January 3, 2015


The Abortion Stereotype (RAZIB KHAN, JAN. 2, 2015, WSJ)

 The General Social Survey, which has been tracking American opinions for decades, includes the question of whether a woman should be allowed to get an abortion if she "wants it for any reason." In 17 of the 23 years that this question has been asked, men have answered "yes" to a greater extent than women. The average difference was about 1.5 percentage points -- a small but consistent gender gap, if not the one people seem to expect.

So what is it about women that makes them less enthusiastic than men about abortion on demand? Again, the survey offers answers. Using a common statistical method, one can determine the effect of different variables on an outcome of interest -- in this case, the odds that someone will agree or disagree with the question. This reveals that the difference between men and women is not, in fact, likely because of their sex, but because of other factors that happen to correlate with sex.

As it happens, religious attendance and biblical literalism, as well as political ideology, were all highly predictive of attitudes toward abortion. Being Hispanic was also associated with being opposed to abortion on demand (even allowing for other variables, such as religiosity).

In contrast, sex and age were usually not independently significant. Probably the mediating factor here is that, according to most surveys, women tend to be more religious than men.

While, on the whole, there isn't a major difference in the sexes' attitudes toward abortion, there is one when we separate men and women by ideology. If we look at the data since 2000 (to get a more contemporary perspective), on the liberal end of the ideological spectrum men are consistently less supportive of abortion on demand than women. On the conservative end of the spectrum, it's women who like abortion on demand less than men do.

In other words, conservative women are the most anti-abortion segment of the population, and liberal women are the most in favor of abortion rights. You might say that the more significant difference here is not between men and women, but among women.

Posted by at January 3, 2015 8:54 AM

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