

TC: One common stereotype of those who are of Asian descent is “being intelligent.” Your book brings to light how this is part of the way in which Asian/Americans are seen as the “model minority” and how the stereotyping “ignores both the history of discrimination and the contemporary problems faced by Asian/Americans.” Knowing that, how do you think this affects Asian/American families today?

DB: I think that growing up under the shadow of this stereotype, and/or raising children in the shadow of this stereotype, is challenging for Asian/American families today. Although at the outset, the model minority stereotype appears to be positive, much of the literature in Asian/American studies illustrates that this stereotype is detrimental to those to whom it is applied. The “double-edged sword” nature of this stereotype has been widely demonstrated in the literature (for example, see Lee 2009; Zakeri 2015; Feagin and Chou 2016). The assumption that Asian/Americans are a monolithic group, a group whose members are all succeeding, has caused members of this group to be overlooked when it comes to a variety of social services, which has undoubtedly put strain on modern Asian/American families.

Based on several research projects I’ve conducted with Asian/American undergraduates, there is intense pressure on Asian/American students to succeed—from early-on in their academic careers, through graduate school and beyond. Interestingly, many of my respondents deny the fact that parental/family pressure is problematic for them; they first acknowledge that it exists, and then brush it off as an aside, or couch it in humor (“that’s just what parents do, no big deal”). One of the puzzles I’m currently exploring is why my respondents tell the stories they do—acknowledging that the pressure exists, but then contrary to the literature in the field, denying the pressure is anything serious or anything to worry about, or causes challenges of any kind for them. Some possibilities to explore include interviewer effects (i.e. that I am a white woman interviewing Asian/American students); the possibility that the Asian/American studies literature has overblown the detrimental nature of the model minority stereotype; and/or the possibility that the students in my sample are just unique in some way, and that is why their responses do not align with the literature.


Note: Professor Ball joins Roanoke College’s Department of Public Affairs faculty in Fall 2017.

Tasia Clemons is a Senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.


A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials, originally released March 31, 2017.

Overview. In their briefing paper, “Trending toward Traditionalism?” Pepin and Cotter report on a remarkable reversal of the attitudes held by U.S. high school seniors about gender in families: While subsequent cohorts exhibited increasingly egalitarian attitudes until the mid-1990s, they moved back towards more conservative opinions afterwards. Fate-Dixon found similar trends among 18-to-25 year olds.

Despite these findings, I think that the big structural trends are still pushing towards more gender equality in the U.S. as well as elsewhere in the West. Generations coming of age in the late 20th or early 21stcentury still grew up in a world that was largely dominated by men, certainly in politics and the economy. However, this is changing among the generations being born in the early 21st century. While couples these days are most likely to have the same level of education, there is a new pattern among the roughly 40 percent who don’t match. According to a U.S. 2012 study, a woman’s educational achievement is now slightly more likely exceed her husband’s than vice versa, a trend that seems to be accelerating in many countries. This means that new generations of women are sometimes better educated than their husbands. If that is the case, they are also more often the main breadwinners of their families than in comparable couples where the wives are less or equally educated. While attitudes about gender may stall or even exhibit some conservative backlash, structural forces continue to push towards more gender equality.

U.S. versus Europe. Full-fledged comparison of the American findings by Pepin and Cotter with European attitudes is not possible because the equivalent data for Europe are lacking. Yet, as far as the evidence goes, we see no signs that attitudes about gender are turning less rather than more conservative among Europeans, whatever their age. Figures 1 and 2 below plot the proportion of respondents in the European Social Survey agreeing with each of the following two statements: “Men should have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce”; and “Women should be prepared to cut down on paid work for sake of family.” We give separate graphs for male and female respondents, and we plot the proportions of people agreeing at different ages, ranging from 15 to 75 year olds, and in two different years (2004 and 2010).

The most striking feature of both figures is that the lines go up dramatically from left to right, implying that younger men as well as women tend to agree much less with conservative statements about gender. Second, in the more recent round of the European Social Survey, in 2010, the responses tended to be less conservative and more gender egalitarian than six years earlier, in 2004 – as indicated by the fact that the dashed line is almost always below the solid line; otherwise, the lines just touch, indicating stability over time. While 15 to 20 year-old men tend to agree more often with the conservative statement than 20 to 25 year-old men, the most recent cohort of men below age 20 has taken a more, not less, gender egalitarian stance.

Figure 1. Percentage of Europeans agreeing with the statement “Men should have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce”; responses in the European Social Survey in 2004 (solid lines) and 2010 (dashed lines), men (left) and women (right) aged 15 to 75

Figure 2. Percentage of Europeans agreeing with the statement “Women should be prepared to cut down on paid work for sake of family”; responses in the European Social Survey in 2004 (solid lines) and 2010 (dashed lines), men (left) and women (right) aged 15 to 75

As far as the evidence goes, the European trends in attitudes do not seem to move in the same direction as was found among high school seniors and 18-to-25-year-olds in the U.S. Despite the turn towards more conservative gender attitudes found by Pepin and Cotter and Fate-Dixon in the latter group, there are good reasons to expect that actual practices and behavior will continue to move towards more gender equality in the U.S. as well as in Europe.

Europe doesn’t have the reversal—but what does it mean? In earlier generations, if there was a difference in educational attainment level between mom and dad, it was typically dad who had the higher degree. This was the case in the United States until about 2012. In recent generations of high school graduates who were raised in double-earner families, the father usually had the higher degree in education, giving him the higher income potential, and in fact earning most of the family income. While the mother also typically went out to work for pay and contributed to the family income, her role as economic provider was typically secondary, supportive of his status as the main earner.

Recent studies showed that this is changing, not only in the West but globally. As populations across the globe become more educated, women tend to accumulate more education than men, leading to a reversal of the gender gap in education to the advantage of women.[1] This holds also on the couple level: In countries with a reversed gender gap in education, it is more common that the wife has more education than the husband, rather than the other way around.

