In Brief

Women have long been stereotyped as more liberal voters and men as more conservative; however, new research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 87, No. 6) suggests that the relationship between gender and sociopolitical attitudes is far more complex than that. The study's results indicate women often hold split ideologies--their views are more liberal than men's on social compassion issues and more conservative on traditional morality issues.

"Men and women have somewhat different responsibilities, and their attitudes reflect that," says Alice Eagly, PhD, the lead researcher and a psychology professor at Northwestern University.

In the study, Eagly, Amanda Diekman, PhD, of Miami University, Mary Johannesen-Schmidt, PhD, of Oakton Community College, and Anne Koenig, of Northwestern University, examined attitudes in the General Social Survey (GSS)--a personal interview survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. Using GSS data from 1973 to 1998, the researchers examined whether sociodemographic characteristics are responsible for what seem to be gender-based attitudes.

The researchers developed gender-based attitudinal measures by selecting GSS items on which men and women differed at least slightly.

In a regression analysis of the questionnaire data, the researchers found that women were more likely than men to endorse socially compassionate policies, such as reducing income differences between the rich and poor, as well as morally traditional policies, such as opposing the legalization of marijuana. In a community sample, the researchers found that in addition to the attitudinal differences, women gave greater support than men to equal rights for women, gay men and lesbians.

Eagly and her colleagues argue that the differences in attitudes are the result of women's greater family obligations and status disadvantage compared with men.

In support of their claims, they found that the gender gap in compassion attitudes resembled the gaps associated with other status variables, such as membership in a minority group. They also found the gender gap in morally traditional attitudes resembled the gaps associated with family obligations, such as marriage and children.

The researchers also compared gender gaps with various sociodemographic variables such as age, marital status, education level and race. They found significant relationships between:

  • Social compassion issues and minority status.

  • Traditional morality attitudes and having more children and less education.

  • Equal rights attitudes and having fewer children and more education.

Women's overall blend of attitudinal conservatism and liberalism makes it difficult to label either gender liberal or conservative, Eagly says. Instead, people's ideological positioning depends on the specific issues, the study suggests.

--Z. STAMBOR