Women more knowledgeable than men on global warming, survey says

Women have a greater knowledge of climate change than men, and are more likely to support the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, an analysis of Gallup data shows.

Andreas Hillergren/AFP/Newscom/File
Finland's President Tarja Halonen (3rd r.) poses with a group of women leaders holding a sign reading "I am an agent of CChange" at the Bella Center in Copenhagen in December 2009 on during the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference.

Women are the more scientific sex regarding climate change, a new survey suggests.

Women are more likely than men to support the scientific consensus on the reality of global warming caused by humans, according to sociologist Aaron McCright, an associate professor at Michigan State University. He analyzed eight years of Gallup Poll data to perform one of the first in-depth studies on how men and women think about climate change.

This annual environmental survey contained fairly basic questions about climate change, including the timing of global warming (whether or not it has already begun), causes (natural changes in the environment or human-induced), and consensus (whether or not scientists agree global warming is happening).

His study found that women conveyed slightly greater knowledge of climate change than men – agreeing that its affects were already being seen, that it is human-caused and that scientists think it is occurring. Women were also slightly more concerned about global warming than men.

This difference could have important implications, he said.

"Does this mean women are more likely to buy energy-efficient appliances and hybrid vehicles than men?" McCright said. "Do they vote for different political candidates? Do they talk to their children differently about global warming?"

While those questions remain to be answered, the finding comes in spite of the common perception that men are more scientifically literate, McCright said.

The difference between men and women's concerns about climate change cannot be explained by roles they perform – such as being a homemaker, a parent, or employed full-time, he said. Instead, the divide is more likely explained by characteristics people learn as part of their gender. Masculinity is associated with detachment, control and mastery, while femininity stresses attachment, empathy and care. The latter traits might make it easier to feel concern about the potentially dire consequences of global warming, McCright said.

"Women and men think about climate change differently," he said. "And when scientists or policymakers are communicating about climate change with the general public, they should consider this rather than treating the public as one big monolithic audience."

His work was published in the September issue of the journal Population and Environment.

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