When women are better educated than men, they may also have higher earnings potential. Yet, the gender gap in earnings still remains to men’s advantage. Among other things, this is related to the fact that women choose less lucrative study subjects and occupations and that women typically face a motherhood penalty on earnings while men rather receive a fatherhood bonus. As explained by Pepin and Cotter, the cultural orientation of gender essentialism may be the explanation, i.e. the idea that men and women hold innately and fundamentally different in interests and skills.

Yet a recent study indicates that the gender gap reversal in education has the potential to undermine the motherhood penalty. When a wife has a higher degree than her husband, not only are the chances clearly higher that she can become the main earner of the family but it also offsets the motherhood penalty, especially in countries that make it easier for women to combine careers and parenthood.[2] In Europe, when both partners have a college degree, the share of couples where she earns more than he does is around one in three among childless couples, while it is only around one in five among couples with school-aged children. However, when a wife has a college degree but her husband doesn’t, the share of coupled parents where the wife earns more than her husband is just as high as among childless college-educated couples, i.e. around one in three. This suggests that earnings potential and work experience may start to outweigh any cultural preferences of women to cut back at work after having children.

Furthermore, a female advantage in education or earnings (or both) is no longer associated with lower marital stability. This was the case in the past, but this is changing. One study found that the wife’s employment was still associated with a higher risk of divorce in the U.S., but not in European countries nor in Australia. In fact, in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, wives’ employment even predicted a lower divorce risk compared to couples where the wife stayed home.[3] More detailed study of time trends in the U.S. recently showed that while couples where she was more educated than he or where she earned more than he were more at risk of divorce in the past, but not anymore today.[4]

Why have attitudes among American youths shown a more conservative trend in recent years? An obvious explanation could be a romantic kind of backlash. These are the first kids who grew up with two working parents, if not with a single mother, with all the stressful situations this entails, particularly in a society whose institutions and companies are not quite adjusted to the new gender roles yet. Youngsters may romanticize the male breadwinner, female homemaker model, which they may still see in the movies and on television. Their mothers were typically doing extra housework shifts after their work commitments, which may not look like an attractive future for younger generations, especially when despite two working parents the income of the middle classes stopped growing[5] and many families faced difficulties keeping up with the increasing demands of consumer culture.

Even so, it remains to be seen whether the stall or even backlash observed in attitudes in the U.S. will continue. As I noted above, the recent shift in relevant attitudes observed in Europe are still moving in the direction of support for more gender equality. If I had to put my money on it, as the current American high school seniors and under-25 youths grow older, they will experience that their own families will be better off if they can pool and share resources rather than having the wife specializing in unpaid household work and the other in paid market work. As a result, I would expect that the attitudes will adjust to the reality, which is moving in the direction of more gender equality.

Jan Van Bavel is a Professor of Sociology at University of Leuven.

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials, originally released March 31, 2017.

In this study, I use the National Exit Poll and Tisch College/CIRCLE’s nationally representative tracking poll of Millennials to explore how young men and women differed in their vote choice in 2016, how they chose their candidates, and how they seem to be responding to the outcome of the election.

When it comes to voting, youths are politically more liberal than older age groups, and young women more liberal than young men. Yet although young adults aged 18 to 29 were more likely to support Clinton in 2016 than any other age group (55 percent overall), youth support overall for Democratic candidates has declined since 2008 and 2012. As I explain below, this was largely due to shifts in the allegiances of politically moderate young men and to the increased representation, and likely rising turnout, of the strongest Trump-supporter group among youth: White men without a college degree.

Reflecting the gender difference in vote choice, Millennial men and women have different views of the new Trump Administration and what risks and opportunities it presents. Women are overall much less optimistic, and more worried about people’s rights. Yet they do not report feeling motivated to become more involved in politics. Therefore, even though Millennial women perceive biases and injustice against women connected to the rise of this new administration, they may not choose to address these issues by becoming politically involved.

On the other hand, historical analysis suggests that young people’s commitment to equality rises during Republican administrations, something that was certainly the case during the George W. Bush Administration. If this pattern applies, we may see a significant rise in youth civic and political engagement in the near future.

Youth Vote 2008-2016:  Men and Women, Once United, Now Divided. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 55 percent of voters under age 30, a higher percentage than any other age group. Despite the decisive youth support for Mrs. Clinton, her victory among this group was much lower than that of Barack Obama. In 2008, 66 percent of all youth voted for the Democratic candidate, and a solid 60 percent did so in 2012.

The gender differences in youth support for candidates were larger than in other recent elections. Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of young female voters supported Hillary Clinton, compared to slightly less than half (47 percent) of young men (see Figure 1). There was also a significant reversal in the turnout of young men and women. In 2004, 2008, and 2012, more young White women voted than did young White men. But in 2016 the opposite was true. While the turnout of young White women remained fairly stable through the last four Presidential elections, 2016 saw the greatest number of votes cast by young White men in the past 12 years — markedly higher than their female counterparts (see Figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

The gender difference in support for Hillary Clinton was largest among youth who had attended college at one point but did not have a degree (see Figure 3). This group includes many current college students along with those who have college experience but do not have a four-year degree.

Figure 3

The National Exit Poll also reveals gender differences in support for Hillary Clinton across racial groups. Black and Latina women were more likely to support Hillary Clinton than their male counterparts, often by a substantial margin. But young White men comprised the only youth group that gave majority support to Donald Trump (52 percent for Trump, 35 percent for Clinton). White women were far less likely to vote for Clinton than women of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, but still gave Clinton a 9-point edge over Trump (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Rapidly declining support for the Democratic presidential candidate from young men who consider themselves political moderates contributed to the overall decline in the proportion of young voters who supported Clinton. In 2008, two-thirds of young moderates, both men and women, supported Barack Obama. But in 2016, just 41 percent of young male moderates voted for Hillary Clinton, even though support from young female moderates fell only modestly, from 65 percent in 2008 to 61 percent in 2016 (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

Shifts in the demographic composition of White youth voters also contributed to the overall decline in youth support for the democratic candidate. As noted above, for many past elections young women’s voter turnout surpassed those of young men’s, and among White youth, women without a college degree made up the largest share in 2008. Since then, the share of young White votes cast by women without college degree has declined steadily, and in 2016, the share of male voters without college degrees far surpassed that of their female counterparts (and of college-educated youth of either sex, see Figure 6). This shift is important because White men without a college degree overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, by a staggering 31-point margin (see Figure 7).

