Gender differences in public opinion and policy attitudes have been a feature of American politics for many years. A gender difference is apparent in the way women and men respond to a variety of contemporary issues. Women, who are more likely than men to identify as Democrats, are also more likely to express opinions that align with the policy positions of the Democratic Party, although there are importance differences among women based on race, ethnicity, and other demographic factors. Women tend to be more supportive of gun control, reproductive rights, welfare, and equal rights policies than men. They tend to be less supportive of the death penalty, defense spending, and military intervention. Recent polls have found that, compared with men, women are slightly more optimistic and/or satisfied with the direction in which the country is going. This is contrary to women's outlook under the previous Republican presidential administration, which was less optimistic than men's outlook. This is likely related to gender differences in partisan identification that drive attitudes about the state of the country. Notably, gender differences in public opinion tend to be more modest in size compared to other differences across demographic groups such as race or between political partisans.
The data below illustrate some of the gender differences in various policy areas. Data are from the 2016 and 2020 American National Election Study , the 2018 General Social Survey, the 2020 Cooperative Election Study, and the June 2020 AP-NORC Center Poll. Data on current issues come from a variety of different polls linked in the tables below. All question wording and response categories were taken directly from the source surveys. The majority of respondents in these surveys are white and therefore, data points for Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans should be interpreted with some caution. For a more detailed longitudinal analysis of gender differences in public opinion, see Dr. Mary Kate Lizotte's book, Gender Differences in Public Opinion.
|Current Issues||Domestic and International Force||Social Welfare|
|Reproductive Rights||Equity||Environmental Policy|
There are several different current issues in which there are gender differences in public opinion. Studies show that women have been hit the hardest economically by the COVID-19 pandemic. A January 2021 poll from Axios/Ipsos shows that women are more confident than men in the Biden administration's ability to provide economic relief for businesses and to ensure that the coronavirus vaccine is widely available. The data broken down by gender and party show more complicated patterns. Furthermore, three-quarters of women surveyed said they supported the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill compared to 61% of men before it became law in March 2021. Women also tend to be more optimistic than men about the Biden presidency and they are slightly more satisfied with the way direction of the nation. There are only small gender differences in current attitudes about the state of the nation's democracy and whether or not it is in crisis. Of particular salience before and after the 2020 election, more women than men consider the proliferation of conspiracy theories in the United States a crisis..
Another salient area of public opinion involves issues related to transgender Americans. Dozens of bills have been introduced in state legislatures that restrict transgender children from getting transition-related medical care and participating in girls' sports. According to data collected in June 2020 from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a majority of both men and women believe that transgender people face either "a lot" or "some" discrimination, although women are more likely than men to believe that transgender people face discrimination. This gender gap exists among both Republicans and Democrats, but Democrats overall are more likely than Republicans to believe transgender people face "a lot" or "some" discrimination. In the same survey, women were also more likely than men to say, "Our society has not gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender."
Domestic and International Force
By significant margins, women are more supportive of the federal government making it more difficult to buy guns than men. This is consistent with other analyses of gender differences in support for gun control, though notably, gaps among those who identify as white and tend to be larger than gender gaps among those who do not identify as white, though whites are less likely to support gun control efforts overall. Even among self-identified Republicans, women are more likely than men to support gun control policies (although at much lower levels than Democratic women), including support for requiring background checks for gun purchases and the banning of semi-automatic rifle sales. These gender and partisan differences in support for gun control are consistent across various racial and ethnic groups. Women are also about five percentage points less likely than men to support the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Gender differences are smaller when the data are disaggregated by party; a majority of both Democratic men (55%) and women (57%) oppose the death penalty, while over 80% of Republican men and women support it. Gender differences are largest among Latinx and Asian respondents, with Asian and Latina women approximately nine percentage points less likely to support the death penalty than their male counterparts. Black women are slightly more likely to support the death penalty than Black men.
Men are less likely than women to see police violence as a “very serious” or “extremely serious” problem in the United States. Gender differences are largest among Latinx respondents with about 65% of Latina women seeing police violence as a "very serious" or "extremely serious" problem compared to about 51% of Latino men. Gender differences among white voters are very small. Women are also more likely than men to think that the criminal justice system needs significant changes and to see solving problems of racism and police violence as the solution to issues of urban unrest. Gender differences between men and women who identify as white were larger than gender differences between men and women who do not identify as white. According to 2020 ANES data, women are more likely than men to believe that police officers use force more than is necessary. On this issue, gender differences are largest among Black and Latinx respondents, with Black and Latinx women more likely than their male counterparts to say that police use force more than is necessary "most of the time" or "all the time." Notably, white respondents are less likely than Black, Latinx, and Asian respondents to believe police officers use more force than necessary “most of the time” or “all the time.”
Gender differences on issues of international force tend to be smaller compared to other issues of force. Women are less likely than men by small margins to support the use of military force to solve international problems. According to 2020 ANES data, there is virtually no gender difference in support for defense spending. Patterns are similar among Democrats and Republicans, and across various racial and ethnic groups. These data are consistent with scholarly research on gender differences in U.S. public opinion on the use of military force.
