From girls to men: Social attitudes to gender equality in Australia

in Report , Tagged Gender equality measures, gender equality, Gender equality attitudes, Research, #auspol, From girls to men.
  • Mark Evans

    Mark Evans

    University of Canberra

    Professor Mark Evans is the Director of the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra. His research focuses on the study and practice of governance and policy analysis with a specific emphasis on methods of change governance.

  • Max Halupka

    Max Halupka

    University of Canberra

    Max Halupka is an expert on contemporary forms of political participation, where he specialises in the relationship between technology and politics. An IGPA Research Fellow, Max has published work on: political communication, new forms of political participation, internet activism, and The Church of Scientology. Max teaches public policy for the Institute’s Graduate Certificate and MPA programmes.

  • Pia Rowe Headshot Hi Res outdoor smaller

    Pia Rowe

    Dr Pia Rowe, BroadAgenda Academic Editor and 50/50 by 2030 Foundation Research Fellow. Pia obtained her PhD in Political Science from the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra. Her research interests include inclusive notions of politics and feminism, in particular issues normally considered as social and non-political.


Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.


When the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation was launched in 2017 we believed Australia had hit a nadir in gender equality policy and purpose. Years of effort to remove entrenched organisational, cultural and social barriers to women’s progress were not landing the results we all expected by now.

To tackle the issue head on, we gathered some of the best minds and most dedicated equality warriors together and committed ourselves to a clear and uncompromising vision:




Proceeding from the assumption that there would be popular support for such a vision, as Director of the Foundation I began an informal talking tour around the nation, and further afield, only to quickly learn that not all Australians share our vision. But even more surprising were those ‘unscripted’ and unguarded comments from senior leaders, in prominent and infuential roles, who revealed an inherent discomfort with the idea of 50/50 leadership.

These anti-equality attitudes, often expressed through anecdotes about ‘political correctness’, took us by surprise and sent the 50/50 Foundation team trawling through the available research to deepen our understanding of what Australians really think and believe about the rights, roles and responsibilities of men and women.

What we found was a profound national knowledge gap

What we found was a profound national knowledge gap. There was no national data, across all generations, that covered the range of themes and questions you will find in this report. This major gap in research on Australian attitudes to gender equality is one of the core reasons why well intentioned social policies and programs have continuously failed to close persistent gender gaps across the lifespan of Australians. Our landmark survey aims to change that.

We intend to follow this report with stage two of our National Survey by taking a deeper dive into the hearts and minds of Australians. We want to hear their stories and more fully understand their attitudes and fears about living and working with gender diverse leadership that re ects the true composition of our communities, and our nation.

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Executive summary


This report presents the findings derived from a national survey of 2,122 Australians about their attitudes to issues of sexism and gender inequality. The survey was conducted online in March 2018, with participants recruited from a combination of online panels and via social media advertising. The survey explored: 1) the attitudes of boys, girls, men and women to issues of gender equality and empowerment; 2) attitudinal differences by generation; and, 3) the relationship between online activity (social media browsing, game playing and recreational browsing) and attitudes to gender equality.



Millennials, generally defined as people born between 1982 and 2000, were supposed to be the generation that forged what has been called “a new national consensus” in favor of gender equality. Indeed, in February the prominent Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs labeled the 2016 election, where an extremely qualified female candidate lost to a man with a history of disrespecting women, “a blip” on the road to the egalitarian society that will be achieved once millennial voters outnumber their conservative elders (Tim Enthoven, the New Yorker, 31 March 2017).

As Tim Enthoven observes, just a short time ago liberal democracies around the world were viewed to be moving inexorably towards a gender neutral future with the election of Hillary Clinton to the American presidency representing an international consensus on gender equality. Then in a dramatic turn of events a man perceived to be the symbol of western male misogyny was nudged into power without winning the popular vote. The post-election analysis showed that while 63 per cent of young women voted for Clinton, only 47 per cent of young men did so (Kawashima-Ginsberg 2017). Moreover, 10 per cent fewer voted for Clinton than Obama in 2008. The promise of male millennials delivering a gender equal future came to an abrupt stop (Cassino 2017 and Pepin and Cotter 2017).

The depressing news from our survey is that Australia appears to be following the trend. Not only did the Australian Liberal Party fail to replace its outgoing leader and Prime Minister with a politician perceived by many to be the most qualified and popular person for the job, Julie Bishop, but a growing number of Millennial and Gen X men appear to be alienated from the process of change and are backsliding into traditional value systems. This is all the more worrying when we can also find significant evidence of high levels of knowledge and understanding about the nature of gender inequality in Australia.