Additional analyses, available on request, imply (though not conclusively) that among men, a majority of whom had voted for Obama in 2008 regardless of race, many had become increasingly disillusioned by 2012, and were driven toward Trump in 2016. Young men who had voted in a presidential election before 2016 were far more likely to vote for Trump than the first-time voting men, by a large margin. Vote choice among young women did not differ by previous voting experience.

Figure 6

Figure 7

Many Millennials, But Not All, Thought Gender Played a Role This Election. Compared to past cohorts of women, Millennials face relatively few structural and explicit gender barriers. But during the 2016 campaign, 33 percent of Millennial women perceived clear gender biases against Hillary Clinton in the media, while 30 percent of young men thought that the media was biased in Clinton’s favor. About one month after the election, Millennial men and women were somewhat divided on how they saw the new Trump administration and whether women have the same access to opportunities as men do today. Only one-third of Millennial women considered Donald Trump their president, compared to 44 percent of Millennial men, and also only one-third (34 percent) of Millennial women believed that men and women now had the same opportunities, while half (48 percent) of their male counter-parts thought so (see Figure 8).

Figure 8 

For Millennials, Feminism is Personal, but Not Political. Although women were more likely to think that Hillary Clinton’s gender influenced the election in some ways, data also show that Millennials, including women, tend not to connect gender and politics. Only a quarter of women (and 15 percent of men) in this age group consider themselves feminists. Furthermore, only 20 percent disagree with the statement “Feminism is about personal choice, not politics.” Indeed, just 14 percent of Millennial women said that electing the first female President of the United States was an important factor in their candidate choice (See Figure 9).

Figure 9

Will Millennial Men and Women Stay Equally Involved in Civic Life in the Future? In short, Millennial men and women are not engaged in the same way and at the same level. Millennial women, generally speaking, are more likely to volunteer and to vote, whereas Millennial men are more likely to aspire to elected office, consume political news, especially through late-night news comedy shows, and discuss political issues with their peers. Although patterns of individual civic engagement are complex and should not be oversimplified, Millennial women tend to contribute to civic life by supporting civil society (including at local and national elections), while men are more comfortable with political involvement.

But will their engagement levels and patterns stay the same after the unusual election of the 2016?  Young men and women differ in their view of the health of U.S. democracy, with men feeling more hopeful than women. However, this does not seem to lead them to report different levels of intent to engage in politics in the near future (see Figure 10). As found in the recent study from CIRCLE, Clinton voters reported being far more motivated to engage in politics, especially to resist the new Trump administration, than Trump voters. Yet the relative lack of difference between men and women in this analysis indicates that although Millennial women felt less hopeful about U.S. democracy under the Trump administration, they were not yet motivated to take political action shortly after the election. It is worth noting, however, that this polling occurred before the inauguration and the Women’s marches that occurred across the country the following day. According to several national polls taken in the second half of February, Trump’s disapproval ratings have increased since then. It is possible that Millennial women may become increasingly willing to engage in politics.

Figure 10

There is, moreover, some indication that young people, regardless of gender, may become more engaged throughout the current administration. My colleague Peter Levine analyzed the American National Election Survey data from 1984 to the present and found that overall, people’s concerns about equality rises during Republican administration and subsides during Democratic administrations (see Figure 11). This was most pronounced in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. It is then reasonable to expect that more young people will become politically engaged in the coming years.

Figure 11

© Peter Levine, 2017:

Conclusion. This gender-centered view into the 2016 presidential election data highlights the complexity and diversity of the Millennial generation, which simply cannot be described as a monolith who hold the same values, believe in the same things, and — especially when it comes to voting — lean Democratic. The data tells a story of a generation once united by the rhetoric of “hope and change” in President Obama’s campaign, and solidified by the belief in equality, but now deeply divided and consequently conflicted over who to blame for their disappointment.

The Pepin and Cotter  brief may seem at odds with this paper because it points to an important decline in gender egalitarianism, which is alarming because, if true and enduring, our country could be pedaling back from decades of progress toward gender equity. On the other hand, our data suggest that the large shifts in attitudes and behaviors occurred among a specific demographic group, namely men, and most especially White men without a college degree, a conclusion supported by Fate-Dickson’s analysis of the GSS findings. As Pepin and Cotter point out, it is possible that “a significant minority of youths have reverted to an endorsement of male supremacy, at least within the family realm” but certainly not all.

That said, the data from Tisch College’s CIRCLE Millennial poll also indicates that relatively few Millennial women explicitly identify as feminists (25 percent) and even fewer men (15 percent) see themselves as such, despite the rise in the number of “stay-at-home dads” noted by Van Bavel. This may seem like a conundrum to seasoned feminists who have long argued that “the personal is political.” But, only one-fifth of Millennials regard feminism as a political rather than just a personal stance. In fact, even among women, just 14 percent named electing the first female President of the United States as an important factor in their vote choice.

Many if not most Millennials believe that men and women should  have equal access to opportunities and power in general, a trend that’s likely to increase according to their historic patterns. But, as Pepin and Cotter point out, some now believe that in their families, it is okay for men to have more power, and that personal choices about gender relationships at home have no bearing on what will happen to the egalitarian political and work opportunities they seem to support. One strategy may be to strengthen civic and community education to help young people understand how their personal choices and decisions are influenced by, and have impact on, our public policies.

Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg is the director of CIRCLE Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

This fact sheet was compiled for the Council on Contemporary Families by scholars at

Asian Americans are often seen as the most affluent racial/ethnic minority group in the United States, the “model minority.” It is true that, overall, their income, educational attainment and neighborhood environment is better than that of Hispanics and Blacks. However, what is often missed is that the Asian American experience is highly diverse. There are significant differences by national origin and across geographic areas. It is important to uncover the variation in the Asian American experience so that we can better understand and address the strengths and vulnerabilities of different subgroups.

