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Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe there are only 2 genders, PRRI study finds

Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash
Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

The share of Americans who believe there are only two genders, as opposed to many gender identities, has increased to nearly two-thirds as issues related to LGBT ideology continue to divide the American public, a new study suggests. 

The Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research organization Public Religion Research Institute released a survey on Thursday titled "The Politics of Gender, Pronouns and Public Education." The data was based on responses from 5,048 United States adults between March 9 and 23, 2023, with a margin of error of +/-1.5 percentage points.

The survey measured the share of Americans who believe that there are only two genders at 65% in 2023, an increase from 59% who said the same in 2021 and 62% in 2022. Roughly 34% of Americans believe there are "many gender identities," compared to 35% in 2022 and 40% in 2021. 

The percentage of Americans who think that there are only two genders increased among all demographic groups except for Latter-Day Saints, where 81% believe in a gender binary as opposed to 82% two years ago, as well as black Protestants, where the share of those who believe there are only two genders decreased from 73% to 71%.

PRRI CEO Melissa Deckman reacted to the findings of the research in a statement to The Christian Post, saying that the "concept that there are more than two genders is one that is still fairly new to most Americans."

"In the past few years, there has been more attention drawn to the issue, especially by some conservative and religious leaders, particularly in red states. The shift may be a reflection of this larger debate as more Americans begin to sort through the issue," Deckman said.  

"Whether this trend continues will be something to monitor, as younger Americans and less religious Americans are generally more open to the concept of a broader understanding of gender."

Deckman added that not all "people of faith" are "strongly committed to the notion of a gender binary. But the salience of the gender binary clearly matters more to Republicans, older Americans, and those who watch more conservative outlets."

Overwhelming majorities of white Evangelical Protestants (92%), Republicans (90%), Hispanic Protestants (82%) and other Protestants of color (73%) believe there are only two genders, along with smaller majorities of white Catholics (69%), white mainline Protestants (67%), Hispanic Catholics (66%) and adherents to other non-Christian religions (55%). 

Majorities of all demographic subgroups believe there are only two genders except Democrats (44%), the religiously unaffiliated (46%) and Jews (44%).

Although majorities of respondents belonging to each subgroup classified based on education level agree that there are only two genders, this feeling is more prevalent among those with a high school diploma or less (73%) and those with some level of college education (67%) than college graduates (58%) and those with postgraduate degrees (53%). Similar differences in views regarding the number of genders emerge based on generational differences.

Fifty-seven percent of Generation Z Americans, defined as those born between 1995 and 2012, believe there are only two genders. That compares to 60% among millennials, defined as Americans born between 1980 and 1994; 68% among baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964; 69% among the silent generation, which consists of those born before 1946 and 71% among members of Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1979.

The overwhelming majority of respondents who trust Fox News (91%) and conservative media (92%) believe there are only two genders compared to 65% of those who do not trust TV news and 56% of those who trust "mainstream news" outlets. 

Differences in responses to questions about LGBT ideology based on partisan identification, religious affiliation, age, education level and media trust materialized throughout the survey.

When asked about their level of comfort upon hypothetically finding out that a friend prefers to use gender-neutral pronouns for someone who does not identify as a member of either gender, a plurality of respondents (40%) described their hypothetical reaction as either "very" or "somewhat" uncomfortable, while 35% of Americans classified themselves as "somewhat" or "very" comfortable and the remaining 23% insisted that it "doesn't matter either way."

Republicans were the only group where a majority of respondents (65%) would be either "somewhat" or "very" uncomfortable if they found out one of their friends used gender-neutral pronouns. Pluralities of independents (38%), members of Generation X (44%), baby boomers (46%) and the silent generation (44%) said the same. 

On the other hand, a majority of Democrats (53%) along with a plurality of members of Generation Z (48%) and millennials (42%) said they would be "very" or "somewhat" comfortable if a friend told them they liked using gender-neutral pronouns.

When asked how they would feel if one of their friends wanted them to use gender-specific pronouns that do not match their perception of the person's appearance, a plurality (43%) of Americans responded that they would be "very" or "somewhat" uncomfortable with doing so. 

Majorities of Republicans (68%) and the silent generation (51%) expressed at least some level of discomfort with the thought of having to refer to a friend based on pronouns that did not match their perception of the person's appearance, along with pluralities of independents (40%), members of Generation X (45%) and baby boomers (49%).

Democrats (54%), members of Generation Z (48%) and millennials (43%) were more inclined to be comfortable with addressing a friend by a pronoun that did not align with their perceived appearance.

The survey also examined Americans' feelings about what children are taught in public schools, with 49% of those surveyed agreeing that "public schools are giving students harmful information about gender and sexual orientation."

That figure rises to 53% among members of Generation X, 54% among baby boomers, 57% among those who have a high school diploma or less, 59% among the silent generation, 80% among Republicans and 84% among those who most trust Fox News and those who most trust conservative media.

Conversely, the level of agreement that "public schools are giving students harmful information about gender and sexual orientation" is lower among independents (46%), millennials (42%), members of Generation Z (41%), college graduates (39%), postgraduates (37%), those who most trust "mainstream news" (35%) and Democrats (25%). 

Similarly, a majority (53%) of Americans agree that "public schools interfere too much with parents' rights to determine what their children are taught." Stronger majorities of those who most trust conservative news (88%), those who most trust Fox News (85%), Republicans (79%), the silent generation (64%), those with a high school degree or less (62%), baby boomers (58%) and Generation X (56%) believe that public schools trample on parental rights. 

Smaller shares of independents (50%), millennials (48%), college graduates (42%), Generation Z (42%), those who most trust mainstream news (40%), Democrats (31%) and postgraduates (25%) believe there is an attempt by public schools to subvert parental rights.

Most Americans (53%) identified the middle school years, between sixth and eighth grade, as the appropriate time for public school students to be taught "sex education that includes explanations of birth control, condoms, and other forms of contraception." The view of middle school as the most appropriate time for comprehensive sex education prevailed among Democrats (61%), independents (53%) and Republicans (46%). 

A substantial share of Republicans (35%), independents (29%), Americans (28%) and Democrats (20%) thought high school was the most appropriate time to teach such topics. Thirteen percent of Republicans believe it is never appropriate to teach public school students comprehensive sex education, along with 8% of Americans, 8% of independents and 5% of Democrats.

Thirty-nine percent of Americans, 45% of Republicans, 39% of independents and 35% of Democrats pointed to middle school as the appropriate time to teach students "sex education that emphasizes abstaining from sex except within marriage." Twice as many Democrats (38%) as Republicans (19%) thought that schools should never discuss abstinence-only sex education with students, while roughly equal shares of Americans (30%) and independents (31%) felt the same way.

Overall, 62% of Americans believe that "people spend too much time talking about their gender and pronouns" in the contemporary U.S. That figure increases to 85% among white Evangelical Protestants, 73% among the silent generation, 71% among white Catholics, 70% among those who belong to the Church of Latter-Day Saints, 70% among Hispanic Protestants, 70% among baby boomers, 67% of white mainline Protestants and 66% among Generation X. 

On the other hand, other Protestants of color (60%), Hispanic Catholics (55%), millennials (54%), Jews (53%), members of Generation Z (48%), other non-Christians (47%) and the religiously unaffiliated (47%) were less likely to see a societal obsession with gender and pronouns. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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