Please consider the following findings.

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Core narratives on gender equality in Australia

Australians are united in the view that gender inequality is still an issue in Australia

Our survey found that an overwhelming proportion of Australians (88 per cent) agreed that inequality between women and men is still a problem in Australia today. This observation is consistent with comparable surveys conducted nationally since 2009.

88 agree gender inquality Recovered 01 However, Australia is featured by complex, often contradictory value systems underpinning the gender equality debate

There are three distinctive voices in the gender equality debate in Australia: the traditional view, the moderate view, and the progressive view. The traditional view on gender equality revolves around negative views of women in leadership roles, and traditional views on women in the workplace and the home. The moderate view combines a more egalitarian set of views around gender equality in the workplace and at home with rising concern over what they understand as the growing political correctness of Australian society. This value system is characterised by a desire for a greater focus on men’s rights as well as women’s rights, and concern for freedom of speech and promotion of a more inclusive discussion on gender equality. This view is distinctive from the traditional view given its rhetorical support for gender equality but may well be vulnerable to unconscious bias against women in the workplace; although we have no evidence to support this thesis from our survey findings.

The progressive view represents Australians who most strongly align with the need for concerted policy action on gender equality issues both in the workplace and more broadly in society.

Significantly, the prevalence of these three sets of views are not uniform, with 38 per cent of Australians exhibiting components of the traditional value system, 63 per cent components of the moderate value system, and 89 per cent components of the progressive value system. It is important to note that attitudinal viewpoints are not mutually exclusive, with many Australian falling into multiple types depending on their own complex range of opinions on gender politics and personal circumstances. However, there does appear to be a convergence around the moderate value system which is unlikely to facilitate anything other than incremental change given the contradictions therein.

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Australians across all generations have a clear and sophisticated understanding of the nature and experience of sexism

Men and women agreed on the areas of society where sexism is most widespread (politics, workplace, media) although females were significantly more likely to nominate politics and the workplace while males were more likely to claim that sexism wasn’t widespread in any of the suggested areas of society. However, if Australian governments are to make authentic progress on these issues they will need to take a hard look at themselves first. When asked to identify areas of society where sexism is most widespread, both men (53 per cent) and women (63 per cent) were in agreement that Australian politics was one of the worst perpetrators of sexism. Comparative findings from the Eurobarometer suggest that politics in Australia is perceived to be much more sexist than in Europe. 

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If Australian governments are to make authentic progress on these issues they will need to take a hard look at themselves first

There were some differences between generations in which areas of society they believe sexism is most prevalent. The area of clearest difference was, unsurprisingly, social media. Millennials (38 per cent) and Gen Z (44 per cent) respondents considered this to be a significant space for experiencing sexism in contrast to Gen X (23 per cent), Baby Boomers (25 per cent) and Builders (22 per cent).


Men have been forgotten in the struggle for gender equality 

Our survey reveals a worrying statistic in this regard: nearly half of all male respondents “agreed or strongly agreed” with the statement that “gender equality strategies in the workplace do not take men into account”. If we disaggregate the data by generation, we find that while millennial and builder males were most likely to report feelings of being left out, all generations exhibited similar sentiments. Millennial males were also significantly more likely (48 per cent) to “agree/strongly agree” with the statement that “Men and boys are increasingly excluded from measures to improve gender equality”, followed by Gen Z males at 44 per cent. Gender equality measures are not the only interventions that are perceived by men to deepen, rather than fix existing inequalities. The highly contested concept of freedom of speech also reveals significant gendered differences, with men far more likely to say that political correctness benefits women in the workplace.

42 excluded men and boys Recovered 01

These results give us significant cause for concern. The observation that younger generations of men view themselves as outsiders, actively excluded from what is now increasingly one of the key debates in many workplaces indicates that there is no room for complacency if we want to avoid a backlash against workplace interventions to address gender inequality.

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Male moderates are champions of men’s rights

The moderate perspective combines an egalitarian set of views around gender equality in the workplace and at home with rising concern over what they understand as the growing impact of political correctness in Australian society, as well as a strong desire to see men’s rights equally represented in public discussion of equality issues. Given that 62 per cent of Australians align with the moderate position, and its value system this represents a significant barrier to gender equality.

A significant correlation was found between online behaviours – particularly online gaming – with normative attitudes to gender roles (such as believing that men are better suited to leadership).

