Adolescents’ Experience with Gender Equality
Understanding how young teens may be experiencing inequality and how their views take shape.
For over 80 years, Plan International USA has been part of a global network striving for a just world that advances children’s rights and equality for girls.
Plan International USA commissioned us to conduct a robust public opinion study of adolescents, ages 10 to 19, on issues and experiences related to gender equality. The goal of the research is to provide a resource for policymakers, media, and others who want to understand how children may be viewing and experiencing inequality and how their views take shape.
The kids are not alright.
Adolescent girls are facing immense pressures around physical attractiveness and perceived worth through their appearances and sexuality. A majority of girls say they hear boys making sexual comments or sexual jokes about girls several times a week or more.
- 7 in 10 girls ages 14 to 19 feel judged as a sexual object in their lives
- 8 in 10 girls ages 14 to 19 have had at least one friend asked by a boy to send a “sexy or naked” picture
- 51% of girls ages 14 to 19 say sexism is a big problem in the US – more than the proportion of adults
Boys face their own distinct gender-related pressures – around being physically strong and dominating or controlling others, and around sex. Close to half of boys ages 14 to 19 have heard their dad or other male family members make sexual jokes or sexual comments about women. We found that having a father who has made sexual jokes or comments about women is one of the top predictors of thinking it’s okay to ask girls for naked or sexy pictures. This factor is also related to a boy’s likelihood to watch online porn, to feel pressure to “hook up with” a girl, and feeling pressure to control and dominate others.
Surprisingly, we found that playing with gender-specific toys also has a statistically-significant correlation to views related to gender norms and beliefs. About half of boys in the survey said they grew up playing mostly with toys made for boys (like superheroes, guns, and trucks) and close to half played mostly with gender-neutral toys (like Legos). Boys in the survey who played mostly with gendered toys are more likely to think about girls’ bodies and how they look, compared to girls’ thoughts and personalities. They are also less likely to agree that they want equal numbers of men and women who are leaders in society – compared with boys who played with gender-neutral toys. Girls who played with mostly girl toys (like princesses, jewelry, and dolls) are more likely to feel pressure to dress like older women and place less importance on having a successful career. Girls who played mostly with gender-neutral toys feel less pressure to dress like older women and less pressure to get positive comments on social media.
In the Press
The study was picked up by the New York Times here, here, and here, as well as cited in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and many other outlets.