Ivanka Trump, Chelsea Clinton, and the emerging female electorate
By Karlyn Bowman and Heather Sims
The 2016 election is in the rear-view mirror. But the votes and views of a key demographic group — young women — will reverberate significantly in future elections. Two members of this group, Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton, were the most visible representatives of their peers during the campaign. Examining their unique demographic characteristics and attitudes provides clues about what we can expect from the emerging female electorate going forward.
Let’s start with the basics. While very close in age, the two women fall into different generations. At 35, Ivanka Trump is at the front end of the much-discussed Millennial cohort. Millennials are now the largest generation, making up more than one quarter of the nation’s population. Chelsea, at 36, is a young Gen Xer, a group with a less distinctive profile in public opinion. Together, Millennials and Gen Xers make up the largest share of eligible (not actual) voters (56%).
The United States is experiencing what demographer Bill Frey calls a “diversity explosion,” with Millennials the most diverse generation in our history. Ivanka and Chelsea are part of the declining national white share of America’s population. Among Millennials, 56% are now white, 21% Hispanic, 14% African-American and 7% Asian.
The Millennial generation is also the most educated generation in history, especially its women. Women surpassed men in bachelor’s degrees conferred in 1982, master’s degrees in 1987, and doctoral and other professional degrees in 2006. Ivanka and Chelsea’s Ivy League educations are not the norm for most young women, but their levels of education illustrate the impressive gains their female peers are making. This election, women with a college degree were 51 percent of voters and voted for Hillary Clinton, 58%-38%.
The Future Family
Ivanka married at age 27, just days before her 28th birthday; Chelsea at age 30. Like many other women their ages and younger, they married later (and will be married longer if they stay married). In 2015, the average age of first marriage was 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 21 for women and 23 for men of the Silent generation (born 1928–45). Around 20% of Millennials are married today. A quarter are the children of divorce or parental separation, true for Ivanka but not for Chelsea.
While these two women have married, the rise of the nonmarried electorate may be more consequential politically. In the AEI/Brookings Institution/Center for American Progress report “States of Change: The Demographic Evolution of the American Electorate, 1974–2060,” we note that in 1974, 70% of eligible voters were married. Today, the married share of the eligible electorate is down to 52%. The nonmarried share is almost as large at 48%. Among female eligible voters, the nonmarried share has surpassed the married share. Strong majorities of nonmarried women (a group that includes single, divorced and widowed women) have voted Democratic in every presidential election since the 1980s, the first time the exit pollsters collected these data, and they have become more Democratic over time. Nonmarried women voted 62 percent for Hillary Clinton. Sixty-seven percent voted for Barack Obama in 2012.
Religious intermarriage is becoming more common, and both Ivanka and Chelsea married someone of a different faith. Pew’s 2014 religious landscape survey found that people who married after 2010 were more than twice as likely to be in religious intermarriages as those who married before 1960 (39%-19%).
Millennials are leading another significant religious change in America: the rise of the “nones.” More than a third of Millennials (35%) say they have no formal religious affiliation. Still, around 50% of Millennials say they are absolutely certain they believe in God.
Declining fertility is another big story of our time, and the current fertility rate of 1.9 births per woman now falls below the replacement rate of 2.1. Ivanka has three children at this point, and Chelsea, two. Today, according to Gallup, American women say their ideal family size is 2.6 children, down from 3.6, a figure that remained constant until the late 1950s. In the same survey, 40% of Americans 18–40 years old who do not have children said they want them someday. Young adults still want kids; they just aren’t having as many.
Women at Work — And at Home?
Ivanka and Chelsea are working mothers, as both have highlighted in recent public appearances. They are both working moms of newborns, to boot. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 68% of married mothers in 2015 were in the labor force, as were three-fourths of mothers not married or living apart from their spouse. Fifty-eight percent of mothers with infants under a year old were in the workforce either full- or part-time last year.
As more women have entered the U.S. workforce, their attitudes about working have shifted. Since 2007, around 50% of women, up from 36% when Gallup first asked the question in 1974, have consistently told the pollsters that if they were free to do either — a big “if” for most women — they would prefer to have a job outside the home than to stay home and take care of their house and family. While a majority of younger women and women with a college degree said they would prefer to work, a majority of women with children said they would not. In Gallup’s 2014–15 data, 54% of employed women with children under 18 preferred to stay home, as did 57% of women not currently employed with children.
