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
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