The Gender Gap in Canada: Now You See It Now You Don't

By Everitt, Joanna | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, May 1998 | Go to article overview

The Gender Gap in Canada: Now You See It Now You Don't


Everitt, Joanna, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


For several decades, scholars have identified differences in men's and women's attitudes toward issues dealing with force and violence, social welfare, and feminism and equality (Shapiro and Mahajan, 1986; Carroll, 1988; Wearing and Wearing, 1991). These studies reveal that women are less inclined than men to choose violent options on issues of foreign or domestic force, more inclined to take pro-social welfare positions and, depending upon the issue, more inclined to support feminism and equality policies. What has not attracted much attention is an apparent widening of gender gaps in some of these areas (Shapiro and Mahajan, 1986; Dietch, 1988).

This paper contributes to the growing gender gap literature by addressing two matters. First, it documents the nature of the Canadian gender gap by using 25 years of Gallup data to explore gender differences in public opinion on a variety of issues. In comparison to the amount of research conducted in the United States, very few studies have explored gender differences in Canadian public opinion (Wearing and Wearing, 1991; O'Neill, 1995; Gidengil, 1995). Furthermore, none of these studies have attempted to identify whether Canadian gender differences have widened as they have in the United States. Through a longitudinal approach this study reveals growing differences in attitudes toward issues of force and violence, social welfare but not feminism or equality.

Secondly, this paper attempts to test popular explanations for changes in these sex-based attitudinal differences. These explanations include role change and socialization by the women's movement. We find that neither of these explanations fully accounts for widening gender gaps and conclude that in order to explain these differences we must also look to the development of a gender consciousness among Canadian women.

The paper begins by outlining how the transformations in women's lives over the past three decades, and the rise of second wave feminism in Canada throughout the mid-1960s and early 1970s, relate to gender differences in public opinion. This is followed by a discussion of Canadian gender gaps on force and violence, social welfare, feminism and equality issues as well as the relationship between indicators of role change and socialization explanations and gender differences on these issues. It concludes with a discussion of the relevance of these two explanations and explains why a third explanation, gender consciousness, is a more useful approach to understanding changing gender differences.

Explanations

Researchers disagree about the origin of gender differences in public opinion,(1) however, the literature reveals two main arguments to account for changes in the attitudes of women and men: role change and socialization by the women's movement. Rising levels of education, greater labour force participation and an increase in marital instability have resulted in new social and economic roles for women. These roles have changed the way that women view themselves and their relationships with others in Canadian society. At the same time, the appearance of a second wave of feminist activity beginning in the late 1960s drew public attention to issues of growing concern to women and challenged society's traditional patriarchal structures. The experience of these new roles and a heightened social awareness of gender inequality result in the development of new understandings and attitudes towards a variety of issues, which differ from the views of men and women who lead more traditional lives.

Role Change

Higher education is one area of the public sphere where women have made great inroads(2) and which has important ramifications for women's attitudes and behaviour. Higher levels of education among women have been linked to increased levels of political participation, political interest and efficacy (Welch, 1977; Sapiro, 1983), greater support for non-traditional roles for women (Schreiber, 1978; Lottes and Kuriloff, 1994), greater support for social services (Lottes and Kuriloff, 1994) and a heightened gender consciousness (Rinehart, 1992: 103). …

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