Race? No, Millennials Care Most About Gender Equality.

The purview of next-gen leaders is that “that there are no inherently male or female roles in society.”

Women hold a sign in front of the White House in Washington on March 2, 2013 during an event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Suffrage March.
National Journal
Morley Winograd And Michael D. Hais
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Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais
Oct. 25, 2013, 2 a.m.

The at­ti­tude of the mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion (those born from 1982 to 2003) that will have most im­pact on the daily lives of Amer­ic­ans is the dis­tinct­ive and his­tor­ic­ally un­pre­ced­en­ted be­lief that there are no in­her­ently male or fe­male roles in so­ci­ety. This be­lief stems dir­ectly from mil­len­ni­als’ ex­per­i­ence grow­ing up in fam­il­ies in which the moth­er and fath­er took on roughly equal re­spons­ib­il­it­ies for rais­ing their off­spring. As men and wo­men enter the work­force on an equal foot­ing, this gen­er­a­tion’s be­lief in gender neut­ral­ity will force ma­jor changes in our laws gov­ern­ing the work place and its re­la­tion­ship to fam­ily life.

His­tor­ic­ally, “civic” gen­er­a­tions like mil­len­ni­als have ten­ded to em­phas­ize dis­tinc­tions between the sexes, while “ideal­ist” gen­er­a­tions, such as today’s boomers, have ad­vanced the cause of wo­men’s rights. This in­cludes the tran­scend­ent­al gen­er­a­tion that foun­ded the fem­in­ist move­ment in the 1840s, the mis­sion­ary-gen­er­a­tion suf­fra­gists in the early 20th cen­tury, and of course the boomers who re­vital­ized the wo­men’s move­ment in the 1960s.

By com­par­is­on, as Neil Howe and Wil­li­am Strauss, the founders of gen­er­a­tion­al the­ory point out, the 18th-cen­tury civic re­pub­lic­an gen­er­a­tion, which in­cluded many of our founders, “as­so­ci­ated ‘ef­fem­in­acy’ with cor­rup­tion and dis­rupt­ive pas­sion, ‘man­li­ness’ with reas­on and dis­in­ter­ested vir­tue.” Dur­ing World War II, as the men in civic-minded 20th-cen­tury GI gen­er­a­tion joined the mil­it­ary, many wo­men went to work in Amer­ica’s factor­ies, as­sum­ing jobs tra­di­tion­ally held by males. But at war’s end, will­ingly or un­will­ingly, most of Rosie the Riv­eter’s sis­ters re­turned to their tra­di­tion­al roles as wives and moth­ers.

Mi­chael D. Hais (left) and Mor­ley Wino­grad (Cour­tesy photo)

By con­trast, today’s mil­len­ni­al wo­men are re­fus­ing to ac­cept any re­stric­tions, based on their gender or col­or, on what they might be al­lowed to do and what they may be able to achieve. The res­ult has been vastly im­proved edu­ca­tion­al and in­come op­por­tun­it­ies for wo­men and a great­er de­mand for the abil­ity to blend work with the rest of life’s re­spons­ib­il­it­ies and pleas­ures from both sexes.

Al­though the civically ori­ented GI gen­er­a­tion was not­able for provid­ing equal op­por­tun­it­ies for wo­men and men to at­tend high school, the mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion is the first in U.S. his­tory in which wo­men are more likely to at­tend and gradu­ate from col­lege and pro­fes­sion­al school than are men. In 2006, nearly 58 per­cent of col­lege stu­dents were wo­men. By 2016, wo­men are pro­jec­ted to earn 64 per­cent of as­so­ci­ate’s de­grees, 60 per­cent of bach­el­or’s, 63 per­cent of mas­ter’s, and 56 per­cent of doc­tor­ates. These achieve­ments have pro­duced a gen­er­a­tion of self-con­fid­ent wo­men who, un­like many of their boomer moth­ers and grand­moth­ers, do not see them­selves in con­flict or com­pet­i­tion with men.

All of this has led some male mil­len­ni­als to re­think the en­tire concept of mas­culin­ity. It’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear, for in­stance, that male mil­len­ni­als will take great­er ad­vant­age of pa­tern­ity-leave op­por­tun­it­ies to bond with their new­born chil­dren and sup­port the moth­ers of those chil­dren. Re­mark­ably, in sharp dis­tinc­tion to the usu­al par­tis­an ran­cor these days, polls show that ma­jor­it­ies of Re­pub­lic­ans (62 per­cent), Demo­crats (92 per­cent), and in­de­pend­ents (71 per­cent) now sup­port the idea of paid pa­tern­ity leave. The fed­er­al budget already in­cludes money to help states start pa­tern­ity-leave pro­grams. Un­der pres­sure from the grow­ing pres­ence of mil­len­ni­als in the elect­or­ate, a paid pa­tern­ity- and ma­ter­nity-leave pro­gram is likely to be­come an em­ploy­ee-fun­ded fed­er­al in­sur­ance pro­gram, sim­il­ar to So­cial Se­cur­ity, which could be fin­anced by a small payroll tax in­crease of about three-tenths of 1 per­cent.

The biggest changes for Amer­ic­an men will come as mil­len­ni­als be­come the pre­dom­in­ant gen­er­a­tion in the work­place. Eco­nom­ic ne­ces­sity will force young men to train for and work in a range of ca­reers, such as nurs­ing and teach­ing, that pre­vi­ously have been con­sidered wo­men’s work. As the blur­ring of oc­cu­pa­tion­al gender dis­tinc­tions be­comes com­mon­place, mil­len­ni­als will de­mand that em­ploy­ers provide op­por­tun­it­ies for more work-life blend­ing. With both par­ents equally in­volved in ca­reer and fam­ily, em­ploy­ers who wish to at­tract top tal­ent will have no oth­er choice but to ac­com­mod­ate the gen­er­a­tion’s de­mand for such things as tele­com­mut­ing, flex­ible hours, and child care. Politi­cians who sup­port policies de­signed to en­cour­age the pro­vi­sion of such be­ne­fits will re­ceive a pos­it­ive re­cep­tion from their mil­len­ni­al con­stitu­ents.

The res­ult will be a new na­tion­al con­sensus on what it means to be a man or a wo­man, and a new re­spect for the full par­ti­cip­a­tion of both sexes in all as­pects of Amer­ic­an fam­ily life.

Mor­ley Wino­grad and Mi­chael D. Hais are coau­thors of Mil­len­ni­al Makeover: My Space, You­Tube, and the Fu­ture of Amer­ic­an Polit­ics (2008) and Mil­len­ni­al Mo­mentum: How a New Gen­er­a­tion Is Re­mak­ing Amer­ica” (2011). Watch their ex­change about mil­leni­als’ per­spect­ives on gender.

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