Are young men working to undo recent advances in women’s rights?

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Young men under age 30 are increasingly adopting “modern sexist” beliefs, particularly that gender equality has allowed women to land leading jobs at their expense, according to a new study.

New research examining 32,469 people across 27 countries shows younger men, as opposed to older generations, are more likely to believe in the “zero-sum game” notion — that feminism has hurt their livelihoods and chance at a stable life. University of Gothenburg researchers say distrust in corrupt social institutions and a rise in young male unemployment is giving rise to “modern sexism” among men under 30. Such beliefs are most common in areas where unemployment has gone up in recent years. Inversely, modern sexist notions have fallen in regions like Northern Italy where unemployment rates have fallen.

Researchers explain that the zero-sum game reasoning, which underlies modern sexism among young men, is the perception that one group’s progress, in this case women, only occurs at the expense of another.

The researchers claim young men are increasingly working against women’s rights and that a perceived sense of injustice and competition between men and women is directly affecting political attitudes. The study authors cite previous research claiming radical right-wing parties benefit from such anti-feminist beliefs.

“Some people believe that increased gender equality only benefits women and do not see the benefits for society as a whole. Some research suggests that this feeling of injustice can even motivate citizens to vote for right-wing radical parties who are against feminism and sexual freedom,” says Gefjon Off, a doctoral student in political science, in a university release.

Older generations are not the problem

This latest analysis of modern sexist beliefs appears to contradict some previous studies which point to older men as the root of conservative, anti-equality efforts. Researchers say younger men are more likely than older men to agree with the idea that women have undermined their ability to find work. The team also points to zero-sum game reasoning, with young men feeling more slighted than their more established and wealthy male elders.

“The results show that young men aged 18 to 29 most often agree with this statement in our survey. The older the men are, the less they agree with this statement. Some women agree with the statement, but to a far lesser extent than men of all ages. The results contradict previous research claiming that the older generation are the ones who are the most conservative and opposed to advances in women’s rights,” Off adds.

Sweden particularly shows the widest gap between young women and men’s views, the researchers note. Young men have not been able to find a stable job or have not progressed as far in their careers as older men, leading them to blame women for this workplace inequality.

“Possibly, young men who believe that women are outcompeting them in the labor market experience advances in women’s rights as unjust and a threat. We need to get better at communicating the benefits of gender equality. Fathers get to spend more time with their children and the burden of being the family’s breadwinner is lightened when mothers in families also advance in their careers,” Off concludes.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Political Science.

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