The (Past and) Future of Gender Equality: 9 in 10 Americans Predict More Female Leaders in Next 10 Years

NEW YORK, N.Y. – America has come a long way since 1971, when The Harris Poll found that equal parts of the American public favored and opposed efforts to strengthen and change women’s status in society (42% favor and 41% oppose).

Today, majorities of Americans say they would be equally likely to trust either a man or a woman in various leadership roles, 3 in 4 agree that the U.S. has come a long way toward reaching gender equality, and nearly 9 in 10 acknowledge that, compared to previous generations, men today are willing to take on more responsibilities at home (86%).

We’ve come a long way indeed, but we’re not there yet – women still face barriers to leadership opportunities and lack of recognition in the workplace, but more than 8 in 10 adults are hopeful that gender equality will be achieved in their lifetime (84%), including nearly half (47%) who strongly agree.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,097 U.S. adults surveyed online between June 1 and 3, 2016.

Bright outlook for women’s future, but work remains to be done

Most U.S. adults are optimistic about what the future will hold for American women:

  • About 9 in 10 believe the next decade will see more female leaders (91%); and,
  • Majorities think the next generation of American women will have more leadership opportunities (69%), higher income potential (65%), and greater freedom to marry (57%).

At the same time, however, only about half are as confident about increased access to education (53%) and health care (50%), and more protection against violence (51%).

In fact, more than 9 in 10 Americans (93%) agree – including nearly 2 in 3 (65%) who strongly agree – that we must make faster progress in preventing violence against women.

It takes a village: responsibility for change lies with all, but mostly women

Large majorities of Americans agree that the responsibility for change lies with all facets of society:

  • The media play a crucial role in shaping gender roles and norms (87%);
  • It’s important that families teach their children that girls can do anything that boys can do (89%); and,
  • Businesses, non-profits, schools, and government need to work together with families to promote gender equality (84%).

Employers can also help level the corporate playing field by taking certain steps – such as flexibility and transparency – to promote equal leadership opportunities for men and women in the workplace.

But ultimately, the bulk of the burden to inspire change lies with women themselves – while the vast majority of adults feel everyone should have at least some responsibility for improving American women’s lives, nearly 2 in 3 place the onus primarily on women:


At Least A Little Responsibility (NET)

A Great Deal of Responsibility

























This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between June 1 and June 3, 2016 among 2,097 adults. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.  Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

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The Harris Poll® #43, June 14, 2016

By Kathy Steinberg, Director, The Harris Poll