Men Are From Mercury, Women Are From Neptune

Last week I had the pleasure of delivering a chapel talk at Asbury University, a Christian college in a charming small town outside of Lexington, Ky. The theme of my talk was constructive Christian engagement in the public square. But in the student forum that followed my speech, I received a question somewhat out of left field. “Studies are showing that Gen Z men and women are getting further apart politically,” one student asked. “Why is that? Why are we different from other generations?”

He was referring to a recent Gallup poll showing an immense political gender gap between 18- to 29-year-old women and men, driven mainly by young women turning sharply left. The quickest, simplest explanation for this development is that the #MeToo movement, the election of Donald Trump and the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on abortion all had a disproportionate political impact on young women. But like most quick, simple explanations, this one is incomplete at best.

To begin with, the shift leftward among young women began before #MeToo, Trump’s election and Dobbs. Moreover, similar shifts are taking place in other countries that have not shared these political experiences. Globally, women are moving sharply left while men are moving modestly right (except in South Korea, where men are moving significantly to the right).

So the answer I offered my student questioner focused on culture more than politics. It’s not that current political controversies are irrelevant, of course. It’s that they’re less relevant than a series of seismic cultural changes that have led young men and young women to live increasingly separate lives — and the more they do so, the more they’ll have separate experiences and develop separate beliefs. Worse, the longer they live separate lives, the greater the differences will grow, and the harder it will be to ultimately form the relationships — up to and very much including marriage and parenthood — that our society needs to prosper.

In many ways, the world Generation Z confronts represents the unfortunate culmination of a number of trends that began before they were born. These trends both shape our politics and transcend our politics, and they’re extremely difficult to combat.

Generation Z has landed in a culture that is increasingly atomized and isolated. Robert Putnam’s oft-cited 2000 book, “Bowling Alone,” remains one of the most important and prescient explanations of these trends. One could almost argue that we are now living in the “Bowling Alone” world. Civic engagement has declined. Church affiliation has declined. The number of friendships has declined, and most Americans report a sense of non-belonging in their workplace, in their community and in the nation.

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