In 2015, both parents worked in 61% of married-couple families with children under 18, according to the BLS. Ivanka and Chelsea have more resources than most working mothers to help them navigate the work-family balance. More millennial husbands than husbands in earlier generations say they help at home. Fifty-nine percent of parents employed full-time say they share household chores equally, but women still handle most child-rearing responsibilities.
Ivanka is not alone in professing the joys of parenthood, as she did in her September Wall Street Journal article. In a 2015 Pew study, more than three in four parents with children under 18 described being a parent as enjoyable and, separately, rewarding. Mothers and fathers both gave equally as high responses.
Political Laggards, Social Leaders?
In terms of partisan identification, Ivanka spoke for many in her generation when she said at the GOP convention: “I do not consider myself categorically Republican or Democrat.” More young people describe themselves as independents than as Republicans or Democrats. This election, more young voters cast ballots for third-party candidates than older voters did. But in recent elections, young voters have voted heavily Democratic. They voted solidly for President Obama in 2008 (66%) and 2012 (60%), fueled largely by the preferences of minority youth. In 2016, they voted 55% for Clinton to 37% for Trump. White young people voted narrowly for Trump, 48%- 43%. Minority millennials voted heavily for Clinton. Young white women voted for Clinton, 51%- 42%. Their older sisters, white women ages 30–44, voted more closely for Trump, 49%- 45%.
Younger voters pay some attention to politics. In the Spring 2016 Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) poll, over half of 18- to 29-year-olds said they are following closely this year’s presidential election (60%) and, separately, news about national politics (52%). But unlike Ivanka and Chelsea, most do not actively participate. Although 37% have liked a political issue on Facebook and 29% a political candidate, most are passive and don’t engage in traditional political activities such as volunteering.
Even though Ivanka and Chelsea haven’t made explicit their opinions on many mainstream issues, polling data show clear patterns in young people’s attitudes. Both Gen Xers and Millennials strongly support gay marriage, but until recently, young women were much more supportive than young men. Today their views are similar. Young men and women support marijuana legalization, but young women are more dubious about it than men. On abortion, the young, like other generations, want to keep abortion legal but are willing to put restrictions on its use. Young women are less supportive about women being drafted than are young men. Although these issues get substantial media attention, the top issues for most young people — as for their parents — are the economy, terrorism and health care.
The granddaughters of feminism are charting their own course. In the Harvard IOP poll, 37% of women 18–29 years old identified themselves as feminists, while 58% did not. That’s not to say young women don’t think there’s progress to be made. In another poll from Pew earlier this fall, 63% of women 18–34 said there are still significant obstacles that make it harder for women to get ahead than men, compared with 38% of men this age who gave this response. When asked if they’ve ever personally experienced discrimination because of their sex, more women say they haven’t than say they have (53%-46%).
Life at the Local Level
Ivanka and Chelsea campaigned on behalf of a parent for the country’s highest elected office, but young people aren’t very confident in government. They want the federal government to do many things and at the same time have little trust in it. Nearly two-thirds don’t think Social Security will be available when they retire. Similarly, young people are neither cheerleaders for nor hostile to big business. Many observers have commented on their distrust in central institutions, but this could have a silver lining. As they grow up, they are likely to be more self-reliant and perhaps more active in their local communities, where they have higher confidence that problems can be solved.
Both Ivanka and Chelsea appear to have close relationships with their parents, another factor that defines the younger generations. Young people often talk to or text with their parents, and 32% of 18- to 34-year-olds live with a parent, surpassing for the first time the number of those living with a spouse or partner in their own household. Many also live near their parents. In the 2014 General Social Survey, over half (53%) of young adults said they lived in the same city as when they were 16 years old. Of those who moved away, one in five lived in the same state, while slightly more (one in four) moved to a different state.
A Younger Direction
Ivanka and Chelsea didn’t sign up to be presidential surrogates, but both were a credit to their families on the campaign trail. Both have said their friendship will continue after the dispiriting political brawl that was this year’s campaign, something that could serve as good advice for the rest of us. And in an interview with 60 Minutes this week, Ivanka said she is “going to be a daughter” in her father’s presidential administration, rather than having a more formal role. As she and Chelsea return to their lives off the campaign trail, the demographic and attitudinal footprint of young women gives us a sense of how this emerging electorate will reshape the country’s political and cultural landscape for generations to come.
This piece is adapted from an article that first appeared on WSJ.com.