Socioeconomic status is highly variable

  • Asians have the highest socioeconomic status of any major racial/ethnic group in the U.S., but their characteristics vary greatly according to their national origin or ancestry. As seen in Figure 1, the median household income of Asian Indians ($103,821), the highest income group, is more than twice that of Bangladeshis ($49,515), the lowest income group. [2015 median household income, from U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey]
  • Asians vary even more dramatically in terms of educational attainment. 77 percent of Taiwanese and 73 percent of Asian Indians (age 25 and over) have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to only 14 percent of Laotians and 18 percent of Cambodians [U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey]

Residential segregation among the poor

  • Asians are less residentially segregated from non-Hispanic whites than are Blacks or Latinos (less likely to live in separate neighborhoods). However, poor Asians are very segregated from poor whites, and poor Asian children experience extreme segregation­—substantially higher even than that experienced by poor Black or Hispanic children. [org analysis of 2015 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates]

Child opportunity in neighborhoods is also highly variable

Separate neighborhoods are often deeply unequal in terms of the opportunities that they offer residents. The Institute Child Opportunity Index  is an aggregate measure of neighborhood opportunity for children across neighborhoods in a metropolitan area, based on 19 indicators important for children’s wellbeing. [Following 4 points based on analysis of the Child Opportunity Index and the 2010 Census, Summary File 1]

  • Asians are more concentrated in the highest-opportunity neighborhoods of U.S. metropolitan areas than are any other major racial/ethnic group. But this does not mean that Asians are uniformly advantaged. Asian racial subgroups are extraordinarily diverse, and there is tremendous inequality among these subgroups.
  • For example, while 50 percent of Taiwanese reside in very high-opportunity neighborhoods (the best 20 percent of neighborhoods within their metro area) this is true for only 5 percent of the Hmong population (see Figure 2).
  • In addition to the Taiwanese population, Koreans, Japanese, and Indians are highly concentrated in very high-opportunity neighborhoods.
  • By contrast, Hmong, Cambodians, and Laotians are highly concentrated in very-low opportunity neighborhoods (the lowest 20 percent of neighborhoods within their metro area.) A full half of Hmong, 38 percent of Cambodians, and 34 percent of Laotians live in such low-opportunity neighborhoods, compared to only 2 percent of Taiwanese and 4 percent of Koreans.
  • Even within the same Asian and Pacific Islander subgroups, the share living in the highest opportunity neighborhoods of their metro area differs substantially across metros. For example, 66 percent of Chinese living in Pittsburgh reside in the very high-opportunity neighborhoods of that metro, but only 19 percent of Chinese living in San Francisco reside in the very high-opportunity neighborhoods of that metro.

Exposure to poverty in public schools

  • The average Asian public school student attends a school where 42 percent of students are low-income. This is well below the figures for Blacks and Latinos, where the average public school student attends a school where more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the students are low income. [Civil Rights Project, UCLA; Brown at 62: School Segregation by Race, Poverty, and State]

But again, this average advantage does not accrue to all groups of Asians. One symptom of the extreme segregation facing low-income Asians is a lack of access to support systems such as Head Start programs. The percentage of poor Asian children with access to a Head Start Center is lower than for their counterparts of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. Only 22 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children in families with incomes below the poverty line reside in a neighborhood that includes a Head Start center, compared to 31 percent of poor Black children and 31 percent of poor Hispanic children.

The authors are part of at the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, Brandeis University. Nancy McArdle is at

photo by miapowter via pixabay

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials, originally released March 31, 2017.

Pepin and Cotter make a major contribution to family research by challenging the current practice of treating people’s attitudes about gender as a unitary construct called a “gender ideology.” Instead, they show us that people’s attitudes about gender are multidimensional, complicated, and at times contradictory. Most of us hold multiple gender ideologies or views simultaneously, depending on what aspects of life we are thinking about.

In the process of disentangling people’s attitudes about different gender issues or distinct aspects of changing gender relationships, Pepin and Cotter show us that at least some of the gains made toward gender equality since the 1970s may be under serious threat. On the one hand, support for giving women the same job opportunities as men remains high, and attitudes about the impact of mothers’ labor force participation on their children have continued to liberalize since the 1970s. But among high school seniors — the next generation of parents — support for egalitarian sharing of unpaid household work and decision-making has actually slipped since reaching a high point in 1994.

Pepin and Cotter contend that a new ideology of “egalitarian essentialism” lies behind the revival of support for differentiated gender roles at home, and that these beliefs explain the stalled revolution in gender equality as defined by the lack of gender parity in labor force participation, the persistent gender wage gap, and women’s continued responsibility for childcare and housework in families. They also suggest that such beliefs about gendered family roles at home may be leading many women to internalize the notion that doing the bulk of unpaid work is just and fair, making them unlikely to ask for change. This modernized notion of separate but equal spheres for men and women thus legitimizes and perpetuates an unequal labor burden on women in families, which in turn limits their progress outside the home. Although Pepin and Cotter point to a causal role of attitudes in shaping the social behaviors and structures associated with the stall in the gender revolution, they have trouble explaining why these attitudes have changed.

Cause and consequence. My own work and that of others would suggest that the retreat from egalitarian behaviors and values in many families likely reflects the obstacles couples face in pursuing an egalitarian division of financial and family responsibilities – an arrangement that the majority of U.S. couples state is very important to a successful marriage (Pew 2016) and that researchers find to have increasingly positive consequences for couples’ well-being.

Previous research on adult subjects has shown that people’s attitudes are shaped by their experiences and options. Gender ideologies and choices about gender arrangements in the home are just as much the product of larger structural conditions related to gender inequality as they are the source of those conditions. My work with Jamie Lynch (2013) has demonstrated as much, showing that gender ideologies are both the cause and consequence of the division of housework in marriage. Sharing housework leads to more egalitarian attitudes and vice versa. Additionally, Pedulla and Thébaud (2015) have recently shown just how malleable gender attitudes can be to variations in paid work arrangements and workplace policies. When provided the option of supportive work-family policies, they find that individuals overwhelmingly prefer egalitarian arrangements. But when supportive policies are absent, preferences for egalitarianism decline for most men and women.

