SALT LAKE CITY — Who has it easier, men or women? How you answer that question may reveal the political party you favor.
A report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center shows that Americans hold sharply different views about which gender has the easier life, with about half of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents believing that men have it easier, while nearly 70 percent of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents say there’s no difference between genders.
Republicans are also more likely to be satisfied when it comes to gender equality overall. More than half say the country is "about right" when it comes to the progress the United States has made in ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women. But 70 percent of Democrats say there’s more work to do.
The online survey, Pew's first to address wide-ranging questions about gender equality and progress, was conducted in August and September. In addition to partisan leanings, it explored differences in opinion by gender, education and age.
Americans uniformly say they believe men and women should be treated equally, said Kim Parker, Pew's director of social trends research. But the report's most surprising finding was how differently Democrats and Republicans interpret the world around them, particularly when it comes to how changing gender roles are affecting the American family.
“The partisan divide is wide and deep and penetrates to all kinds of issues,” Parker said.
For example, 47 percent of Democrats say changes in gender roles — which Pew defined as women's widespread participation in the workforce and men assuming more responsibility for child care and housework — have made it easier for marriages to be successful, compared with just 26 percent of Republicans.
And nearly half of Democrats say these societal changes make it easier for parents to raise children, compared with fewer than one-third of Republicans who believe that to be true.
Even on the question of whether more women working has made it easier for families to have enough money to live comfortably, respondents were split along party lines. Fifty-four percent of Democrats said families could live more comfortably now with women working, compared with 40 percent of Republicans.
While the survey did not address sexual harassment in the workplace, the findings arrive as much of the country still seethes over allegations that a Hollywood mogul abused and exploited women in his company for decades. And the recent firing of a Google engineer over a memo he wrote challenging diversity policies has shown that gender differences are still a point of controversy.
With 4 in 10 women reporting to Pew that they have been discriminated against or treated unfairly because of their gender, the report reveals that gender inequality in the U.S. remains more of a debate than a discussion.
Who has it easier, and why?
In perhaps its most provocative question, Pew asked respondents “who has it easier?” — women or men. A majority of respondents — 56 percent — said there is no difference, while 35 percent said life is easier for men and 9 percent said women.
Of those who say men have an easier life, 43 percent said it’s because they make more money than women, and 29 percent said men have more employment opportunities or get other preferential treatment. Other reasons given were fewer household responsibilities, greater respect and more political power. Some respondents also said men get better health care than women and don’t have to worry about their physical safety or sexual harassment.
“You simply need to look at the percentages of male CEOs and relative salaries to see there is likely a systematic advantage to being male,” said one 29-year-old man in the survey.
Among people who believe women have life easier, 30 percent said they have more job opportunities or receive other preferential treatment, and 9 percent said laws and courts favor women. Respondents also said women have more choices when it comes to work and family, and more access to government assistance. “If there’s a choice between a man and a woman for a promotion, I feel the woman would be given preference,” a 60-year-old woman wrote.
One of the largest partisan gaps in the survey emerges on this question, with 49 percent of Democrats saying that men have it easier, while 19 percent of Republicans say the same.
When the responses are broken down by the respondents' education, the number of Democrats believing that men have it easier vaults to nearly 70 percent.
Parker said the divisions illustrate the degree to which partisanship has come to define the country in historic proportions.
“Party is now overriding other key demographic variables as a driving force in attitudes. In the case of gender equality, party even seems to trump gender,” she said.
Millennial point of view
Interestingly, millennial women, who came of age in an era hyperconscious about gender equality, differed sharply from millennial men when asked if changing gender roles have made it easier for them to live more satisfying lives. Sixty-one percent of millennial men said women their age have benefited from societal changes, but fewer than half of millennial women agreed.
“In spite of the gains women have made in the labor force in recent decades, today’s young women are no less likely than older generations to say the country has more work to do in bringing out gender equality,” the report said.
Nearly 70 percent of millennial women surveyed were Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party. And Democrats of all ages were more likely (69 percent) to say the country hasn’t gone far enough in ensuring equal rights for women.
Democrat women were also significantly more likely than Republican women to report experiencing discrimination or other unfair treatment because of gender — 51 versus 34 percent. Their experiences help to explain why they believe the country hasn’t done enough to help women. Among women who report discrimination, 71 percent says the nation needs to do more. Fewer than half of women who haven’t experienced discrimination say the same.
Among the 43 percent of women who reported unfair treatment in the workplace, 38 percent said they were discriminated against in matters of hiring, pay or promotion, and 26 percent said they were treated as if they weren’t smart and their opinions didn’t matter.
Of the 18 percent of men who said they’d experienced gender discrimination, 35 percent said they’d been unfairly treated in hiring, pay or promotion. The second most common response was that co-workers had made assumptions about personality traits because of gender stereotyping.
There's no question men have had to adjust to dizzying changes in the American workforce. Women make up 47 percent of the labor force, compared with 30 percent in 1950, the Pew report said.
In 2016, 57 percent of women were employed or looking for work, compared with 69 percent of men. But the women's share has climbed since 1980, while the percentage of men has declined.
"The falloff in men's labor force participation has been particularly sharp among men with no education beyond high school," the report said.
Moreover, women's overall wages have grown, while men's have declined, cutting the gender wage gap, which was 64 cents on the dollar in 1980, to 83 cents on the dollar in 2016.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction issued Oct. 20 by the Pew Research Center regarding the responses of millennial women.
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