Teen Boys Who Have More Progressive Gender Views Are Less Violent

by Julie Scagell
Rebecca Nelson/Getty

The study looked at nearly 900 boys between the ages of 13 to 19

A new study finds teenage boys that hold more progressive views about gender are half as likely to exhibit violent behaviors as those with more strict views about masculinity and gender.

The research, which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, also found that boys with “more equitable gender attitudes had lower odds of self-reported violence perpetration across multiple domains, including dating abuse and sexual harassment,” and that boys who witnessed their friends engaging in two or more verbally, physically, or sexually abusive behaviors were two to five times more likely to engage in them, themselves.

“We have for too long siloed sexual and partner violence in one place, youth violence and bullying in another,” said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, lead author of the study and chief of the division of adolescent and young adult medicine at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. The hope is that the information will help focus on “gender equity as a mechanism to use for violence prevention across the board.”

The study looked at anonymous survey data from 866 male teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 from 20 low-income neighborhoods in Pittsburgh between 2015 and 2017. The boys were asked questions like how likely they were to agree with statements about gender norms like: “A guy never needs to hit another guy to get respect,” and “I would be friends with a guy who is gay.” The higher score on those questions, the more progressive gender views were assumed.

The study is critical to learning more about how these opinions impact behavior and the need for prevention during this age group. According to the researchers, among the adults who experienced partner violence, “26% of women and 15% of men first experienced such violence before the age of 18 years,” and, “One in 3 female and nearly 1 in 4 male victims of completed or attempted rape experienced this for the first time between age 11 and 17 years.”

The researchers also found that one area of violent behavior, homophobic bullying, did not line up with the study’s larger findings about progressive gender views being linked to less violence behavior. “You would anticipate that the more progressive your beliefs, the less likely you would be to engage in homophobic teasing,” Miller said. “We did not find that.”

Miller stated that the U.S. is behind other countries in educating and providing prevention programs centered around violence against women. “This is one of the areas where we’re pretty behind the times in the United States,” she said. Unfortunately, she and her team who work with young athletes, said the earlier we can get to boys and understand how and why their opinions towards gender exists, the better.

“We can move the needle more with younger adolescents,” Miller said. “Early adolescence may be a really important time to intervene.” Their evaluation “aims to inform future youth violence prevention efforts through the identification of potential predictors of interpersonal violence perpetration.”