The development of traditional value systems particularly within the male Millennial generation is linked to the gaming culture and other online behaviours

The development of traditional value systems particularly within the male Millennial generation is linked to the gaming culture and other online behaviours. Analysis of the generational data found a positive correlation between older generations and traditional views on gender equality with one generational exception. Millennial men also agreed with traditional understandings of gender roles in the home and the workplace (such as “women are best suited to be the primary carer of children”). On closer inspection, a principle component analysis shows that the traditional perspective shared by Millennial males has several distinctive features, including the statements: “girls should not be out in public places after dark”; and, “men dominate sexual relations”.

Millennials believe 01

We also discovered a significant relationship between the length of time that young males spend playing video games, and their alignment with this ‘millennial’ traditional position; 62 per cent of young Millennial males who play online video games for an above average length of time, align positively with traditional views on gender equality. Surprisingly, 34 per cent of Millennial females displaying the same characteristics also aligned positively with traditional views on gender equality.


Rural Australia is leading the way on positive attitudes to gender equality issues in Australia

When we compared social attitudes in rural and metropolitan regions, unsurprisingly metropolitan regions tended to be more progressive in their views (70 per cent) with rural Australia closely following at 65 per cent. However, when moderate and traditional perspectives are taken into account, the picture changed quite dramatically. The traditional voice is stronger in metropolitan regions (44 per cent), and the moderate voice firmly belongs to rural Australia (66 per cent).

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In conclusion

The evidence presented above suggests that many women are still being held back by traditional beliefs, with social norms continuing to push women into traditional roles. And although tradition no longer has a vice like grip both men and women occupying the moderate value system still share clearly defined and often stereotypical views of what men and women are better at in the home and the workplace. There has been a twist in the tale in the sense that moderate men want to push gender equality forward, but they appear to be held back by their fear of change and increased economic insecurity.

And what about Millennial males? It should firstly be noted, of course, that the category is an extremely amorphous one which brings together a group of people from across a broad age group (18 to 37 years old), featured by diversity in terms of social income, ethnicity, religion, and educational background. But nonetheless our survey findings, together with comparable findings in the United States (see Cassino 2017; Pepin and Cotter; and, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, 2017) require us to think through the puzzle. The key questions here are whether these trends represent a backslide or a backlash? And, for those interested in forging a national consensus on gender equality what can be done to reverse the trend?

What is certain is that the research on gender equality in Australia continues to raise more questions than answers

What is certain is that the research on gender equality in Australia continues to raise more questions than answers. In particular, we need to explain the rhetoric-reality gap in the home, the workplace and broader society. We need to understand what men fear from gender equality. What do they think they will lose from a gender equality agenda? And, what policy interventions could incite their support? This will be the focus for part two of our research program and a key topic for our focus group study. 


Read the full report, 'From girls to men: Social attitudes to gender equality in Australia' here. 

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Post your comment


  • Rosie Tuck 08/03/2019 1:20pm (15 months ago)

    Looking forward to reading this work.

  • Sandy 21/09/2018 9:59pm (21 months ago)

    Massive piece of nonsense mansplaining there from Aaron set against the insights from new research. The reality is that women will not be doing a U turn or stepping back from power sharing and access to equality and freedom, and will reject the fallacy of automatic male merit. We’re in positions of power and working to make the change without fear, and will not be silenced no matter how scared men are of equality and how shrill, aggressive and downright stupid they are in their desperation. This research is alarming but provides useful insights and real food for thought on strategy and message.

  • Jeff White 07/09/2018 12:18pm (21 months ago)

    Why, oh why do you academics always have to obfuscate by using the word gender to mean sex? Men and women (or males and females) are sex categories, not genders, and the inequality of men and women is based on sex, not gender. "Gender equality" is a nonsense term, because the whole notion of gender is based on stereotypes of masculinity and femininity that have been created for the purpose of perpetuating the socio-cultural and economic inequality of males and females. Sexual equality will be achieved only after the ideology of gender has been abolished.

  • elwrongo 06/09/2018 7:57pm (21 months ago)

    It would would be interesting to see research on what happens when women get into "hiring decision positions" in the workplace. Who do they hire? Are they "gender balanced". I've not seen any research on it but my anecdotal evidence on this from the arts sector and in universities in Australia is that women when in these positions overwhelmingly (and sometimes exclusively) hire other women. Apparently, (according to the ABC Sunday Arts Show), women fill a large majority (plus 80% from memory) of the arts management positions in Australia.

    If this is so, why is it so? If this is happening elsewhere, perhaps its one of the reasons the millennial male feels up against a bias.

