Women should stay home and raise children.
Or, at least that's what a shocking number of you think. According to data from the University of Michigan, which has been collecting data about the social mores of American teens and young adults since the mid 1970s, a weird and disconcerting number of millennials believe a woman's role is in the home where she can put her babymaker to good use and raise a family.
Meanwhile, we also seem to believe, men should work, make the money, and make "the decisions."
… Now would be a good time to check yourself and see if you're actually reading a Ladies' Home Journal article from 1951. Surprise! You're not. You're reading an item published in 2017, a time where young people have more puritanical beliefs about women than our great-great-great-not-so-great grandfathers.
This regressive trend bewildered researchers studying the University of Michigan data set. "It's a surprising twist," said Joanna R. Pepin and David A. Cotter, two sociologists investigating the numbers. "What had been a trend toward equality stopped, or even reversed, in the mid-1990s.”
Given that young people's support for gender equality and expanded women's roles in the workplace has risen steadily over the past century, they expected to find that our generation would embody the most progressive beliefs about men and women's places in society.
Instead, they found that not only do millennials believe in antiquated gender roles to a much greater extent than researchers predicted but they're also 25 percent more committed to those beliefs than young people were back all the way in 1976, a curious reversal of predicted trends.
Here's how bad it is: in 1976, 76 percent of high school seniors believed that “a woman should have exactly the same job opportunities as a man," a figure which skyrocketed to 89 percent by 1994. During that time period, the three quarters of people who thought “a preschool child is likely to suffer if the mother works” fell to roughly half as attitudes about women's careers became more progressive and egalitarian.
However, in 2014, high school seniors were found to be less egalitarian than their counterparts from the mid '90s. They were more likely to believe that, in a heterosexual marriage, the husband, not the wife, should be the "ultimate authority" and primary breadwinner.
Less than 30 percent of high school seniors believed that shit in '76. In 1994, 58 percent of high school seniors rejected the same assertion.
But, as Pepin and Cotter write, “By 2014, however, it had fallen back to 42 percent — a decline of 16 percentage points since its peak in 1994.”
Millennial teens are also backwards about whether “the husband should make all the important decisions in the family." Sixty-three percent of today's youth disagree that they should, as opposed to 71 percent in 1994 and 59 percent in 1976.
As a surprise to no one, these beliefs are the strongest amongst white males. In a separate study on the same data, the Council of Contemporary Family's Nika Fate-Dixon found that the retrenchment of traditional ideas about gender was much starker among young men than it was among women.
“In fact, as of 2014, men aged 18 to 25 were more likely than their older counterparts to agree with the 'old-fashioned' notion that it is better for women to take care of the home and for men to be the achievers in the outside world,” Fate-Dixon points out. "In the 2014 survey, 67 percent of American men older than age 25 rejected the claim that the male breadwinner marriage is the ideal family form. But only 55 percent of men aged to 18-25 did so."
Also, women gave more egalitarian answers to survey questions than men, and black respondents have more egalitarian leanings than white ones. But still, gender equality has shown an overall trend of regression.
What in the heckin' heck is wrong with us? Why would so many millennials like you and me and Seth and Amanda aspire to the traditional gender roles of marriage that many of their parents sought to remake, and that clearly limit women's potential and abilities?
University of Utah professor Dan Carlson told Salon he thinks it's the lack of supportive policy in the U.S .— which, he suggests, may have caused many experiments in egalitarian family structure to fail.
“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,” he explained.
Political scientist Dan Cassino believes it's because men are anxious to protect what’s left of the social capital their masculinity once awarded them. (In a previous study, for example, he found that men who earned less money than their wives did less housework than men whose earnings were on par to or greater.) According to his research, this impulse is much more predominant among conservative men whose wives make more money than them. Curiously, liberal-leaning men whose wives were the primary breadwinners actually grew polarized in the opposite direction, embracing more egalitarian views about gender roles.
And then, of course, there's the leaders our generation has to look up to.
Pussy-grabbing Trump. Gyno-phobic Mike Pence. A constant barrage of A-list actresses who play roles in which they milk gender roles for all they're worth (ever seen "Big Little Lies"?). That's who we see, speaking about and embodying women, telling us who they "should be."
Well, we're here to tell you this trend is bullshit. Keeping women in the home where they pump out babies like god damn Pilsbury cinnamon roles is regressive, archaic, and damaging to society. We wrote a whole piece on why that is here. We also wrote a piece about why not all millennials want children and houses and domestic stability like this research says they do — many of us want careers and life experiences instead. Yet, sexism is an institutionalized thing, meaning we may internalize negative attitudes about women without realizing it. Look no further than the slew of women who voted for Trump, and to defund Planned Parenthood, which provided affordable cervical cancer and STI screenings, for proof.
It's unclear exactly why millennials think this way, but … while researchers attempt to figure it out, we're going to push forward with the gender equality model and leave the pill-popping '50s housewife routine to someone else.