RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Worldwide, scientists are trying to convince an increasingly skeptical public that global climate change is in fact happening and that humans are the primary cause. Yet, despite all the facts about climate change they have at their disposal—from international bodies like the United Nations to reports from the U.S. government—just 50 percent of the American public acknowledge that it's a problem. And, a new study shows, that may have everything to do with gender.
"Past research on public opinions about environmental issues has found that women are more concerned with direct threats, for instance, things like air pollution and water quality, while men are more likely to think about faraway issues—holes in the ozone, global warming, biodiversity loss, things that won't hit them right then," says Aaron McCright, PhD, associate professor of sociology at the Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University and lead author of the new study. "But more evidence suggests that women are starting to have more concern about those global issues than men."
THE DETAILS: McCright's new study, published in the journal Population & Environment, analyzed Gallup-poll data from 2001 to 2008 to see whether women or men were more likely to acknowledge that climate change was occurring, or that humans were the root cause; which gender had greater actual knowledge about the issue; and which gender thought it had the most knowledge. Over that eight-year period, women consistently showed greater concern about climate change than men, with 35 percent of women worrying about climate change a "great deal," compared with just 29 percent of men. Also, 37 percent of women felt climate change would threaten their way of life, compared with just 28 percent of men.
When it came to actual knowledge about climate change, women won out: 59 percent believed the effects of global warming have already begun to happen (which they have) while just 54 percent of men did; and 64 percent, in agreement with government scientists, said that pollution from human activities was the primary cause, compared with 56 percent of men. Also, 66 percent of women knew as well that most scientists believe global warming is occurring, while just 60 percent of men did. On the other hand, men had a higher perceived understanding of global warming than women did. That is, they were more likely to say they knew a lot about the phenomenon than women were.
McCright found that women's concern over climate change held true despite factors that could influence their beliefs. For instance, he thought that women who were employed might be less concerned about the issue because of a "marketplace mentality" that places a higher significance on economic gain than environmental issues, and he expected that women with children would be more concerned, due to a "motherhood mentality" that promotes protection of nature and a concern about their children's future. But the women who were employed, whether they had children or not, were just as likely as the moms to exhibit concern over climate change.