Pepin and Cotter acknowledge that adults’ attitudes are shaped over time through their experiences, but they suggest that the attitudes of high school seniors constitute a “unique view from below” — as if these attitudes represent an unadulterated set of beliefs unsullied by the onerous decisions about family leave, childcare, housework, and career investment forced upon adults. Yet, the gender ideologies of youths are forged in interaction with the structural and cultural milieus surrounding them. Children’s gender ideologies are derived from their parents, not just from the messages they are explicitly given but from their own observations of their parents’ experiences (Carlson and Knoester 2011). Pepin and Cotter acknowledge this by pointing out that youths with educated working mothers are more likely to embrace equal family roles at home. They contend that this makes the shift toward conventional attitudes all the more perplexing since demographic shifts toward greater employment, education, and single parenting among mothers’ in the population would suggest more egalitarian beliefs.

It’s the policies. How, then, do we understand the retreat from egalitarian values about domestic roles among youths? Although Pepin and Cotter ask the right questions, they look in the wrong place for the answer. I would argue that two structural factors must be taken into account. First, rising valuation of, and attempts to achieve, egalitarianism from the 1970s to the 1990s were not met with sufficient changes in the workplace or in public policy to accommodate couples’ desires to share family responsibilities. In the face of unresponsive workplaces and role conflict, many adults have likely reverted to conventional gender arrangements and traditional beliefs, transmitting their attitudes to their teenage children. Alternatively, some youths who saw their parents experiencing disagreements and stresses as they tried to integrate work and family without supportive policies may have concluded that a male-breadwinner arrangement would have made family life easier. This could explain Pepin and Cotter’s findings about the more positive views of children of educated working mothers, who generally have better jobs and support systems for family life. But, even so, educated couples often privilege men’s careers, leaving women with incredibly difficult decisions about pursuing careers and raising children (Stone 2007).

A second possible reason for a reversion toward traditional beliefs about family roles and decision-making may lie in the recent increases in counter-conventional family arrangements – arrangements that actually reverse rather than more equally divide traditional household arrangements, with women taking the larger share of breadwinning and men taking on the larger share of homemaking. Indeed, the number of women who earn as much or more than their male partners has increased substantially over the past 30 years (Schwartz and Gonalons-Pons 2016) while the number of stay-at-home fathers has doubled since 1990 (Pew Research 2014).

Some of these role reversals reflect many men’s increasing desire to be more involved at home, but they also reflect real economic stressors for poor and working-class families, resulting from men’s increasingly precarious position in the post-industrial service economy (Pew Research 2014). My research (Carlson, Miller, Sassler, and Hanson 2016) demonstrates that although most couples who adopt a non-traditional egalitarian division of housework find that it enhances marital and sexual satisfaction, most couples who reverse the traditional division of housework find it quite unsatisfactory. When men are primarily responsible for housework, both men and women report the highest feelings of inequity and the greatest dissatisfaction with their housework arrangements. This translates into less sexual intimacy and lower relationship quality. It seems plausible that teens who see their parents or neighbors react negatively to such counter-conventional gendered arrangements may conclude that traditional arrangements with a man as head of the household are “better for everyone involved.”

Looking ahead. Most couples do not appear ready for role reversals, and many have difficulty meeting the increased flexibility demanded of them over the past decade. To the extent that these couples have experienced tension and conflict over these changes, no wonder some children have become less optimistic about the consequences of upending gender conventions than their predecessors in the 1990s.

But this does not mean that the gender revolution has failed or will continue to lose ground. Despite the stall in the gender wage gap and the desegregation of occupations, we have seen a notable leap forward in the ways that egalitarianism benefits people’s personal lives. Indeed, one could argue that the greatest emissary for gender equality is the improvement it leads to in the lives of couples. Unlike the past, today’s egalitarian couples look better on a wide range of indicators than other couples. For example, equally-educated partners now have the lowest odds of divorce, and when a wife has more education than her husband this no longer raises the risk of divorce (Schwartz and Han 2014). Equal-breadwinning couples used to have the highest rates of divorce, but women’s earnings are no longer related to divorce risk (Schwartz and Gonalons-Pons 2016).

Perhaps most important for what more and more children will observe as they grow up, an equal sharing of unpaid labor – both housework and childcare — is increasingly associated with positive advantages for couples’ relationships. In our analysis comparing the association of housework arrangements with mid- to low-income parents’ sense of equity, sexual intimacy, and relationship quality, we found that since the mid-1990s traditional arrangements have increasingly been seen as less fair and egalitarian arrangements increasingly as more fair. Unequal sharing of housework, though initially unrelated to relationship quality, has steadily come to undermine it, while the advantages of conventional arrangements for sexual intimacy have disappeared. In fact, over the time span we observed, sexual frequency declined for all couples except those who shared housework. In addition to the rising benefits of sharing housework, we find also that having partners equally share childcare responsibilities is associated with greater sexual and relationship satisfaction compared to having mothers shoulder the majority of care.

Taken together, it is difficult to reconcile a narrative of a stalled revolution due to a retreat from egalitarian beliefs with our findings that egalitarianism increasingly benefits couples and is seen as the most satisfying and fair arrangement. I suggest that we have seen a polarization in family life that is likely a counterpoint to the polarization in access to good jobs and stable benefits. Relationship stability and quality has been enhanced for the fortunate minority who manage to achieve egalitarian relationships without sacrificing their work or family obligations. But for those who cannot – for the too many who are forced into conventional and counter-conventional arrangements because of financial and time constraints – egalitarian beliefs have been abandoned to defend against cognitive dissonance and the risk of psychological distress. These struggles and reconciled beliefs are then likely transmitted to their kids.

