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Why are women becoming so much more liberal than men? – Rob Herderson/Boston Globe

Perhaps counterintuitively, gender equality is leading to greater gender-related differences. A man opposed to abortion argued with a woman who supports abortion rights at the March for Life in Washington on Jan. 24, 2020. Calla Kessler/The New York Times

By Rob Herdenson

In most wealthy nations, women have been steadily closing the gap with men on several fronts. In the United States, women now earn the majority of the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Women now receive more than half of STEM college degrees, and the proportion of women in the tech sector has risen in recent years, to 35 percent in 2023 from 31 percent in 2019. Among Americans younger than 30, women’s earnings rival or even surpass men’s in many metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

As these gaps have narrowed, we might have expected men and women to become more alike in other ways, including their cultural values and politics. Yet we are seeing the reverse.

This is especially true when it comes to political orientation. Recent polls have highlighted increasing polarization along gender lines on various political issues. Since 2014, women younger than 30 have become steadily more left-leaning each year, while young men have remained relatively static in their political views. In 2021, 44 percent of young women in the United States identified as liberal compared with just 25 percent of young men — the biggest gender gap in 24 years of polling.

In the Financial Times, John Burn-Murdoch recently articulated this stark contrast in a piece titled “A new global gender divide is emerging.” He observes that while older women and men are similar in their political views, young women have veered sharply to the left of young men.

Burn-Murdoch cites the influence of the #MeToo movement, suggesting it empowered young women to address longstanding injustices.

The Washington Post’s editorial board suggested that such polarization is to be expected in the United States, “a large, unwieldy democracy.” The Guardian proposes that digital spaces and social media influencers are luring young people into disparate online platforms that cultivate more extreme political views. No doubt these all play some role.

However, I’d like to propose an idea from my home discipline of academic psychology: the gender-equality paradox. This emerged as one of the most mind-blowing findings that researchers published while I was pursuing my recent doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge.

The paradox is straightforward: Societies with higher levels of wealth, political equality, and women in the workforce show larger personal, social, and political differences between men and women. In other words, the wealthier and more egalitarian the country, the larger the gender differences.

The pattern exists not just for political ideology but also for things like academic preferences, physical aggression, self-esteem, frequency of crying, interest in casual sex, and personality traits such as extraversion. In all these categories, the differences have been largest in societies that have gone the furthest in attempting to treat women and men the same.

Of course, there is an overlap for all of these attributes — aggression, for example, is a trait that both women and men can exhibit.

But there’s less overlap — meaning greater differences — in more-equal societies. In China, which scores low on gender parity, the overlap between men and women in personality traits such as extraversion and openness to experience is actually very high, 84 percent. In the Netherlands, which is among the most gender-equal societies, the overlap is just 61 percent.

More recently, a study of 67 countries found that although women generally tend to hold stricter moral views, gender differences in verdicts in hypothetical court scenarios are largest in wealthier and more equal societies. Specifically, women view misconduct more unfavorably than men in most places, but this difference in judgment is larger in richer and more equal countries.

This gender gap has also been found for physical differences in things like height, BMI, obesity, and blood pressure. Across societies, men tend to be taller, heavier, and have higher blood pressure than women. But in rich and relatively equal societies, gender differences are particularly large.

The gender-equality paradox might also help to explain why the gender gap in political orientation has grown among young people. One natural explanation is that young women are outpacing men in higher education, with men now making up just 40 percent of college students. Some evidence suggests that college tends to cultivate more liberal attitudes.

However, even among college students, women are more left-leaning than men. A Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression survey of 254 colleges and universities found that 55 percent of female students identify as liberal, compared with only 40 percent of male students. Interestingly, at schools ranked below 200 by US News and World Report, 45 percent of women and 33 percent of men identify as liberal. At top 25 schools, though, the difference is more pronounced, with 71 percent of women and 54 percent of men identifying as liberal.

The gender-equality paradox can help to explain why the gender gap is largest at the most selective US colleges, where family income tends to be higher and sociopolitical equality tends to be especially highly prized.

In an interview in The Times of London, the psychologist Steve Stewart-Williams succinctly summarized the paradox: “Treating men and women the same makes them different, and treating them differently makes them the same.”

There are a variety of possible explanations for the gender-equality paradox, but one prevailing view is that as societies become relatively more prosperous and equal, people more fully express their underlying traits and preferences.

Of course, culture matters in explaining gender differences — just not in the way most people think.

In less affluent and less egalitarian societies, gender differences in physical traits are flattened due to scarcity — that is, the shortage of food and other resources stunts growth, especially for men, leading to smaller physical disparities. Moreover, gender differences in psychological traits narrow in response to rigid social expectations.

In the most equal nations of the world, it’s not harsh gender socialization by parents and media, strict societal expectations, or institutional forces that widen the differences between men and women. In the absence of dire poverty and strict social expectations, people are in a position to express their intrinsic attributes and preferences.

The freer people are and the more fairly they are treated, the more differences tend to grow rather than shrink. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised that Gen Z men and women are diverging along political lines to a greater extent than earlier generations did


Rob Henderson has a PhD in psychology from the University of Cambridge and is the author of “Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class.” EnergiesNet.com does not necessarily share these views.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Boston Globe , on April 25, 2024. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.

Original article

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EnergiesNet.com 04 24 2024

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