Women More Likely to Back Scientific Consensus

Proving a scientific consensus appears very much like herding cats, but regardless, in the long run new research shows that women are more likely to back the scientific consensus than men, according to a Michigan State University sociologist.

“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 Aaron McCright, an associate professor with appointments in MSU’s Department of Sociology, Lyman Briggs College and Environmental Science and Policy Program.

McCright’s findings, 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 and goes a long way to challenging the preconceived notions that men are more scientifically literate than women.

“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 said.

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 analysed eight years’ worth of data from Gallup’s environmental polls that tend to gather a very general and basic representation of people’s fears and concerns regarding the environment. For a long time Gallup’s polls have been indicating women hold more to the scientific consensus than men, and McCright’s own research backs this up, regardless of the role that man or woman play in the household.

Instead, McCright says 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.”

Source: Michigan State University

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