Policy/Biz

Women Less Informed About Politics Than Men, Even in Countries With Advanced Gender Equality

Women Less Informed About Politics Than Men, Even in Countries With Advanced Gender Equality
Women knew less about politics than men in economically advanced nations, compared to those that weren't as advanced. Wikimedia Commons

In the United States, where abortion rights have been widely debated as of late, it would follow that women are paying attention, as the outcomes of these votes would directly affect them. However, there don't seem to be enough women paying attention, as a new ten-nation study has found that when it comes to political knowledge, women aren't as informed as men.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the study looked at Australia, Canada, Colombia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, the U.K. and the U.S. It looked at how knowledgeable the countries' populations were with respect to media systems and national political knowledge, and found that irrespective of gender equality in each nation, women knew less about politics than men.

"Our finding that the gap between men and women's knowledge of politics is greater in Norway — a country ranked globally as one of the very highest in terms of gender equality — than in South Korea — a country with a much lower equality rating — is particularly striking," James Curran, a research professor and director if the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre at the University of London, said in a press release.

The researchers surveyed men and women's knowledge of domestic and international news, as well as current affairs in each country. They found that those populations that watched TV news, especially news provided by public broadcasting — rather than commercial — tended to be better informed. However, news watching, reading, and listening was shown more frequently, to be a male activity.

In Canada, Norway, the U.S., and the U.K., political knowledge gaps were especially large when compared to countries with less advanced economies such as Colombia. These were also the countries in which men claimed exposure to news more than women. 

The explanation could lie in the overwhelming amount of male coverage on news sources throughout the nations. Overall, women only appeared as sources in 30 percent of news coverage, and even then, the majority of them showed up during longer stories, or for soft topics, such as family, lifestyle and culture.

They could also be less inclined to learn about politics because of a number of other reasons, the researchers said. Social norms and expectations inherited from the past, such as housework, could take up much of the time they would use for news consumption.

"Such underrepresentation and topical bias of women in news media may curb women's motivation to acquire political knowledge actively, and discourage them from political participation, and even prevent women from engaging as citizens in a democratic society," Kaori Hayashi, one of the researchers who conducted the study, said.

The findings could also correlate with the fact that female leaders are largely scarce throughout the U.S. The Women's Campaign Forum Foundation works to create programs that assist women in becoming more politically active. Here are some statistics from the 2010 election:

  •  Women hold 17 percent of seats in Congress.
  •  Women hold 22 percent of all statewide elective executive office positions.
  •  State Legislatures are 24 percent women.
  •  Six out of 50 states have a female governor.
  •  On average, male cabinet appointees outnumber women cabinet appointees in our states by a ratio of two to one.
  •  Women constituted 54% of voters in the 2008 elections.

In a country where women's rights are hotly debated, it is essential for women to be more involved. Last week, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis spoke for 13 hours in order to filibuster a strict abortion law that would have closed all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics. The law would have also limited abortions to 20 weeks, rather than the 24 weeks determined in the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the nation's leading provider of abortion statistics, 53 percent of all pregnancies in Texas were unintended in 2006, which resulted in almost $1.3 billion in state and federal costs. By 2008, 92 percent of Texas counties still didn't have abortion providers.

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