Friday, June 3, 2011

Women Don't Know No Politics

It's a fairly standard, and often undiscussed for obvious reasons, finding in political knowledge research -- women do poorly as compared to men in tests of what people know.  I've blogged about this before.

I bravely return to this topic.

Why?  Because there's a study published in Journal of Politics that attempts to explain why gender differences occur.  It uses a strategy I've blogged about before, one previous studies have used, to help explain why women tend to do less well than men.  A number of theories have been posited to explain this gap.  Men guess more than women on such questions and the way we construct a political knowledge index tends to score "no answer" and an incorrect answer the same.  In other words, a of their few guesses will be right, thus giving men the advantage versus women who if they don't know, will simply say they don't know.  But a more plausible explanation is the kinds of questions we ask.

Or, as Kathleen Dolan writes in her JOP piece:
When we include political knowledge measures that ask for information on the present state of women in American politics, we see women’s traditional gender disadvantage wiped out. Women in the survey reported here hold as much information about women’s place in politics as do men. This offers support for the notion that knowledge levels are, in part, a reflection of the content of the items we employ.

To put it simply, methodology matters. Unfortunately there are no media variables in the study and I'd be curious to know if exposure to the news plays any role in creating differences, or evening the results, depending on the kinds of questions one asks to men and women.  It's an interesting question, one worth exploring.

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