Social Media May Be Fueling Gen Z's Negative Views on Gender

New Morning Consult research shows that social media use is impacting the young cohort’s views on gender in a much more negative way than any other demographic
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
March 27, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Nearly 2 in 5 (38%) U.S. adults said their social media use has given them a more negative outlook towards politics, the largest share of 10 tested topics — and a result that holds across all demographics.

  • However, on the subject of gender, there is a stark generational rift: Gen Z adults are 15 percentage points more likely than all U.S. adults to say that their social media use has negatively impacted their outlook toward men, and 10 percentage points more likely to say the same about women.

  • This data raises questions about the kinds of content that perform well online, why, and how the messaging featured in such content can translate into large-scale shifts in worldviews.

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Take a scroll on any social media platform today and you’ll almost assuredly encounter intensely gendered (and often strange) language. 

Your dinner can be “girl” or “boy;” your job “pink” or “blue.” You can learn how to tap into your “vibrant masculinity” or harness your “divine feminine.” And you can always find a space to discuss your “icks in men” or “red flags in women.” 

In 2024, hyperbolic content about the generalized behavior of men and women — and their relationships to one another — is pervasive online. Morning Consult’s latest survey uncovers an unsettling outcome of this trend among the internet’s most prolific users, Gen Z: Their views on gender are becoming much more negative relative to the average U.S. adult.

Social media is souring Gen Z on gender 

The share of Gen Z adults who said using social media has made them feel more negatively toward men (30%) and women (22%) is notably higher than all U.S. adults — and every other major demographic group.

Social Media Is More Likely to Drive Negative Views of Men and Women Among Gen Z

Shares who said their social media use has given them a … outlook on the following topics:
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“Neither more positive nor negative” and “Don’t know” responses not shown.
Survey conducted Feb. 17-19, 2024 among a representative sample of 2,200 U.S. adults with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

In many ways, Gen Z is primed for poor internet experiences. In addition to spending the most time on social media, they're also most likely to report encountering negative content online and to say they “doomscroll” on a frequent basis. 

Still, the differences in the share of Gen Z adults and U.S. adults who said using social media has negatively impacted their perceptions of men and women — 15 and 10 percentage points, respectively — are sizable enough to warrant further examination, especially when considering the generation is growing ideologically distant along gender lines.

Previous Morning Consult research shows that, for young people, social media apps don't always function as “digital town squares.” In fact, they’re fairly gendered spaces, with multimedia platforms like TikTok and Snapchat being much more popular among Gen Z women, while text-based apps like Reddit and X (formerly Twitter) primarily attract Gen Z men. And within these platforms, content debasing the less-represented gender — whether explicitly or implicitly — tends to flourish. 

“Dating diaries” have become a staple format for young women users on TikTok, and there is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that the platform “boosts” videos featuring bad date stories — wherein a (typically) male partner is vilified for any number of transgressions, ranging from minor to serious — far more than those depicting positive experiences. The genre is so popular that it's even earning some creators Hollywood contracts. Outing suspected cheaters (usually men on bachelor parties) and pushing relationship advice rooted in gender stereotypes are also now reliable formulas for achieving TikTok virality, too. 

Meanwhile, on male-dominated platforms like Reddit, forums dedicated to advancing “men’s rights” draw hundreds of thousands of members. A rash of “masculinity coaches” have also gained popularity across most corners of the internet in recent years, where misogyny is often a central content theme. (It is important to note that these online communities, known broadly as the “manosphere,” pose real-world threats in a manner for which there is no female equivalent.) 

The future of gender polarization

A clear majority (62%) of Gen Z adults said they believe excess exposure to negative content online — like all of that described above — is ultimately the fault of users, not of social media companies. And while the share who blame platforms may rise as more attention is paid to Gen Zers’ worsening mental health crisis, it will likely never reach a mass critical enough to pose a serious business threat. 

That’s a major public relations win for platforms, as most content that could be classified as “anti-gender” doesn’t fully violate standard policies around misinformation, abuse or incitement of violence — and therefore is complicated to moderate. The implications of casual internet sexism on young people at large, however, are less clear. 

Polls continue to find that Gen Zers’ are dating and having less sex than older generations, yet they’re also flocking in massive droves to follow content creators who promote traditional, heteronormative relationships and lifestyles. 

These are confounding and unexpected developments for a generation so frequently hailed as uber-progressive on most all social issues. But they serve as yet another reminder of the internet’s unique ability to repackage existing messaging and introduce it to new audiences in new contexts at scale — for good or bad. 

A headshot photograph of Ellyn Briggs
Ellyn Briggs
Brands Analyst

Ellyn Briggs is a brands analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where she conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises brand and marketing leaders on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Ellyn worked as a market researcher and brand strategist in both agency and in-house settings. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in finance. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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