Pepin and Cotter’s important findings call to mind the image of a canary in a coal mine, warning us that if things do not change, the promise of gender equality may suffocate and die. Yet it’s important to remember that there may be light and fresh air at the end of the tunnel. Because youths have increasingly delayed their movement into marriage and parenthood since the 1970s, the attitudes of today’s high school seniors are measured an average of eight to ten years before most will begin family formation (Mathews and Hamilton 2009; Payne 2012). For these youths, several years remain before they will make decisions about how to arrange the paid and unpaid labor in their marital or cohabiting partnerships. Much will likely change, both personally and socially, in the interim.

Still, Pepin and Cotter’s study shows that our current lack of supportive institutions and policies to help families integrate work and family life has begun to take its toll. If something is not done soon to structurally support the egalitarian arrangements that research now shows to be best for most relationships, people may no longer want them to begin with.

Daniel L. Carlson is an Assistant Professor of Family, Health, and Policy at the University of Utah.


photo credit: John Schmitt

Scientists stepped out of their offices and labs to make a statement. On Saturday, April 22, the March for Science took place in Washington, D.C. along with over 600 satellite marches. With funding and facts under threat by the new administration, scientists from a wide range of disciplines and supporters of science filled the streets to advocate for the importance of scientific research and evidence. To get a better understanding of the significance of the March for Science and the threat of the current administration’s proposed policies, we spoke to Dr. Philip Cohen who marched in D.C. on Saturday. Cohen is a professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland and a senior scholar at Council on Contemporary Families. What did we learn? The March for Science is positive, but there is more to be done.

Q: What kind of impact (if any) do you think the March for Science could have on policy and public opinion?

PNC: We are at an amazing moment when the forces against science and reason and the public appreciation of science both seem to be peaking, which implies a heightened state of conflict. Like the Women’s March and the protests against Trump’s immigration and tax policies, I hope the March for Science helps to coalesce the movement against Trumpism and build solidarity for the long difficult times to come. Whether it will yield tangible policy results in the short run I have no idea.

Q: The American Sociology Association and other social science groups endorsed the March for Science. What do you think such groups are hoping to gain from their participation in the march? What would you like to see as a result of the March?

PNC: In addition to ASA, I was glad to see the Population Association of America, to which I also belong, sign on to the March. We have immediate concerns, especially around support for social science research through NSF, NIH, and other agencies — and also the federal data collection agencies, principally the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Health Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, and others. Even without aggressive manipulation of their work, or opposition to their specific projects, just the budget slashing they’re talking about could be extremely bad. On the plus side, those agencies employ a lot of people, and their work has direct applications in all Congressional districts and for a lot of important constituencies, so I’m optimistic that mobilizing support for government data might yield positive results at the federal level. And the professional associations, including ASA and PAA, can play an important role in that. But it’s too early to tell.

Q: The new administration has shown that science programs are not a priority for them. More specific to social sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities is on the chopping block in the administration’s proposed budget. What effect does this have on your research and others like you, and what would you recommend those who oppose such cuts do after the March for Science?

PNC: For social scientists, NSF and NIH are the most important agencies. Other research is funded by smaller agencies like NEH, and also by research divisions in other agencies, such as the Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, and so on. Anyone whose research is federally funded right now has to be very concerned and thinking about alternative avenues for funding. Some philanthropic agencies will step in, but they can’t replace the big federal budgets.

One key area I’ve been very involved in, which is directly relevant here, is the open scholarship movement. This was already important, but with the assault on science and reason, and the potential slashing of research budgets, it’s even more vital to make our research more efficient, to reach more people more quickly, to maximize the potential for collaboration and information sharing — all the outcomes we hope to achieve through open scholarship. That’s why I’ve been involved in the SocArXiv project, which seeks to drive social science toward openness. American academia wastes billions of dollars propping up an exclusionary publishing system that is slow, inefficient, and deleterious to the cause of science and knowledge creation. We can do better with less, and now is the time to make that happen. I hope social scientists, in particular, will take the simple steps necessary to make their research freely available, which can be an important piece of building public support and trust in our efforts.

Megan Peterson is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials, originally released March 31, 2017.

“Millennials” is a term coined by Neil Howe and William Strauss to refer to the cohort of young people who were entering adulthood at the beginning of the 21st Century. In two best-selling books, these authors described youths born in the 1980s and 1990s as qualitatively different from – and superior to – the preceding Generation X. In fact, in their second book about Millennials, Howe and Straus equated Millennials with the GI generation—also known as the Greatest Generation–labeling both “hero” generations. Millennials, they opined, had seven core traits. Treated as “special” and “sheltered” while growing up, they became confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving.

Strauss and Howe initially drew the Millennial cohort’s boundaries as the two decades of births spanning from 1982 through the 1990s, but the early boundary has been pushed back to the late 1970s by some writers, and Howe and Strauss later extended it to people born up through 2004.

In other words, the Millennial birth cohort has become larger and larger over time and so have the adjectives used to describe them. A recent Google search produced nearly 40 million references to Millennials, but even the most casual reading of the literature quickly reveals just how promiscuous the term has become and how contradictory are the generalizations made about what they are like and how they will drive social and political change.

What is a cohort, anyway? Demographers and sociologists make an important conceptual distinction between age cohorts and age categories. There is a simple way of understanding the difference: Birth cohorts have a life span while age categories are a slice of the population at a point in time. People move out of age groups but they remain in their birth cohort.

Karl Mannheim, the eminent political sociologist, conjectured that a birth cohort shares a specific historical experience and may form a common identity or consciousness in early adulthood as age peers try to make sense of or adapt to critical political, economic, and social events. This idea was picked up and widely adopted by social scientists in the middle of the last century as the Baby Boom generation emerged.

But Howe and Strauss, and many pundits since, have gone a step further, attributing to each particular age group a unique “personality,” worldview, and set of attitudes or psychological characteristics that is distinct from previous cohorts and common to most members. While this makes for good copy, the assumption that all members of a cohort share some commonality is far from settled.

