Ever heard of a little group called Millennials? The term has come to refer to people born between the early '80s and 2000, not least because "Millennials" is a little more succinct than spelling all that out. But recently, a study on young Millennials' family values has illustrated the problem with lumping together an entire generation: it's naive to assume millions of people would think and feel the same way when a group of friends takes three hours to decide where to go for dinner.
In a series of reports highlighted in the New York Times this week, sociologists from the Council on Contemporary Families compared the attitudes of young Millennials — Americans currently aged 18 to 25 — to those of the same age group in past years, and the results hearken back to a totally different era. After analyzing data from Monitoring the Future, a survey of American youth that's been going on nearly 40 years, researchers found that fewer high school seniors hold egalitarian views on gender equality today than they did in the '90s.
According to the survey, between 1976 and 1994, the number of people holding progressive attitudes toward gender equality increased. Initially, fewer than 30 percent of students disagreed with statements supporting the male breadwinner/housewife family dynamic. By the time the mid '90s came around, however, that number had risen to 58 percent; the majority of young adults rejected the notion of a traditional family dynamic.
Here's the strange part: In 2014, the number of students who disagreed with traditional dynamics fell 16 points, to 42 percent. Similarly, nearly 40 percent of students agreed with the statement that "the husband should make all the important decisions in the family" in 2014 — an increase from 29 percent in 1994.
In a report analyzing a different survey, researchers found that despite some ups and downs over time, support for gender equality had increased overall. In 2014, 68 percent of respondents across generations "rejected the superiority of the male breadwinner family," and 78 percent supported the view that women were as capable as men in politics.
But there was one glaring exception: young adults aged 18 to 25. "After 1994, and especially after 2010, this age group saw a stall, and in some cases a fall-off, in the proportion supporting gender equality in the home," notes the report. This was especially true of the domestic roles they thought men and women should play and the ability of working moms to take care of their children.
The report goes on to explain that young men accounted for most of the change in attitudes. When asked if they thought a working mom could bond with her children as well as a stay-at-home mom, for example, nearly 75 percent of young men agreed in 1994. In 2014, that dropped to 70 percent.
The most drastic shift, however, had to do with traditional domestic roles. In 2014, just 55 percent of young men disagreed with the male breadwinner ideal, compared to 83 percent in '94. Researchers emphasized that young men were actually more likely than older men to agree with the importance of traditional gender roles, where the man works and the woman takes care of the house.
Obviously, one series of reports isn't a reason to panic about the backsliding of gender equality. Women and LGBTQ people have been making great strides in the path to equality, and it's not uncommon for progress to be accompanied by backlash, especially from those who benefit from the current way of things. That being said, the results might partially explain events like Hillary Clinton's loss in November to a man with a history of misogyny and zero political qualifications.
It's worth noting that not all Millennials subscribe to the idea of a traditional family. Research has shown that generally speaking, most Millennials appear to be slow to marry, and single-parent households are becoming more common. Then again, if there's anything to be learned from the reports discussed above, it's that oversimplifying an entire generation does its members a disservice.