Young men, not older generations, struggle most with the increasing opportunities for women, a large study of the views of residents in the 27 EU Member States concluded.
"We clearly have a lot of work to do to allay men's fears about the future," said one of the researchers Gefjon Off in De Morgen. The idea that sexism is mainly linked to older men is not the case, according to the study by the University of Gothenburg.
The researchers surveyed 32,469 men and women from 27 countries to find out to what extent they agreed with the statement that "Promoting the rights of women and girls goes too far because it threatens the opportunities of men and boys." Young men were most likely to (partly) agree with this statement, but the older the men got, the less they agreed.
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The findings challenge the notion of conservatism being an inherently older political and social stance. "It is not the case that people have the same values about every social theme... Young men may be more progressive and open to migrants than older ones feel more threatened by the growing opportunities for women in society," Off said.
A 2014 study by the Free University in Brussels (VUB) showed that while young men are mostly in favour of gender equality in principle, measures to promote it, they opposed such as implementing gender quotas in politics and in business.
When young men see the progress of women as a threat to their own opportunities, it is because they see the increase in women's opportunities as a zero-sum game, as if female success must come at the cost of male sacrifice.
It is no coincidence that men in regions where unemployment has risen seem especially concerned about female competition. These fears are often stoked by political groups, especially those further to the political right.
Moreover, trust in public institutions appears to play a role in the extent to which men feel threatened by gender equality. As trust diminishes, men become more concerned with competition from women.
A long way to go
Men who believe that education is unfair are more likely to feel threatened by female progress, whether in the workplace or other sectors of society. Women increasingly outweigh men in higher education; men are less likely to obtain a diploma and generally get worse grades. Yet these gender disparities are not mirrored in the labour market.
Economic uncertainty and distrust in public institutions are indicators of sexism among young men, and considerable effort is still needed to create a more just society.