Are men losing ground in America? An increasing share say they face discrimination or other forms of backlash because they are male.

That’s according to “Politics, Sex and Sexuality: The Growing Gender Divide in American Life,” a new report from the Survey Center on American Life at the American Enterprise Institute, which looks at differences in perspectives and circumstances between men and women.

Among the pressures worrying men:

  • Nearly 4 in 10 young men say they were criticized growing up for not being manly or masculine.
  • An increasing number of men believe discrimination against men is as big a problem as discrimination against women.
  • More than 4 in 10 adults believe “white men are too often blamed for problems in American society today.”

The report also finds a growing chasm in how men and women view certain issues and aspects of life that is striking, said Daniel A. Cox, director and founder of the survey center and a senior fellow in polling and public opinion at the institute. In the report, he and research assistants Beatrice Lee and Dana Popky refer to the debate over the ways that men and women are different as a “cultural and political flashpoint.”

“Even as we wrangle over why men and women approach politics, sex and sexuality, and relationships differently, there is evidence that in some places the gender gap is growing larger,” they wrote.

Who has it harder?

While research continues to show women are “far more likely” to be subject to discrimination based on their gender, an increasing number of men say it’s just as likely to happen to them.

In the survey, just over 4 in 10 Americans say discrimination against men has become as big a problem as discrimination against women, compared to 47% who disagree.

Those numbers include nearly half of men and about one-third of women. “Young men are more than twice as likely as young women to view discrimination against men and women as equally problematic (52% vs. 25%),” the report said.

Cox noted that politically conservative men are “far more likely” to worry about discrimination against men than are liberal men.

“It’s really become kind of an ideological division, this perception of whether men face discrimination,” Cox said. 

But while men may experience discrimination based on gender, the scale is much smaller than that experienced by women, Cox said.

“If you review the scholarship, despite a lot of progress that has been made, it’s still not uncommon for women to face a broad range of experiences that are negative, whether it’s gender discrimination in pay, sexual harassment, any number of issues,” he said. “It’s not universally against women, but discrimination is heavily, heavily weighted toward women. Women are just far more likely to have these negative, discriminatory experiences.”

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The survey also asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement that “white men are too often blamed for problems in American society today.”

Over half (55%) of respondents disagreed, while a sizable share (44%) agreed. The agreement was greatest among white men, at 57%, followed by white women at 43%. 

A large share of Republicans agree that white men get blamed for societal problems, at 75% of Republican men and 60% of Republican women. 

“There’s this really public negotiation going on,” with different groups challenging how things have been done, Cox said. “I think if you’re used to things one way and suddenly you’re told that’s wrong or racist or misogynist, that can feel like an attack.”

He added, “The question is, how do we have public conversations around these difficult issues? And the gender one is becoming increasingly political.” 

Manly or feminine enough?

“One finding that’s pretty consistent in our data is a significant generational shift in traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity,” Cox told the Deseret News. “And for young men in particular, there’s much less of an interest in being viewed as traditionally masculine or in being traditionally masculine.”

Cox believes that both some culture shift and the experience young men had growing up could account for the change.

Nearly 4 in 10 young men ages 18 to 29 said as kids they were criticized for not being manly or masculine enough. The survey invited them to share their experiences of being put down for how others perceived their masculinity or femininity.

“We’ve heard young men talk about the fact that due to how they express their emotions, they were teased about not being tough enough or were put down or criticized,” he said. “And often this was not by strangers but with other family members and close friends.”

The report notes that young men care less about being viewed as masculine than their fathers and grandfathers do. 

He noted criticism based on ideas about masculinity was a more common experience for young guys than for older ones. Of those 65 and older, just 6% experienced that.

“It may be that one of the things happening is that men growing up today are kind of more cognizant of casting a critical eye about traditional notions of masculinity, whereas in another era that may have been more fully accepted and part of the culture, not something that was all that memorable,” Cox said.

Among young women, 30% were told as kids they were not feminine enough, while for women 65 and older, 11% were told that.

Of the men polled, 39% consider themselves very masculine. Roughly half (48%) said they are somewhat masculine, and 11% categorized themselves as not too or not at all masculine.

Women have a similar view of themselves when it comes to femininity. Thirty-seven percent of women said they would describe themselves as very womanly or feminine, while roughly half (48%) said they are somewhat feminine. Fourteen percent of women say they are not too or not at all feminine.

The age of the person being asked made a difference. 

Senior men are more likely to say they are very masculine (43%) compared to younger men (32%). About one-third of young women said they are very feminine, compared to nearly half of women 65 and older.

There are interesting political differences, as well. Among Republicans, 54% of men said they are very manly — true of just 33% of men who are Democrats. Among women, the gap was narrower, but Democrats were more likely to see themselves as traditionally feminine: 42% of Democrats vs. 39% of Republican women.

Black and Hispanic men are far more likely than white men to describe themselves as being very masculine.

Young men challenged

Cox said he plans to write more about challenges young men face. They’re lagging behind in college enrollment. They increasingly report feeling lonely and socially disconnected. Last year, one of the center’s polls found men are experiencing a much steeper decline in the number of close friends they have — and it’s especially true of young men.

Where young men in the past relied heavily on friends, more of them today rely on their parents. Cox believes that’s an artifact of their shrinking network of friends.

Young men are also forming romantic and sexual relationships later, as well. 

That young men have fallen behind on multiple fronts is not a new discovery. A decade ago, a Deseret News series explored challenges facing boys in education, employment and other realms. “It’s a situation so dire that three dozen national experts have formed a bipartisan commission to bolster their proposal that President Obama establish a White House Council on Boys and Men. There’s already one for females, focused on education, health and career,” the article said. 

Experts say boys are still floating in choppy waters.

Attraction, faith and politics

Among other highlights from the new report:

  • Men are more likely to be attracted exclusively to women, while more women say they are attracted to both sexes. Among young women, just over half say they are attracted solely to men.
  • More than half of women — 55% — say their belief in God is certain, compared to 46% of men. Women also are more apt to attend religious services. But among young adults, the gap is narrowing, with fewer men or women attending services or claiming a religion. 
  • Men report a greater appetite for politics, though women are slightly more likely to vote.
  • Men are four times more likely to have watched pornography in the last month than are women (44% vs. 11%). But 58% of Americans say they have watched pornography at some point. And exposure is more common than in bygone years: Among women 65 or older, 81% say they’ve never watched pornography, compared to 44% of young women.
  • Nearly 4 in 10 American adults say it is important to abstain from having sex until marriage. There are differences by sex: 42% of women say it is important to wait, compared to 35% of men. Close to half (48%) of women without a college degree — and 41% of men without a degree — say it is important to wait, compared to 35% of women and 31% of men with degrees. 

The survey included 2,007 adults who were polled in March. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.