Esquire magazine went all fivethirtyeight on us in its October issue, conducting a comprehensive survey of the social, political, and cultural attitudes of 20- and 50-year old men. While many of the findings were fairly obvious-20-year-old guys are more likely than their fathers to fantasize about Megan Fox over Halle Berry-the survey did reveal an alarming trend among young men. The 20-year-old cohort was nearly twice as likely as the older group to feel uncomfortable earning less money than their wives or girlfriends. With recent evidence suggesting that young childless women out-earn their boyfriends , many of these men can expect a bit of discomfort in the coming years.
As women have made greater strides toward equality, we have assumed that men would eventually come along with us for the ride, that over time, sustained progress would breed increasing social acceptance of high-earning, empowered women. So what’s going on here?
One explanation is that this attitudinal shift is simply part of the wider, well-documented trend toward greater social conservatism among young adults . Supporting this theory, the Esquire survey also found that the younger men were three times more likely than the 50-year-olds to believe that divorce is never an option and were more likely to oppose abortion and prefer a stay-at-home wife.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that there has been no shift at all. Perhaps the younger men, full of youthful optimism and bravado, just assume that they’ll be top earners much in the same way that contemporary young women might. The perceived discomfort may be with the idea of individual failure rather a reflection of wounded patriarchal pride. Indeed, the survey also revealed that 20-year-olds were much more likely to project greater peak earnings than their older counterparts. Perhaps the young cohort’s greater discomfort with lower wages is less a generational shift in values than the beginning point of a gradual, lifelong adjustment to realistic expectations.
Photograph by Ethan Miller for Getty Images.