For example, why should we expect that young adults now in their teens and early twenties share much in common with those in their late-thirties? The oldest of these young adults entered the labor market during the Great Recession while the youngest have yet to even complete their schooling; the oldest witnessed first-hand the tragic events of 9/11 while the youngest were infants or not yet even born on that date. As sociologist Philip Cohen points out, youths born between 1980 through 1984 were in their late twenties when the 2009 recession hit, and many had already begun their childbearing careers. By contrast, youths born between 1990 and 1994 started their childbearing years at the height of the economic crisis, and at least so far have dramatically lower birth rates.

About Baby Boomers. Similarly, sociologists debate whether it is meaningful or useful to ascribe such commonalities to the Baby Boomers, commonly defined as people born between 1946 and 1964. The oldest of these spent their early years in the politically repressive and rigidly gendered 1950s while the youngest spent their childhoods surrounded by the Civil Rights movement and the early feminist movement of the 1960s, and both groups had significantly different same racial-ethnic, class, or regional experiences. The marriage rate has fallen fairly steadily since its high point in the 1950s and early 1960s. But the sharpest drop, a full 22 percent decline, occurred within the Baby Boom generation rather than being pioneered by Millennials.

The belief that birth cohorts have particular identities has become popular in marketing and consumer research because young people are especially receptive to adopting new styles of dress, music, and social practices in language and communication. There is no doubt that such tastes are shared among age peers; but there is some doubt about whether these stylistic commonalities persist in later life (probably not), and even more about whether they extend to widely shared world views about politics that are maintained for life (unlikely).

Think, for example, about whether Baby Boomers, who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, have generally held onto to their views of the world as they entered mid- or later-life. On many issues, some have become more conservative, with a disproportionate share supporting Trump. But, a larger majority of Baby Boomers now support gender equality than did their 18-to-25 year old selves in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Another way to look at generations and cohorts. Yes, new values and new behaviors often emerge among younger age groups as they encounter different social, political, technological, and economic conditions from those experienced by people who grew up ten, 20, or 50 years earlier. Some of the new conditions recent cohorts have experienced, different from those of their elders, may help explain why, on average, Americans born in recent decades have different attitudes than older cohorts on issues such as climate change. In a June 2015 survey, 60 percent of 18-29 year-olds said that human activity was causing global warming, almost twice as many as the 31 percent of Americans 65 and older. But, it is not clear whether this change is a distinctive view of the Millennial cohort. Only time will tell.

Another new development that has undoubtedly affected the beliefs and behaviors of younger Americans is that the timetable for growing up was dramatically altered in the second half of the 20th century. It now takes much longer for people to complete their education and attain full economic independence than it did 50 years ago (Furstenberg, 2010).

Young adults these days tend to flock to urban environments more than they once did, in part because of this postponement. Values about living arrangements, the pursuit of romantic and sexual relationships, and the timing of marriage have also been affected. But, these changes have been coming about gradually (since the 1980s) with each age group experiencing a later age of entry to adulthood and a larger share of residents in central urban areas. It is not obvious that these preferences are distinctly expressed by Millennials and that they will subside as a new cohort succeeds them.

It is often difficult to make the case that changing attitudes and behaviors are confined to a particular age group or that they will persist over time. Rather, a succession of age groups has responded to the new realities of the need for extended education to find a more secure footing in the labor market. In my recent research with Sheela Kennedy, we found that the timetable in expectations for coming of age changed not only among young adults but their parents and grandparents. Demographers would call this a “period effect” (influencing all age groups) rather than a “cohort effect” that is experienced by a single age cohort.

As the briefing papers by Pepin and Cotter and by Fate-Dixon show, attitudes about male-breadwinner families and working mothers have shifted away from an egalitarian direction among a significant section of the younger generation, even though acceptance of equal rights as a principle has continued to grow. It remains to be seen whether this trend represents a broader view in the general population that reflects new experiences in family life or whether it is a temporary expression of experiences or challenges occurring during a “stage of life” that is confined to an age grouping. Will it persist as young adults who are not yet in families move into partnership and parenthood? Will it abate if advocates for family-friendly work policies make gains? Or will it spread up the age ladder if economic and political developments make it even harder than it already is for men and women to share breadwinning and parenting? We simply don’t know, but answering these questions will tell us more about what is in store in the coming decades than fanciful generalizations about the identity of “the” Millennials, who are every bit as divided by race, ethnicity, religion, region, gender and sexuality as their elders.

Frank Furstenberg is Professor of Sociology and Research Associate in the Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania.

A briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families Online Symposium on Gender and Millennials, originally released March 31, 2017.

As Pepin and Cotter’s new work shows, attitudes towards gender equality across different domains have diverged. Although young people hold increasingly egalitarian views about women’s role in the workplace, the increase in their support for egalitarian attitudes about women’s role in the household has stalled and even seems to have slid.

Why the lag? Old masculinity scripts, perhaps. Part of the reason for this divergence may be that changes in the labor force have driven changes in how men view women’s roles at home. As women get closer to equal footing outside of the home, men may be compensating by stressing the importance of traditional women’s roles in the home. In essence, saying that women should be the primary caregivers in the household may be a powerful way for young men to assert their masculinity and for women to assert their support of traditional gender roles in a world in which the dominant economic role of men is no longer a given.

In a 2012 article, Yasemin Besen-Cassino and I showed that men who earned less money than their wives did less housework than those men who earned the same or more than their wives. Interestingly, and in a twist on other research in the same area, we found that this behavior was conditional on total rather than relative income – men were threatened only by high-earning wives, regardless of their own income – and that the reduction occurred in only one type of housework — cleaning. They made up for their cutbacks in cleaning by an increase in cooking, a behavior that has become effectively de-gendered in recent years.

We theorized that this was likely the result of men’s adopting symbolic masculinities in response to a gender role threat: In this case, the threat was the loss of their traditional economic dominance within the household, and the symbolic response was a reduction in the amount of time spent on cleaning. Men who experienced income loss relative to their wives did not cut back on the total time they spent on housework but only in the type of housework most traditionally associated with the feminine role.

