Newswise — Many young women in America are enthusiastically supporting Bernie Sanders’ run for the White House, while women of their mothers’ generation are committed just as strongly to Hillary Clinton as their candidate of choice.
Krista Jenkins, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, has studied this phenomenon, specifically as it relates to women college students and their mothers. The result of her research is the book Mothers, Daughters, and Political Socialization: Two Generations at an American Women's College (Temple University Press, 2013).
The purpose of Jenkins’ research looking at why mothers and daughters may view political issues differently was to help fill important gaps in our understanding of the persistence of gender inequality and women’s attitudes toward feminism and the women's movement. Using a unique data set comparing mothers and daughters who attended Douglass College—the women's college of Rutgers University—twenty-five years apart, Professor Jenkins explored the changes in how women acquire their attitudes toward gender roles, behaviors and attitudes toward key political issues in the post-women's movement years.
Her research and book explore the following questions: How do daughters coming of age in an era when the women's movement is far less visible deal with gendered expectations compared to their mothers? Do they accept the contemporary status quo their feminist mothers fought so hard to achieve? Or, do they press forward with new goals? “One thing that was obvious,” she says, “is that the older women [she interviewed] carried with them a sense of struggle, and a certain sense of complexity that their daughters often did not share as deeply.” Younger women also have other issues on their mind, she says, like pursuing job searches and struggling with college-tuition debt.
“It is not surprising that Hillary Clinton finds herself in this position as it pertains to the support of young woman in her campaign,” Jenkins says. “Young women today are more focused on the issues than on their gender identity,” she notes, “and are less convinced of gender’s importance--as it’s not part of their psyche or vocabulary having grown up in an age where there are strong female role models in positions of power and leadership.”
Unlike their mothers, Jenkins notes, many young women today have seen high-profile women in key power roles all of their lives. “They have grown up with two different female secretaries of state, a female speaker of the house, as well as women supreme court justices,” she observes. Symbolically, she notes, gender is not such a large part of young women's vocabulary nor part of their identity. “Young women are focusing more centrally on the issues and that is often their biggest draw to specific candidates,” she says.
“Perhaps most importantly, in the case of the race [for the White House] in 2016,” Jenkins says, “there’s a sense among women who have been voting for many years and who carry a deep sense of history that Hillary Clinton’s campaign represents something that is ‘finally possible’ after decades of work, struggle and progress. But, among their daughter’s generation, there seems to be a sense that, if [Clinton] doesn’t make it, there may likely be another qualified woman right behind her, next time.”
Jenkins teaches courses on American government and politics, women and American politics, gender and public policy and other topics at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she is also director of the university’s PublicMind polling institute: view2.fdu.edu/academics/becton-college/social-sciences-and-history/faculty/krista-jenkins/