Gendered patterns in public opinion extend to several different public policy issues under the umbrella of social welfare. Women are more likely than men to support increases in government spending on health care to help people pay for health insurance when they can't pay for it all themselves and they are more likely to favor the Affordable Care Act that was passed in 2010. There is almost no gender difference among white and Asian Americans on support for increased health care spending. However, among Black and Latinx Americans, women are about five to eight percentage points more likely than men to support increased spending. When asked whether the government should provide fewer or more services in areas such as health and education, women are more likely than men – across and within racial groups – to support providing more services even if it means an increase in spending. Both Democratic and Republican women are slightly more likely than their male counterparts to support providing more services, though Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to back the expansion of government services. Relatedly, more recent data on the COVID-19 relief package shows that women were more supportive of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. Importantly, gender differences do tend to be smaller than racial differences with whites less supportive than non-whites of most social welfare policies.
Men are more likely than women to support a decrease in federal spending on welfare and on Social Security, although support for Social Security spending has a much higher baseline of support among all Americans than support for welfare spending. Among Democrats, gender differences in support for an increase in spending on welfare programs and Social Security are rather small, whereas among Republicans, a slight majority of women support an increase in Social Security spending compared to 45.3% of men. Republican women are also more likely than Republican men to say that spending on welfare should either be increased or kept the same. There are little to no gender differences among Latinx and Asian respondents on support for Social Security spending. Among Black and white respondents, women are five to eight percentage points more likely than men to support increases in Social Security spending. More white, Latinx, and Black men supported a decrease in spending on welfare programs than their female counterparts.
Women are more likely than men to support an increase in federal spending on aid to the poor and to believe that too little is spent on assistance to the poor. Gender differences are larger among Republicans than Democrats. Within white, Black, Latinx, and Asian respondent groups, women are more likely than men to say that aid to the poor should be increased. Finally, almost 74% of women favor policies requiring employers to provide paid leave to parents of new children compared to 66% of men. Gender differences are particularly large among Republican respondents with an eight percentage-point difference between men and women on imposing a paid leave requirement. Within white, Black, and Latinx respondent groups, more women than men favor an employer-provided paid leave requirement. In a longitudinal analysis of ANES data in her book, Gender Differences in Public Opinion, Mary-Kate Lizotte finds similar patterns in which women are more supportive than men of most social welfare policies.
Women are more supportive than men of access to abortion. According to the 2020 ANES data, women are about four percentage points more likely than men to support abortion as a matter of personal choice. Gender differences are larger among Republican respondents than Democratic respondents, though Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to support abortion as a matter of personal choice. Furthermore, the only racial group in which there is no distinguishable gender gap is among Black respondents with almost 60% of both Black men and women supportive of abortion as a matter of personal choice. Within white, Latinx, and Asian respondent groups, women are more supportive than men of abortion as a matter of personal choice. Data from the 2020 Congressional Election Study (CES) shows even larger gender gaps on support of abortion “as a matter of choice” and for allowing employers to decline coverage of abortion in insurance plans, indicating that the magnitude of gender differences on abortion-related issues is dependent on question wording. According to 2020 CES data, there is no gender gap in support for making abortion illegal in all circumstances, with 16% of men and women expressing support for a blanket ban on abortion. Finally, according to 2020 ANES data, over 50% of women responded that they would be upset if the Supreme Court reduced abortion rights compared to about 43% of men. Again, gender differences are larger among Republicans and almost non-existent among Democratic respondents, who are much more likely than Republicans to say they would be upset with Supreme Court action to reduce abortion rights. These data points are consistent with scholarly work on gender and abortion attitudes.
Gender differences exist on a variety of different policy issues related to equal rights for historically marginalized groups. Women are more supportive than men of same-sex marriage. This is consistent among Democrats and Republicans as well as within different racial and ethnic groups, though Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to support same-sex marriage. There are even larger gender gaps in support for transgender rights. In particular, women show more support than men for transgender people being allowed to use the bathrooms of their self-identified gender (opposed to the gender they were assigned at birth) and for allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. This finding holds within different racial and ethnic groups except where Asian American men are more supportive than Asian American women of allowing transgender people to serve in the military.
Based on 2016 ANES data, women are slightly more supportive than men of preferential hiring for Black Americans, although gender differences are dwarfed by the differences between racial groups. Data disaggregated by racial and ethnic groups shows that white men and women both have low levels of support for preferential hiring of Black job candidates. Black Americans are the only group expressing majority support for preferential hiring of Black job candidates, though Latinx and Asian Americans are more supportive than whites. Among Black and Latinx Americans, women express more support than men for this policy. There is virtually no gender difference in support among Republicans, who overwhelmingly oppose it. Women are more likely than men to believe that the government should improve the social and economic position of Black Americans. This is the case within all racial and ethnic groups except among Blacks, wherein men and women are equally supportive. According to the 2020 ANES, women were more likely than men to agree that generations of slavery and discrimination has created conditions in which it is difficult for Black Americans to get ahead in society. However, racial differences are larger than gender differences on this question, with whites especially likely to disagree.
Women are more supportive than men of allowing unauthorized immigrants to remain in the U.S. and eventually qualify for a path to citizenship. This is true within racial and ethnic groups. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support a path to citizenship option, and Democratic women are the most supportive of a path without penalties.
According to the 2020 ANES, women are more likely than men to think we need much tougher regulations on business in order to protect the environment and they express more support than men for increasing federal spending on the environment. This is consistent with other analyses that find that women are more supportive of government action to address environmental issues. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to support both tougher environmental regulations and increased federal spending on the environment, with a slightly larger - albeit still small - gender difference among Republicans. When looking at the data disaggregated by gender, race, and ethnicity, white and Black women were more supportive of federal spending on the environment than their male counterparts whereas the opposite pattern exists among Latinx and Asian respondents. Whites are the least supportive of increased federal spending on the environment.