Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

More than half of US men think sexism is over

A Businesswoman is silhouetted as she makes her way under the Arche de la Defense, in the financial district west of Paris, November 20, 2012. France said its economy was sound and reforms were on track after credit ratings agency Moody's stripped it of the prized triple-A badge due to an uncertain fiscal and economic outlook. Monday's downgrade, which follows a cut by Standard & Poor's in January, was expected but is a blow to Socialist President Francois Hollande as he tries to fix France's finances and revive the euro zone's second largest economy.   REUTERS/Christian Hartmann (FRANCE  - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTR3ANMB

Most women however, say discrimination still makes their lives harder. Image: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Danielle Paquette
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how United States is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

United States

More than half of men in the United States think sexism is over, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. Asked whether women face significant obstacles in the workplace and beyond, 56 percent say they no longer do, compared to 41 percent who say the barriers persist.

Most women in the national sample of roughly 4,600, however, say discrimination still makes their lives harder — 63 percent, while 34 percent say otherwise. Researchers conducted the survey in July.

Political beliefs skew the numbers: Republican men and women, for example, are far more likely to say sexism doesn’t stand in the way of America’s women. A full three-quarters of Republican men say such discrimination has vanished.

Democrats are more likely to think the opposite:

 Gender, partisan divides on obstacles for women in society today
Image: Pew Research Center

Age also appears to play a role in how respondents view gender-specific challenges. Among Democrats, men under age 35 are most likely to say discrimination against women has vanished — perhaps not an unsurprising finding, considering women now outpace men in college enrollment and degree attainment.

Young women also face the smallest gender wage gap. (Millennial women on average earn 93 percent of what their male counterparts make, while female workers in the broader labor force take home 79 cents for every dollar paid to men.)

Among Republican men, opinion doesn't vary as much by age, with men ages 35 to 49 least likely to believe women still face obstacles.

Image: Pew Research Center

Peter Glick, a social sciences professor at Lawrence University who co-designed Northwestern University’s first course on diversity management, said America's men aren't necessarily in denial. The women around them, he said, probably appear to be doing quite well. Younger women, more than ever before, are launching their lives on visibly equal footing.

The Pew respondents, he said, might be equating sexism with behavior rampant in the Mad Men era: groping at work, the near-universal presence of men in upper roles, a woman's inability to obtain a credit card without her husband's signature.

“They might be thinking about the more overt or obvious forms of sexism," he said, "but it comes out today in subtle, insidious ways. Look at the top of the hierarchy in just about anything and it looks more like the '50s than a lot of people understand."

Women hold just 4 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, according to Catalyst, which tracks gender in leadership. At those firms, 19 percent of directors are women.

Women, meanwhile, make up just 19 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives, Catalyst found. They comprise 20 percent of Senate seats. And though 57 percent of American college students are women, only a quarter of college presidents are women, the American Council on Education reports.

Perhaps the Pew survey's biggest limitation is it didn't define what, exactly, sexism is. Sexism is not just cat-calling on the street. It can be a boss unconsciously assuming a young woman would prefer to have a baby than take an overseas assignment, for example. It can be a gut feeling that something is just off about a woman in power, something about her voice or hair.

The survey also didn't ask if men feel like the discrimination affects them. As women gain ground in school and at work, Glick said, men might feel like they're losing it.

“There’s this tendency as social change takes place — you see it with whites, too — the privileged group says, ‘We’re the ones being discriminated against,’” he said. “Any policies that favor minority groups or women, there’s backlash: ‘They’re getting special breaks, and we’re getting screwed over.’”

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

More women are stepping into high-productivity service jobs, says the World Bank

David Elliott

July 18, 2024


About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum