We have always thought that the great disparity in women’s and men’s career achievements was a clear and objective indication that the sexes are not treated equally in the workplace. Women have, unquestionably, made impressive gains as they have entered historically male-dominated career paths. For example, in 1980, men were twice as likely as women to have managerial jobs; today women are just as likely as men to hold such positions. Nevertheless, the gender achievement gap remains wide in most leadership positions. Women account for only 21 percent of US senators, 19 percent of U.S. House members, 25 percent of state legislators, 8 percent of governors, 20 percent of board members of Fortune 500 companies, 26 percent of college presidents, and 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. And at the 1000 largest United States companies, only 24 percent of C-Suite executives are women, the great majority of whom are chief human resources officers. These statistics and others point, in our view, to a straightforward conclusion: the United States has a long way to go to achieve true gender equality. Or does it?
According to a Pew Research Center survey, released on October 18, 2017, there is a wide partisan divide over whether the United States has achieved gender equality. For example, Pew found that 69 percent of Democrats (and democratically leaning independents) say the country hasn’t gone far enough in giving women equal rights to men. But only 25 percent of Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) hold the same view. Indeed, 54 percent of Republicans, but only 26 percent of Democrats, believe gender equality is “about right,” and 18 percent of Republicans, but only 4 percent of Democrats, think the country has gone too far when it comes to its efforts to give women equal rights with men.
Pew also found that women and men across the political spectrum have different perspectives on gender equality. Thus, 57 percent of women but only 42 percent of men believe the country hasn’t done enough to give women equal rights with men. But these differences narrow considerably when political identification is considered. Among Democrats, 74 percent of women and 64 percent of men say the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to achieving gender equality; but among Republicans, only 33 percent of women and 20 percent of men hold a similar view. In other words, Democratic women are more than twice as likely as their Republican counterparts to believe more work needs to be done to achieve gender equality; and Democratic men are more than three times as likely as their Republican counterparts to believe the same thing.
The sharp partisan schism over the equality of women’s and men’s rights also shows up in Democrats’ and Republicans’ views about the consequences of changing gender roles. There is nearly universal agreement that gender roles have changed and are continuing to change, but 50 percent of Democrats and only 36 percent of Republicans say that these changes have made it easier for women to lead satisfying lives.
Likewise, Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to view the consequences of these changes as positive. According to the survey:
- 47% of Democrats believe changes in gender roles made it easier for marriages to be successful, while 26 percent of Republicans agree;
- 48% of Democrats believe the gender role changes made it easier for men to lead satisfying lives, while 30 percent of Republicans agree; and
- 48% of Democrats believe the gender role changes made it easier for parents to raise children, while 32 percent of Republicans agree.
The Pew survey reveals yet another partisan divide. Among Democrats, 49 percent say that men have it easier than women and only 6 percent say women have it easier than men. Among Republicans, however, these percentages are 19 percent (that men have it easier) and 12 percent (that women have it easier).
Pew did not attempt to draw conclusions from its survey beyond the results themselves. A few observations, however, seem justified. First, while Democrats and Republicans agreed that women should have equal rights with men, there is a sharp partisan divide as to whether that equality has been obtained. Democrats overwhelmingly feel more work needs to be done, while most Republicans feel that the goal has been accomplished.
While Republicans might feel gender equality has been achieved, they are far more skeptical than Democrats about the changes that have accompanied that equality. Indeed, few Republicans view the changes in gender roles over the past few decades as positive. Perhaps not surprisingly, this suggests that Republicans – far more than Democrats – are suspicious, or even resistant to, social change with respect to gender roles or relationships.
If we needed any further evidence of the sharpness of the partisan schism that pervades Americans’ values and culture, this Pew survey provides it. One of our major political parties believes we must do more to assure women equal rights with men, while the other thinks we have gone quite far enough – if not too far already. We can’t help but speculate that the 2016 election result was due, at least in part, to our country’s deep partisan divide over gender equality and the value of changing gender roles.