Our finding that relative income only mattered when a wife had relatively high earnings may have implications for the recent slippage in support for male breadwinning families noted by Pepin and Cotter. A wife who earns more than her husband only constitutes a threat if she actually earns what is an objectively high amount of money. All of this means that, until recently, direct economic threat to men was limited to a relatively small group. However, as women gain standing in the workplace, and men increasingly view the world as being slanted towards women economically (whether it is or not), that small group has been growing. Of course, high school seniors are unlikely to have been directly threatened by women’s higher earnings, so they may be absorbing the message that male privilege is under assault from media accounts or the experiences of others in their family or community.

Refusing to clean the house is just one way in which men can symbolically express their masculinity in response to earning less money than their spouses: The political and social realms may offer men an even more potent way to display their masculinity to themselves and others, something that we may be seeing in the exit polls analyzed by Kawashima-Ginsberg. In a survey experiment carried out last year, my colleagues at the PublicMind poll and I primed men to think about how, in an increasing number of households, women now earn more money than their husbands. Men who were made to think about this sort of gender threat became dramatically less likely to support Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head match-up with Donald Trump, though no less likely to support Bernie Sanders. This suggests that when men are nudged to think about situations in which they lose traditional economic sources of masculine prestige, they become less willing to accept women’s political leadership, at least from women who embrace non-traditional gender roles.

However, qualitative research shows that that not all men adopt traditionally masculine roles in response to gender role threat. Some men may instead go the other way, creating new masculine roles. For instance, instead of seeking alternative ways to buttress traditional masculinity, they may begin to stress their roles as fathers, or craftsmen, or activists as alternative sources of masculinity. Still others, as Sullivan (2011) has argued, may not feel threat at all.

Men’s political views polarize more when it seems like they are losing ground. Men might also be more or less threatened because of their pre-existing social and political outlooks. To examine this, I made use of the 2006-2008-2010 General Social Survey Panel Study, which contacted 2000 Americans up to three times during those years, and looked for changes in men’s political and social views that were associated with changes in their relative earnings within the household. The panel design is ideal for this sort of study, as it means that we’re not looking at whether men support or oppose abortion rights, for instance, but whether they’ve become more or less supportive over the last two years. The period is also perfect for this sort of analysis, given the economic disruptions suffered by many households over the course of the 2008 recession.

I expected that men would feel the greatest gender role threat – and therefore, the greatest need to compensate for it by expressing symbolic masculinities – when they had lost larger amounts of income relative to their spouses. For example, I found that over a period of two years, 10 percent of respondents ended up contributing about 40 percentage points less towards the household income than at the start of the period, dropping, say, from 60 percent of the household income to 20 percent. Such men, I reasoned, were far more likely to feel a great deal of gender role threat arising from their economic status than men who maintained or improved their share of household income over the two-year period. This is slightly different than the sort of threat induced in the survey experiment above (where we primed respondents to think about women getting ahead) – men here were threatened by their loss of earnings, rather than the gains of women, but the type of economic threat to breadwinner status is the same in both cases.

To test the effects of this sort of gender role threat on men’s political and social views, I looked for changes in their views on two issues that have a significant liberal-conservative divide: support for abortion rights and support for government financial aid to African-Americans.

Republican and Democratic men changed in different ways. For one group of respondents, the results confirmed the long-standing belief that men who experience gender role threat become more supportive of traditional ideals and conservative politics. Men who started the period as Republicans but ended up contributing less to their household income compared to their wives at the end of the two years become significantly less supportive of abortion rights over the period. While other Republican men also tended to become less supportive, the decline was largest for men who lost the most income relative to their spouses. (See Figure 1.)

But among Democratic men, the results were strikingly different. Those who lost income relative to their wife over the period became, on average, 0.5 points more supportive of abortion rights. While conservative men came to hold more conservative views on abortion under conditions of economic gender role threat, liberal men come to hold more liberal views.

To add to the complication, Democratic men who gained income relative to their spouses actually became less supportive of abortion. Among liberal men, it seems, those who came to fill the traditional role as a breadwinner became more conservative in their views as well as their economic role in the household.

Similar effects hold for views on government aid to African-Americans in the same GSS panel data. The specific question asked respondents whether African-Americans should “work their way up,” rather than receiving “special favors,” an item that has frequently been used to measure support for government aid to African-Americans[1]. In general, Democratic men became a little less supportive of such aid over a two-year period, and Republican men became a little more supportive, a result indicative of expected reversion to the mean. However, men who lost income relative to their spouses moved in a direction different than the rest of their fellow political thinkers. Republican men who lost income became even less supportive of government aid to African-Americans, while Democratic men in this position became even more supportive. (See Figure 2.)

[1] The questions used in the GSS panel survey ask respondents: “Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, neither agree nor disagree, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with the following statement: Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors.” Responses range from “Agree Strongly” (27percent in first year) to “Disagree Strongly” (4 percent in first year), along a 5 point scale, in which higher responses indicate more support for aid to African-Americans, and lower responses indicate less support. Overall, the sample in the GSS panel was 73 percent white, 14 percent African-American, and 13 percent belonged to other racial categories.

Results like this suggest a few conclusions. First, a variety of political and social views, not limited to those involving gender, can serve as symbolic masculinities, allowing men to bolster their gender identities by adopting certain attitudes. They may become less supportive of abortion rights, or parental leave laws, or less likely to support a woman candidate for high office.

Second, instead of uniformly making men more conservative, gender role threat seems to lead to attitude polarization, with men who start off with more liberal views becoming more liberal, and those who start off holding more conservative views becoming more conservative. Men who have a more generally liberal worldview seem to react to threats to traditional masculine identity by further rejecting traditional masculinity, while conservative men react by becoming embracing it more.

Third, this sort of compensating mechanism doesn’t work equally well for all men. Men without strong political views to start with (political independents in the results described above) don’t seem to change their political attitudes very much in the face of economic gender role threat. It seems that if politics isn’t very important to you, you can’t compensate for a loss of relative income by embracing one set of political views or another. This isn’t to say that these men aren’t compensating in some way – but they may be doing it in some fascinating new way that we just haven’t noticed or yet recognized as compensatory behavior.

Dan Cassino is Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of Social Sciences and History at Fairleigh Dickinson University.