Challenging common perceptions that men are more scientifically literate, a study by a Michigan State University researcher suggests that women tend to believe the scientific consensus on global warming more than men. According to The study, published in the September issue of the journal Population and Environment, is one of the first to focus in-depth on how the genders think about climate change. The findings also reinforce past research that 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,” said sociologist Aaron M. McCright, an associate professor with appointments in MSU’s Department of Sociology, Lyman Briggs College and Environmental Science and Policy Program. “Here is yet another study finding that women underestimate their scientific knowledge – a troubling pattern that inhibits many young women from pursuing scientific careers,” he added.
Understanding how the genders think about the environment is important on several fronts, said McCright, who calls climate change “the most expansive environmental problem facing humanity.”
“Does this mean women are more likely to buy energy-efficient appliances and hybrid vehicles than men?” he said. “Do they vote for different political candidates? Do they talk to their children differently about global warming?”
McCright analyzed eight years of data from Gallup’s annual environment poll that asked fairly basic questions about climate change knowledge and concern. He said the gender divide on concern about climate change was not explained by the roles that men and women perform such as whether they were homemakers, parents or employed full time.
Instead, he said the gender divide likely is explained by “gender socialization.” According to this theory, boys in the United States learn that masculinity emphasizes detachment, control and mastery. A feminine identity, on the other hand, stresses attachment, empathy and care – traits that may make it easier to feel concern about the potential dire consequences of global warming, McCright said.
“Women and men think about climate change differently,” he said. “And when scientists or policymakers are communicating about climate change with the general public, they should consider this rather than treating the public as one big monolithic audience.”
Some researchers find that differences in men’s and women’s value
orientations explain gender differences in environmental concern.
While other scholars argue that differences in men’s and women’s levels of trust in science and technology explain gender differences in environmental concern.
The McCright recommends that more research should be conducted to examine the importance of different socialization agents (e.g., parents, peers, school) on the development of gender differences in young people’s climate change beliefs and attitudes. He also recommends that future research should employ refined measures of gender and examine individuals’ beliefs about feminism.
View The Entire Report: The Effects of Gender on Climate Change Knowledge and Concern in the American Public