Women and socialists understand science better

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Women have a better understanding of science than men, and are more likely to heed the expert view that man-made global warming is taking place.

"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," said sociologist Aaron McCright of Michigan State University.

"Here is yet another study finding that women underestimate their scientific knowledge – a troubling pattern that inhibits many young women from pursuing scientific careers."

McCright analyzed eight years of data from Gallup’s annual environment poll, which asked basic questions about people's knowledge of climate change. He found women were more likely to be aware of and agree with current scientific thinking than men - and that this applied whether or not they were parents, home-makers or employed.

McCright suggests that the gender divide is probably explained by gender socialization, with boys in the US learning from an early age that masculinity is all about detachment, control and mastery. Girls, on the other hand, are taught to feel attachment, empathy and care – perhaps making it easier to feel concern about the potential dire consequences of global warming.

But another, perhaps related, reason may be that women believe more in equality than men. Recent research by Yale University law professor Dan Kahan suggests that the more egalitarian a person is, the more likely they are to be concerned about the environment.

"We know from previous research that people with individualistic values, who have a strong attachment to commerce and industry, tend to be skeptical of claimed environmental risks, while people with egalitarian values, who resent economic inequality, tend to believe that commerce and industry harms the environment," he says.

Kahan says his research indicates that the effect applies in many areas other than climate science. The 'individualists' were far less likely to accept scientific consensus on issues relating to gun control and nuclear power, taking an attitude that might be summed up as 'if the experts disagree with me, the experts must be wrong'.

McCright says his findings have implications for the way that policymakers communicate with their audience - and for the way that eco-friendly products are marketed.