Sex and politics are clickbait material, so it’s little surprise that The Economist’s early March article “Why Young Men and Women Are Drifting Apart” went viral. In this case, the attention was warranted. The article adds to our understanding of the long-standing gender gap in politics to include the often-puzzling Generation Z, spotlighting trends with implications reaching far beyond any particular election.

The upshot of the article is that young adult women and men are politically divided. This divide has three striking features. First, it’s driven by a strong leftward shift among women. While young men describe themselves as liberal or conservative at roughly the same rates that they have for decades, today’s young women are 27 percentage points more likely than men to call themselves liberal. Second, though a gender divide in voting choices is not altogether new, Axios reports that the gap is now five times larger than it was in 2000. In fact, as things stand, the gender political gap is twice as large as the highly consequential diploma political gap between college-educated Americans and their fellow citizens without a degree, a divide undergirding realignments that have swayed presidential elections since the Reagan era. Third, The Economist chronicles a growing mistrust between young men and women.

As the article observes, the political gender divide among young people is hardly unique to the United States. Indeed, such a gap appears in each of the 20 wealthy nations that The Economist studied. In South Korea, for instance, young men and women can barely see each other across the canyon in political values. The same goes for China. This is not entirely surprising, as nations with strong patriarchal traditions often see such divides as their economies and education systems modernize, giving women more freedom. Strikingly, however, the divide between young men and women is greater in the richest Western economies with more egalitarian histories. In the U.K., for example, young women identify as liberal at a 25-point higher rate than do U.K. lads. In Germany, Gen Z women identify as liberal at a 30-point higher rate than do males in their cohort.

What is happening here? The favored theory, posited in The Economist and the many posts about the article, is that women’s success has raised their expectations, which society hasn’t yet met. This is true, as far as it goes; women in many of the article’s featured cultures do, in fact, face “continuing injustices” like domestic violence and workplace discrimination, even as they excel in school and the workplace.

Those achievements have changed women’s attitudes about their future personal lives and the men with whom they might hope to share them. Whatever residual traditionalism existed in male–female relations in previous postwar generations seems to be giving way to exasperation. The Economist article begins with a telling anecdote: two Gen Z Polish women, both engineers, swap dating war stories “in a trendy food market” in Warsaw. One notes that her boyfriend had greeted news of her big pay raise by asking, “Did you have an affair with your boss?” The other complained that a Tinder match on a first (and last) meeting had told her that he thought women should do all the housework and child care. You don’t have to be Hillary Clinton to understand the problem.

This exasperation is not limited to young women. Unsurprisingly, young men have mixed feelings about the changing views of their female peers. Many believe that society has so thoroughly embraced feminism that it has become antimale. The Economist notes that some guys have turned to the “manosphere,” a diverse set of men’s-group websites that range in tone from Jordan Peterson–style, “clean-your-room” advice to rank misogyny. The article makes the counterintuitive observation that in some countries, younger men are more antifeminist than their aging fathers and grandfathers. Nearly 80 percent of South Korean men in their twenties say that their sex is discriminated against, for example, compared with barely 30 percent of men over 60—a similar percentage to younger women.

Many readers will come away from The Economist article thinking that resentful young men had better grow up and get with the new gender program. That’s too simple. For one thing, as the piece concedes, “Not all men’s grumbles are groundless.” Men are far more likely to be drafted than their egalitarian-minded female peers, more likely to be losers in custody and divorce decisions, tend to have pensions that begin at later ages than women’s, and typically get longer sentences if they run afoul of the law.

Still, the trends described by The Economist, which have been replicated in other surveys, reveal a deep and ominous mistrust between the sexes. Figuring out dating and marriage norms that acknowledge contemporary women’s interests and achievements while also respecting men’s has proved immensely thorny; we’re probably not going to discover answers for such a problem soon. That Gen Z is coming of age at a time of intense political polarization only further complicates the mating game. Fewer young people, particularly women and those identifying as Democrats, are willing to date someone who doesn’t share their politics. “No Republicans” warnings have become a common sight on dating apps; there are even apps explicitly designed to keep out undesirables from the other party. You can’t just blame the kids; their parents often are not interested in a future son- or daughter-in-law from across the aisle.

With the share of never-married and childless adults already near all-time highs, the growing gender political divide is bad news—not only for Gen Z but also for an America that badly needs more strong families.

Photo: Evgeny Gromov/iStock/Getty Images Plus


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