  • Aaron Lucifer, M 05/09/2018 3:33pm (21 months ago)

    This survey results are not actually surprising because end of the day, only common sense and rationality will prevail. This is the expected response and outcome, when policies, rules and agendas are carried out based on FALSE notions without any convincing evidences, let alone Scientific ones, just like the way this "50-50 gender equality agenda".
    It is completely a fallacious concept which ignores some of the fundamental understanding about genders.

    Sex and gender differences are REAL biological differences that exist between male and female, with plenty of scientific evidences to support this notion. This means it's an elemental fact that sex differences in personality and behavior are real, but some people are just refusing to accept this and keep perpetuating false concepts or perhaps just ill-informed.

    Gender is NOT just some social/cultural construct that appeared out of thin air spontaneously sometime back in the history of mankind.
    Diverse array of empirical evidence from various scientific fields like—developmental neuroscience, medical genetics, neuroanatomy/neurophysiology, early childhood behavioral studies, evolutionary biology, cross-cultural psychology, global personality trait evaluation, and new neurological research of transsexuality, including our own human evolutionary heritage, all share the same consensus that psychological traits like physical differences between men and women are REAL.
    As a matter of fact, contrary to popular but false view, it has been shown from recent studies, that the MORE egalitarian a society is, the BIGGER the gender differences that exist, this is clearly seen in the Scandinavian countries. It is called "gender equality paradox" which clearly demonstrates gender is far from being just a social construct but have vital inherent biological determinants.

    Hence, when men and women are different, then how can they also be equal, it is a just a paradoxical fallacy. Likewise the exact meaning of concepts 'sexism', 'gender stereotype' are quite obscure. Two distinctly different objects can never be compared accurately, it's like comparing apples and oranges.
    Consequently, the only way women are successful in some male dominated jobs/positions, is to introduce a quota, target or gender goal system. This not only sacrifices quality for mere quantity, but it's just another form of systematic discrimination against men, ironically to eliminate "inequality" against women.

    The major issue in today’s modern society is, there's simply a great amount of confusion in being a woman and her true feminine identity. Men on the other hand have been doing the same thing what they are good at, which is working, very naturally and successfully for umpteen years, and have developed and enhanced their own unique masculine roles like working hard, earning money, being independent, committed, taking risks in order to be a good provider for his family.

    In this modern age, the success of men, in someway has been misconstrued by society as the only best way or the ‘right’ purpose in Life, in time compelling women to desire to be like men, as if that is the only "right way" to live life, of course for most men it might be but certainly not for everyone especially most women.

    Hence, in this truly desperate and pathetic attempt for women desiring strongly to be like men, women have sacrificed and annihilated their own feminine identity resulting in confusion and chaos in society. They actually do not know what it means to be a woman, and femininity is commonly viewed like a bane or an obstacle to be a successful woman. Women feel shy and ridiculed to be a homemaker, embarrassed to be caring mothers, feeling very uneasy being a woman, even disrespected when expressing their own natural female sexuality, most of the times exclusively by other women. Women rather sacrifice their own preferences just to be something else that they might actually loath to be, only to “fit in with social norms” which is somewhat warped way is called "progressive".
    Is it progressive if material wealth is gained while one's well being is sacrificed in the process?

    It appears the one and only aim in the 21st century is, all women 'must' aspire to become like men no matter what it takes, calling it gender equality or equity, ironically condemning and ignoring men at the same time, while destroying their own invaluable feminine identity.

    Thus, just blindly aiming for GENDER EQUALITY by foolishly plodding along like a flock of sheep, is NOT going to bring any progress or miracles to a society. Please understand and accept this undeniable FACT first. Put efforts to recognize that the gender differences are REAL, work with them rather than trying to eliminate the differences all together. Ignorantly, eliminating gender difference does more harm than good in the future, just creates unnecessary animosity between men and women which eventually would destabilize the normal social foundation. It is merely a ridiculous "agenda" that only wastes time, effort, energy and is completely futile.

    Please just let men and women be like how they desire to be freely, without placing strict conditions, having unrealistic expectations or ambitions, interfering with normal societal interaction and in the process making people more bitter, miserable and filled with anger or mental anguish.

    “Just be happy to be your TRUE self, live a balanced life for yourself instead of living it for someone else”.
    Men and women complement each other well like how Nature intended it to be, and not compete with each other foolishly.

  • Louise Weine 05/09/2018 2:57pm (21 months ago)

    What a great piece of research. We will be sharing these findings with our membership and generating conversation about this report. At NAWO we are actively engaging men in our activities and programs to ensure they are part of the solution - we believe this is really important - otherwise we risk strengthening the perception that men are the problem, which is absolutely not the case.

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