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Why are men under 30 turning to the right, while women are veering left?

The big ideological gap is of the past seven years is between younger men and women, and the trend is remarkably consistent across disparate cultures

Social media influencer Andrew Tate, left, and his brother Tristan: a young man disposed to liking him may also be someone who can be persuaded to vote for the far right. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

You can’t go near the internet these days without slamming into yet another front in the intergenerational culture wars. Housing, parenting styles, finances, how to behave at work, the rights to the back catalogue of Kate Bush, the correct height for socks: no issue is too big nor too small to be subsumed into internecine tribal warfare. It’s never really about socks or pensions or the right to claim Running Up that Hill as the anthem of your generation, of course – it’s about identity, the need to belong, the desire to blame someone else for the gap between your expectations and your reality.

Dr Jean Twenge, who is famous for her superb research on what smartphones have done to our brains, recently published Generations, a data-rich exploration of the things that divide the generations. Among other things, she posits that Millennial mothers (born 1981-1996) have it worse than their Gen X (1965-1980) counterparts because they have higher expectations; and that members of Gen Z (1997-2012) are later to drink alcohol, to work for pay, and to have sex (actual, physical sex, at any rate) than their Gen X parents were.

These theories and the data behind them are endlessly fascinating. But there is at least one problem with relying on year of birth as a predictor of real-world behaviour: it tends to eclipse other shifts that may be more significant. The most important ideological gap that has emerged over the past seven years is not the one between the generations, or even between liberals and conservatives, rural and urban, “woke” and reactionary, but between younger men and younger women.

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Data from across Europe, the US and beyond show some remarkably consistent trends: a proportion of men under 30 are leaning right while women of the same age are veering left. In the US, Gallup polls reveal that 40 per cent of women aged 18-29 identify as liberal, compared with 25 per cent of men. That 15 percentage point gap appeared in just six years. Young men were behind the recent surge of the hard right in Germany, which targeted them on TikTok with messages carefully directed to exploit their insecurities, such as: “One in three young men in Germany has never had a girlfriend. Are you one of them?”


The differences in France are a bit more subtle: support for the National Rally, led by TikTokker Jordan Bardella, is identical among both male and female voters under 30, hovering around 32 per cent. But younger women are much more likely than men to vote for the parties of the left, including the populist left grouping, France Unbowed. John Burn-Murdoch, chief chart cruncher at the Financial Times has mapped it out and found similar trends in places as geographically far apart as Poland, South Korea and Tunisia. “Tens of millions of people who occupy the same cities, workplaces, classrooms and even homes no longer see eye to eye,” he writes.

Some researchers have suggested that the #MeToo movement was a watershed moment when young men and women began to diverge politically. They point to surveys that show starkly different attitudes between young men and women towards individuals such as influencer Andrew Tate, or on feminism. Prof Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College in London points to “a consistent minority of between one fifth and one third” of men aged 16-29 in the UK who see feminism as a net negative. One in four think it is now tougher to be a man, and one in three think life will be harder for men 20 years from now, according to Ipsos data.

The growing political gender gap has implications not just for voting trends, but also for decisions about work, care, family life and who does what when it comes to divvying up duties at home

I suspect #MeToo is a side-effect of these trends rather than a cause of them: a young man disposed to liking Tate may also be a young man who feels hard done by as a result of immigration or gender equality or Covid, and someone who can be persuaded to vote for the far right. But it’s hard to say which came first.

Likewise, a confluence of factors explains young women’s drift to the left. Research from the UK has found that, for decades, women were more likely to vote Conservative while men voted Labour in higher numbers. That changed in 2017, when young women began voting Labour. The cause, one school of thought goes, was Brexit – but this doesn’t explain why similar trends emerged in Germany and the US at the same time. The outpouring of anger over sexual harassment probably played a part; so did concerns about climate, the influence of social media and a reluctance to cede hard-won economic and social freedoms.

The growing political gender gap has implications not just for voting trends, but also for decisions about work, care, family life and who does what when it comes to divvying up duties at home. Once again women’s rights are on the line – not just in the political sphere but also in the domestic one. But retrograde stereotypes about masculinity – rigid, archaic notions about how boys should not show vulnerability – hardly serve men well either.

The emergence of this reactionary impulse among young male voters is puzzling researchers, since in the past every generation has tended to be more liberal than the last. “This is a new and unusual generational pattern – normally it tends to be the case that younger generations are consistently more comfortable with emerging social norms,” writes Duffy.

It would be easy to overstate these differences – a majority of young men still regard gender equality as a good thing and believe that it is harder to be a woman. But it would be foolish, maybe even dangerous, to ignore them entirely.