According to the Spring 2016 Harvard Public Opinion Project poll, 59 percent of young American women support feminism. However, just 35 percent of their male counterparts do. The overall Millennial figure splits the difference—49 percent, essentially half, of Americans between the ages of 18 and 28 support the movement. However, HPOP’s data suggests that this meager support doesn’t reflect the degree to which young Americans perceive gender inequity in their country.
The poll asked respondents if they believed that a glass ceiling, “a barrier to advancement in a profession,” faced American women. Fifty percent of men and 68 percent of women believe one exists, well above these groups’ levels of support for feminism. Fully 69 percent of those with graduate school educations and even 55 percent of those who have not been to college think a glass ceiling limited women’s career mobility, proportions far larger than those groups’ corresponding levels of support for feminism (52 percent of those with graduate educations, 41 percent of those who haven’t gone to college).
It seems that young Americans are reticent to attach themselves to the idea of feminism even when they perceive limited prospects for American women. While roughly half of the Millennial generation supports feminism, only 27 percent affirmatively identify as feminist—37 percent of women and 16 percent of men. Pessimism about gender equality far outstrips feminist sentiment among todays Millennials. For example, even though more than half of men think that they enjoy more advantages than women in American society, less than 20 percent of them identify as feminists.
Unsurprisingly, young Americans who believe that equity already exists are less likely to support feminism or identify as feminists. Forty percent of conservatives, 26 percent of moderates, and 16 percent of liberals think that men and women are treated equally. In an oppositely slanted trend, 34 percent of conservatives, 39 percent of moderates, and 70 percent of liberals support feminism.
Differences in level of education also predict differences in support for feminism. The greatest rates of support for feminism occur in respondent populations with access to higher education: 61 percent of four-year college students and 54 percent of college graduates support feminism, while only 41 percent of two-year or vocational school students and those who hold only a high school diploma do. About three quarters of Millennials in four-year college programs or in graduate school say that men are disproportionately advantaged, a significant bump from the 64 percent of trade school students and 59 percent of high school graduates who are of the same opinion. This correlation may be partly spurious (college students and graduates are on average 10 percentage points more liberal than others). However, it does seem that higher education and support for the feminist movement are linked.
One might imagine that all groups of respondents with higher rates of belief that men have more advantages than women would consistently display greater support for feminism. This is true along the above political and educational axes, but the reality is much more complex when accounting for ethnic differences. Respondents of color have stronger rates of belief in gender inequity than whites: fully 30 percent of white respondents believe that men and women are treated equally, compared to 16 percent of black respondents, 26 percent of Hispanics, and 25 percent of people of other ethnicities. Yet there are no discernible ethnic differences in support for feminism, even though young black voters tend to be more liberal than whites. Many of the young American minorities who believe in inequitable conditions that would necessitate feminist discourse and action do not end up displaying noticeably more support for feminism than other their less concerned white counterparts.
The complicated history of feminism as a term and as a movement may turn some young Americans away from connecting themselves to the label. Support for feminism among young Americans is low, and identification as feminist even lower. Respondents to the spring 2016 HPOP poll display far more belief in a glass ceiling and conditions of gender inequity than attachment to the movement which aims to remedy these challenges.