US women more likely to accept climate science than men, study finds

Guardian
Leo Hickman
15.09.2010

US women more likely to accept climate science than men, study finds
Climate change gender divide explored by US sociologis

Just when you thought the climate debate couldn’t get any more divisive, along comes an academic paper which looks into the “effects of gender on climate change knowledge and concern in the American public”. The headline conclusion? “Women exhibit slightly higher levels of both than do their male counterparts.”

Aaron M McCright, an associate professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Sociology whose paper is published in the September issue of the journal Population and Environment, examined eight years of data from Gallup’s annual environment poll and found that “women tend to believe the scientific consensus on global warming more than men”. However, he also discovered that his findings reinforced past research which suggests women lack confidence in their science comprehension.

“Men still claim they have a better understanding of global warming than women, even though women’s beliefs align much more closely with the scientific consensus,” he said. McCright added that the gender divide is likely to be explained by “gender socialisation”: boys learn that masculinity emphasises detachment, control and mastery, whereas girls develop traits of attachment, empathy and care. It’s these latter qualities which McCright believes makes women more likely to “feel concern about the potential dire consequences of global warming”.

After analysing the Gallop data, he found:

Women express more concern about climate change than men do. A greater percentage of women than men worry about global warming a great deal (35% to 29%), believe global warming will threaten their way of life during their lifetime (37% to 28%), and believe the seriousness of global warming is underestimated in the news (35% to 28%).

The conclusions of the paper are interesting given just how “male” the climate debate can appear at times. Female voices in this arena are noteworthy, in part, because they are so rare. I suppose it could also be noted that the climate debate is dominated by white, middle-class English-speakers (I dare not look in the mirror at this point), but such thoughts are probably best left explored by an academic with ample time and hard data before them.

One extra pause for thought in McCright’s paper is provided in the final paragraph:

Perhaps, as some suggest (e.g., Smith 2001), gender is not as important for explaining environmental concern as is a feminist orientation. Somma and Tolleson-Rinehart (1997) find that individuals – both women and men – who support feminist goals express greater environmental concern. Thus, future research should prioritise the use of more refined measures of gender and perhaps examine individuals’ beliefs about feminism.

This being the Guardian, we welcome all genders and orientations, so please feel free to debate this subject without prejudice.

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