School & District Management

Adolescents’ Views on Gender Equity May Be a Moving Target, Survey Finds

By Sasha Jones — September 21, 2018 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By Guest Blogger Sasha Jones

The #MeToo movement saw growth in 2018, with teachers changing the ways that sexual harassment and gender roles are discussed in schools. Still, much uncertainty around gender expectations exists among adolescents, according to a recent survey by Plan International USA, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

Although 92 percent of the more than 1,000 10- to 19-year-olds who were surveyed say that they believe in gender equality, more than half—54 percent—say that they are more comfortable with women performing traditional roles in society, such as caring for children. A different 2017 survey by PerryUndem—this one focusing on adult voters—found that only 30 percent of respondents agreed with the same statement.

Despite the question being phrased in the same way in both surveys, Tresa Undem, a partner with PerryUndem, has doubts over whether this stark difference between adults and adolecents reflects a real difference of opinion.

“My biggest worry with that question is that measurement error, where it’s a difficult question to answer,” Undem said. “If I were to do the survey again, I would probably split the survey, so half the participants get ‘I’m more comfortable with women having whatever opportunity they want.’”

Undem hypothesizes that if the survey was phrased differently, the same participants would say that they are comfortable with men and women defying traditional gender roles. Another way to test this assumption would be by questioning a focus group.

Results of other questions in the survey show that adolescents’ views align closely with adults’ responses from the previous survey, she added.

The survey also turned up some significant differences along gender lines. For instance, 51 percent of boys and 64 percent of girls strongly agree that they want “equal numbers of men and women to be leaders in work, politics, and life.”

Additionally, 44 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls said that there is currently gender equality. Nevertheless, adolescents are as likely as adults to say that sexism is a problem, with 79 percent of adolescents agreeing, compared to 82 percent of voters in the 2017 survey of adults.

The survey also questioned boys on their experiences and perceptions, finding that 1 in 3 boys feels pressure to dominate or be in charge of others.

When it comes to the #MeToo movement, 7 in 10 participants said that they had heard of it, but only 36 percent of girls and 28 percents of boys say that a parent has talked to them about how to prevent or stop sexual harassment as a result of #MeToo. Additionally, 23 percent of girls and 21 percent of boys say that a teacher has discussed the #MeToo movement with them.

Still, 55 percent of girls said that the #MeToo movement has made them feel like they could tell someone if they were sexually harassed or assaulted, while only 34 percent of boys said the same.

Overall, adolescents of color tended to have more progressive views around gender equality and were more likely than white respondents to perceive inequality.

The survey attributed these results to the fact that “girls and boys are not growing up in a vacuum.” Parents’ political opinions and performance of gender roles, the toys that children play with growing up, and exposure to media and pornography that sexualizes women are all factors that may be correlated with certain views.

Photo by Getty

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.