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What Do Men Think It Means To Be A Man?

Headlines this year have been rife with allegations of sexual harassment against many high-profile men. At the same time, an ongoing national reckoning over gender disparities in the workplace, the patriarchal social system and the role of masculinity in society are calling into question long-standing gender norms.

Along with WNYC Studios’ “Death Sex & Money” podcast, we wanted to know: What does it all mean for how men feel about being men?

FiveThirtyEight and WNYC partnered with SurveyMonkey for a nationwide survey of 1,615 adults who identify as men.1 We asked respondents to reflect on their ideas of masculinity, workplace culture and intimacy, among other things. The results: A majority of men in the workplace say they haven’t rethought their on-the-job behavior in the wake of #MeToo; a little more than half of men feel it’s at least somewhat important that others see them as masculine; and nearly half of all men say they sometimes or often feel lonely or isolated.

WNYC also interviewed men about their thoughts on masculinity for this week’s episode of “Death, Sex & Money,” which you can listen to below.

Here are some of the most striking findings from the survey:

Male identity

Feeling masculine or manly is part of a majority of men’s identities in 2018: When asked how masculine or “manly” they generally feel, 83 percent of men said they felt “very” or “somewhat” masculine. But many fewer, 53 percent, said it was very or somewhat important that others see them that way.

A majority of men, 64 percent, said their father or a father figure was a source of their ideas about what it means to be a good man. At 41 percent, mothers2 came in second. Many also cited religion. There were, however, some generational differences: Pop culture was a source of inspiration for an understanding of manhood for younger men (42 percent of those age 18 to 34), while only 17 percent of men 35 to 64 and 12 percent of men 65 and over said the same.

Sixty percent of men agreed that society puts pressure on men in a way that is unhealthy or bad. And the younger a man was, the more likely he was to believe that.

But while most respondents were in agreement that society puts negative pressure on men, they differed on the form that pressure takes. One respondent said there are “too many unnatural ‘macho’ expectations and too little emphasis on nurturing skills,” while another believed there is “too much emphasis on finding our feelings.”

We also asked men about their persistent worries. Most men said they had some daily concerns, weight and finances chief among them.

What do you worry about on a daily or near-daily basis?
Worry share of respondents
Your weight 54%
Your finances 53
Your physical health 49
Your physique 33
Your ability to provide for your family 32
Your mental health 32
Sexual performance or amount of sex 23
Your hair or hairline 19
Your clothing or style 18
Appearance of your genitalia 13
Your height 6
None of the above 13

Among 1,615 adult men surveyed May 10-22, 2018. Respondents were asked to select all options that applied to them.

Source: FiveThirtyEight/Death, Sex & Money/SurveyMonkey

Being a man at work

We asked employed men in our sample how they felt about the advantages and disadvantages of being a man at their place of employment. Close to 1 in 4 said men are taken more seriously than women at work. But most suggested that there were no advantages to be had.

How would you say it’s an advantage to be a man at your work right now?
Response share of respondents
Men are taken more seriously 23%
Men make more money 18
Men have more choice 16
Men have more professional development opportunities 14
Men generally have more support from their managers 11
Men are explicitly praised more often 8
Other 7
None of the above 59

Among 880 employed adult men surveyed May 10-22, 2018. Respondents were asked to select all options that applied to them.

Source: FiveThirtyEight/Death, Sex & Money/SurveyMonkey

Men in our sample were more likely to select a disadvantage. About 2 in 5 said men are at a greater risk of being accused of sexual harassment.

How would you say it’s a disadvantage to be a man at your work right now?
Response share of respondents
Greater risk of being accused of sexual harassment 42%
Greater risk of being accused of being sexist or racist 38
Managers want to hire and promote women 18
Other 5
None of the above 42

Among 880 employed adult men surveyed May 10-22, 2018. Respondents were asked to select all options that applied to them.

Source: FiveThirtyEight/Death, Sex & Money/SurveyMonkey

And despite several high-profile accusations of sexual harassment across a range of industries, nearly a quarter of the respondents who were employed said they hadn’t heard of #MeToo, the name frequently used to refer to efforts to end sexual assault and harassment. Among the 77 percent who were at all familiar with the international movement, 1 in 3 said they thought about their behavior at work differently as a result.

Most employed men don’t believe they’ve seen sexual harassment at work; three-quarters said they had never been witness to such an incident.

Dating and relationships

Men believe that they have different roles to play than women when it comes to dating and relationships, according to the data. Sixty-one percent of men said they felt as though it was expected of them to make the first move in romantic relationships, and 49 percent said they always tried to pay when on dates. Younger men, however, were less likely to pay for their dates than their older counterparts, with 12 percent of those 18 to 34 saying they never try to grab the check first.

How often do you try to be the one who pays when on a date?
Age group
answer 18 – 34 35 – 64 65 and up
Always 36%
55%
53%
Often 22
26
27
Sometimes 24
13
10
Rarely 3
1
2
Never 12
4
5

Among 1,615 adult men surveyed May 10-22, 2018. Two percent of respondents did not answer this question.

Source: FiveThirtyEight/Death, Sex & Money/SurveyMonkey

As with behavior in the workplace, #MeToo has not led most men to rethink their typical dating behaviors: 86 percent said they had not changed their behavior in romantic relationships in the wake of the movement. Verbal consent has become part of a national discussion on sexual norms — there have been various efforts over the years to require verbal consent in some states, including a law in California that makes “yes means yes” the standard on college campuses. But that mentality has not become the norm. Only about a third of the men in our survey said they ask for verbal consent when they want to be physically intimate with someone.

When you want to be physically intimate with someone, how do you gauge their interest?
answer Share of respondents
Every situation is different 59%
Read their physical body language to see if they are interested 46
It isn’t always clear how to gauge someone’s interest 35
Ask for a verbal confirmation of consent 31
Make a physical move to see how they react 29
Other 7

Among 1,615 adult men surveyed May 10-22, 2018. Respondents were asked to select all options that applied to them.

Source: FiveThirtyEight/Death, Sex & Money/SurveyMonkey

In all, the survey suggests that American men are still fractured about their role in society. A year’s worth of headlines about sexual misconduct has led many to declare that a “reckoning” is upon us. But a reckoning does not necessarily make for a revolution.

You can get all of the survey data on our data page.

Survey development by Andrea Jones-Rooy.

Footnotes

  1. The survey was conducted May 10-22. Respondents were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The raw numbers have been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of adult men in U.S. using data from the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

  2. Or mother figures.

Ella Koeze is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

Anna Maria Barry-Jester reports on public health, food and culture for FiveThirtyEight.

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