When people describe members of the millennial generation — usually considered those born between 1982 and 2000 — a lot of adjectives get thrown around: lazy, entitled, irresponsible, selfish, unambitious.
Some of these critiques seem warranted given that one in three young Americans lives with a parent or parents and a quarter of those individuals don’t work or go to school.
Few people would describe millennials as conventional in their thinking, but a recent study suggests a surprising thesis — that many young people today may favor more traditional gender roles in the home.
Sociologists Joanna Pepin and David Cotter explain that, using a survey monitoring the attitudes of high school seniors over four decades, they discovered that since the mid-1990s, the views of young people have shifted from more egalitarian to more traditional.
According to their findings, the belief that males should hold more decision-making authority and females should manage household work declined from the 1970s through the 1990s. But it has since started to rise, with a majority now preferring that men be the breadwinner while women stay home to raise the children.
It’s worth noting that when it comes to the principles of equality, millennials seem to be all in. They overwhelmingly support “the idea that men and women have equal abilities and should be afforded equal opportunities.”
They also support working mothers and strongly disagree with the notion that a mother’s decision to work outside the home has a negative effect on young children.
This indicates an abatement of the so-called “mommy wars,” the researchers write.
But when it comes to the practical decisions of family life, conventional roles are strongly preferred.
Pepin and Cotter’s study isn’t an anomaly.
A second paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families had similar findings, although its author found that a significant gender gap in those aged 18-25 is responsible for current trends.
The study’s author, Nika Fate-Dixon, wrote that, “as of 2014, men aged 18 to 25 were more likely than their older counterparts to agree with the ‘old-fashioned’ notion that it is better for women to take care of the home and for men to be the achievers in the outside world.”
For the authors and most casual observers, this realization is perplexing.
Pepin and Cotter explain that changing population demographics, a decline in religiosity, greater educational attainment for women and an increase in dual-earner households all point to a stronger belief in egalitarian principles.
They wonder if “advances for women in the public sphere may increase many people’s desire to reinforce gender essentialist ideology in the family.”
It’s not clear if or why that is the case, although some might argue that it is a reaction to women’s successes in the workplace or even mild retaliation by young men who feel overshadowed by the progress of their female counterparts.
Then there is the fact that many millennials have delayed marriage and children.
A new report from the Census Bureau found that in 2016 the four common milestones of adulthood — getting married, having kids, getting a job and living on one’s own — were achieved by only 24 percent of adults by age 34.
In comparison, in 1975 fully 45 percent of adults had achieved all four.
It’s possible then that many millennials hold traditional ideals that will change with their life circumstances.
But it seems more likely that these changes in perspective are a response to something.
Perhaps young people have rejected 90s-style feminism and accepted what older women have come to realize the hard way — we can’t have it all.
Or it could be that young people are far more insightful than we give them credit for; that they find value in both sexes but view inherent differences between men and women in a positive light, instead of trying to erase them like generations past.
If that’s the case, we might begin to see millennials in a different and more positive light, too.
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Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.