Belief in global warming appears to be fractured along gender lines, with more women than men accepting the scientific consensus on climate change, new research finds.
An analysis of eight years of data from Gallup's annual environmental poll found that greater numbers of women tend to believe the body of science on climate change and be concerned about how warming will affect the planet.
The study is the first to home in on the gender divide in climate change belief, according to author Aaron McCright, a sociologist at Michigan State University. His findings indicate that more women than men believe that global warming is happening now (59 percent to 54 percent) and that the warming is primarily caused by human activities (64 percent to 56 percent).
A greater percentage of women also reported that they believe global warming will threaten their way of life during their lifetime -- 37 percent to 28 percent.
Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University's Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research, said that researchers likely haven't delved into these questions in the past because the gender gap wasn't "overwhelmingly large," so they focused instead on other factors -- like the split in climate change beliefs on political lines.
In light of the Michigan study findings, however, Maibach plans to give gender a second look.
"I will start paying more attention to gender differences in my research," he said.
More women among 'alarmed' and 'concerned'
Some of McCright's findings were consistent with those Maibach had unearthed in his own "Global Warming's Six Americas" polling work, which classifies the spectrum of concern and engagement on climate change issues into six camps ranging from "Alarmed" to "Dismissive."
In general, the two groups of Americans who are most likely to accept that global warming is happening now, and to understand that it is primarily caused by human activities -- called the "Alarmed" and the "Concerned" -- are composed of more women than men, he said. Meanwhile, men are more likely to be in the two groups least likely to accept that global warming is happening now and to believe that it is primarily caused by human activities.
Understanding how men and women view climate change could provide a window into how men and women incorporate such concerns into their daily lives and decisionmaking, according to McCright.
"Do they vote for different political candidates? Do they talk to their children differently about global warming?" McCright asked. What about how likely men or women may be to buy energy-efficient appliances and hybrid vehicles? he said.
Answers to these questions are few and far between. Although McCright didn't discuss it in his study, in at least the 2000 Gallup poll -- which probed on behavioral questions -- women were more likely than men to avoid products that harm the environment, try to use less water and reduce household energy use, he said.
Sex-linked, but still mysterious
Ultimately, McCright hopes to explore how climate beliefs are translated into action in future research. He also hopes to study if similar gendered climate change beliefs exist beyond U.S. borders.
"Of course, we know that how people think and what they believe are sometimes related to their behavior, but sometimes not," he said.
He found that the differences in what men and women believe on climate change could not be explained away by their societal roles; they were consistent regardless of whether the respondent was a homemaker, employed full-time or a parent, he found.
Maxwell Boykoff, an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, applauded the study but urged policymakers to be cautious about how heavily they weigh these findings. There is a "big bridge to cross" between women's saying they believe in climate change and exactly what policies they might support, he said.
While women were more likely to "exhibit more scientifically accurate climate knowledge" than men, McCright found that women were less likely than men to express confidence in their understanding of global warming -- a phenomenon of underestimation that has been illustrated in other studies focusing on gender and math and science, he wrote.
But how -- or if -- that lack of confidence might prevent women from supporting policies they might otherwise be expected to support is an "open question, and we don't know the answer," said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and another investigator on the "Six Americas" surveys.
McCright's study was published in the September issue of the journal Population and Environment.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500