Gen Z are breaking standard generational patterns, but not in the way you might think. This generation is uniquely divided in its ideologies which are split between the sexes.
Liberal and conservative views have been shared fairly equally between men and women for decades. Yet for Gen Z a clear ideological divide is starting to materialise. Across the world Gen Z males are becoming increasingly more conservative and women more liberal. In the US and Germany women aged 18 to 30 are now 30 percentage points more liberal than their male contemporaries. A similar trend has been tracked in the UK and South Korea.
A study from King’s College London has also revealed that young people are most divided by gender on whether women or men have it tougher today. Among men, it is the oldest who are least likely to believe that men have it harder: only 17% of men over 60 feel this way, compared with 25% of men aged 16 to 59.
The younger generation present the biggest divide on this subject with 68% of women aged 16 to 29 especially likely to say it is harder to be a woman, compared with just 35% of men of the same age. When we compare this to the general public 48% think it’s harder to be a woman and only 14% disagree.
When speaking about this research professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London said, “this is a new and unusual generational pattern – normally, it tends to be the case that younger generations are consistently more comfortable with emerging social norms, as they grew up with these as a natural part of their lives.”
So, what is so particular about Gen Z that it has created such an unprecedented divide? I would argue that there are two key factors to this. The first being that Gen Z is the first generation ever to grow up entirely within the digital age. The second being that expectations of marriage and entering into heterosexual relationships have changed drastically in recent years, widening the divide between the sexes.
THE ONLINE SPHERE
Unlike any generation before, Gen Z has grown up alongside the dawn of social media, in an age that is completely digitalised. The ramifications of this have been immeasurable, with the internet providing access to seemingly every facet of information imaginable. We have grown up with the illusion of ultimate knowledge. Yet in reality much of the media and information we consume is trapped within online echo chambers and algorithms that reflect our own thinking back to us.
The internet has a powerful influence over our thinking, with studies tracking its links to ideological patterns such as extremism. Biner and Kenyon’s study of online radicalization outlined how “over the past decade, the way in which the Internet presents, selects, connects and curates information, by virtue of its architecture as much as through user activity, has been identified as particularly concerning in the context of extremist ideologies.”
The internet is also entrenched in misogynistic content. A study by UCL has revealed that exposure to such content has normalised harmful ways of thinking for young people. When both men and women are inundated with media that objectifies, sexually harasses, and discredits women, it is no wonder that there is such a rigid divide between the sexes.
Gen Z have also grown up with unlimited access to pornography, with the average age at which young people first encounter porn being just 13. This is the first generation ever to have such uncensored exposure to this, and I would argue that it has had a profound effect on the developing minds of young people, particularly shaping the way men perceive women.
Almost half of those surveyed by the Children’s Commissioner who had seen online pornography had seen every example of sexual violence before the age of 18. Those that had seen this sexual violence were statistically more likely to have started watching porn at a younger age. Women were significantly more likely to be the target of this sexual violence.
A significant proportion of young people in this study actively sought out pornography depicting acts of violence for sexual gratification. 36% of the young people surveyed had sought out pornography involving at least one sexually violent act for sexual gratification. Among 18-21-year-olds 28% had searched for a physically aggressive sex act; and 18% had looked for pornography depicting sexual coercion.
Over half of the Girls who had seen online pornography were significantly more likely than boys to have been sent or shown explicit content featuring someone they know. Girls were overwhelmingly the recipients of unwanted explicit images of male peers. Boys instead were significantly more likely than girls to have intentionally viewed online pornography.
Free-text responses to this survey revealed that depictions of sex in pornography were presented as transactional where women performed the role of an object for male gratification. Survey respondents discussed how “many heterosexual men grow up to have certain expectations of how to treat women when having sex, and in general. A lot of that is actually just abuse.” 58% of respondents agreed with the statement that ‘viewing online pornography affects young people’s behaviours towards one another’. Nearly half of all respondents stated that girls expect sex to involve physical aggression. A further 42% of respondents stated that girls enjoy physically aggressive sex acts.
In the US 63% of men under 30 describe themselves as single, compared with just 34% of women. Younger men are also far more likely than older men to be single. Yet, despite these figures single men are actually more likely than their female counterparts to be searching for romantic experiences. Half of these men say they are looking for a committed relationship, while only 35% of single women say the same.
A report from the UK tracks a similar phenomenon with 61% of single women stating that they are happy with their relationship status, compared to only 49% of single men. As many as 70% of singles in the UK say they have not actively tried to find a partner in the last 12 months, but this figure rises to 75% when it accounts for just women.
It seems that women are growing less interested in marriage and relationships. A reason for this may be that the traditional reasons for entering into these relationships has shifted with the rise of feminism. There is now less societal stigma attached to single women in the western world and the vast majority of women are no longer financially dependent on men. Women have actually overtaken men, accounting for more than half of the college-educated labour force in the US.
Data collected from across Europe reveals that there is still an enduring imbalance in domestic labour between men and women. About 91 % of women with children spend at least an hour per day on housework, compared with 30 % of men with children. Gender gaps in housework participation are also the largest among couples with children. With heterosexual relationship still presenting these archaic gender roles, and with more Gen Z women leaning towards liberal and feminist ideologies, there seems to be a disconnect as to what these relationships can offer women.
What women are looking for from relationships has clearly changed, but for the majority of Gen Z men the traditional expectations of these relationships have remained the same. As established Gen Z men are on average more conservative and are the generation of men most likely to disagree with feminist ideologies.
Misogynist discourse and online content, is slowly solidifying these views with many even resenting the feminist movement for bringing about this change. Incel culture, toxic influencer culture and an excess in pornography is driving the sexes in polar opposite directions. As such, both Gen Z men and women are becoming more radical in their thinking.
Women’s exposure to this heightened level of misogyny has not just remained online. 1 in 4 women have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult in England and Wales. A mere 2 in 100 rapes recorded by police between 2022 and 2023 resulted in someone being charged that same year let alone convicted. Over 70% of women in the UK have also said they have experienced sexual harassment in public.
This barrage of misogyny has created a backlash against men. If we take South Korea as an example, where spy camera crimes are on the rise along with revenge porn and femicide, women have created their own movement named 4B. This involves the refusal of heterosexual marriage, sexual relationships, dating and childbirth. With the country’s already faltering birthrate and decreasing labour market such a movement is creating quite an impact.
With more extreme divides in ideology, such movements and rifts are set to continue, strengthen, and spread with many Gen Z men and women seemingly unable to bridge this gap.
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