How younger voters will impact elections: The gender gap

FILE PHOTO: A voter leaves a voting booth after casting her ballot in the state's presidential primary election in Greenfield, New Hampshire, U.S. February 11, 2020.    REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl/File Photo
Editor's note:

In this series we look at how younger voters are likely to impact future elections and American politics going forward.

A funny thing happened slightly more than 40 years ago. In the 1980 presidential election, pollsters and politicians alike noticed that women were more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate, incumbent Jimmy Carter, than to vote for the Republican Ronald Reagan. In 1976, when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford, men and women were the same in their partisan preferences. But in 1980, the gap was nine points. Although this gap has been smaller in some elections than in others, for the past half century the gender gap has been a regular feature of American elections. The gender gap was 12 points in 2020, with 57% of women preferring Biden compared to 45% of men. Now, election results from last year’s midterms suggest it may be disappearing among younger voters.


As we have done in other articles in this series, we divide the electorate into two groups — those under 45 years of age and those over 45 years of age.[1] As the first graph illustrates, younger white men prefer Democrats in about the same percentages as do younger white women — 55% to 52%. However, among older Americans the gender gap is ten points — only 31% of white men prefer Democrats, whereas 41% of white women do — numbers that are more in keeping with those we’ve seen in the past 50 years.


Among African Americans there is virtually no gender gap in either age group, as Graph 2 shows. This is not surprising given the strong bonds between African Americans and the Democratic party.


The Hispanic gender gap looks more like that of white voters with a considerable gender gap among older voters but no gap among younger voters.

The gender gap has disappeared among plural and millennial hispanics

Why the absence of a gender gap among younger voters? Abortion is probably a big reason — like their female partners, men under 45 years old grew up under Roe v. Wade. Historically men’s and women’s views on abortion have not differed dramatically.

But there are likely more fundamental reasons. Since the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, when today’s older generations were in their formative years, America’s culture has changed markedly. Today, little girls can more realistically aspire to graduate from college or graduate school and hold such traditionally “male” occupations as soldier, police officer, lawyer, and doctor, and men’s presence in some traditionally “female” occupations, such as nursing, is becoming more common.

As expected, there was some opposition to these challenges to traditional culture, especially among older Americans.[2]

In spite of the resistance, however, significant change did occur. In 1950, only 24% of those awarded bachelor’s degrees and 10% of those earning Ph.D.’s were women. By 1980, those numbers had risen to 49% and 30% respectively. In 2020, 58% of bachelor’s degree and 54% of Ph.D. recipients were women.  Currently, about 40% of American lawyers, 37% of active physicians, 18% of police officers, and 19% of active duty commissioned military officers are women. At the same time, men now make up more than a quarter of public-school teachers, one in five social workers, and one in ten nurses.

These changes have produced a reduction of the wage gap separating women from men, especially among younger workers. According to Pew research, “… the wage gap is smaller for workers ages 25 to 34 than for all workers 16 and older. In 2022, women ages 25 to 34 earned an average of 92 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same age group – an 8-cent gap. By comparison, the gender pay gap among workers of all ages that year was 18 cents.”

As men and women find themselves in a more equal world, younger men, who have grown up in an environment of increasing gender equality, may be finding MAGA world’s vision of society and “manhood” — where women stay home and are followers while men are the breadwinners and leaders — an anachronism that simply doesn’t make sense in a world of working wives, (somewhat more) shared child-rearing and record numbers of women in leadership positions. These cultural shifts may also be influencing womens’ voting patterns.

As these generational and societal trends continue to play out with todays under age 45 voters becoming tomorrow’s senior citizens, it is possible that America’s political gender gap will become a quaint historical anachronism as well.

[1] Somewhat different results occur if the age under which someone is “young” changes, but we find this over/under 45 years of age the most interesting since it encompasses the Millenniel generation and the next younger generation.

[2] A 2009 Pew survey indicated that while two-thirds of those younger than 30 (Millennials) completely disagreed with the notion that “women should return to their traditional roles in society,” fewer than half (43%) of those 65 and over (members of the Silent and GI generations) completely disagreed.