Are There Sex Differences in Fiscal Political Preferences?

By Alvarez, R. Michael; McCaffery, Edward J. | Political Research Quarterly, March 2003 | Go to article overview
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Are There Sex Differences in Fiscal Political Preferences?


Alvarez, R. Michael, McCaffery, Edward J., Political Research Quarterly


This article examines the relationship between attitudes on potential uses of the budget surplus and sex. Survey results from the Fall of 1999 show relatively weak support overall for using a projected surplus to reduce taxes, with respondents more likely to prefer increased social spending on education or social security. There were, however, significant sex differences, confirmed by multinomial logit analysis: men were far more likely than women to support minimizing "private bads," that is, tax cuts or paying down the national debt; women were more likely to support expanded spending on public goods, such as education or social security. The strongest sex effect from the Fall 1999 surveys was that women were far more likely to express no opinion than men. When respondents were primed that the tax laws are biased against two-worker families, men significantly changed their stated preferences; women did not.

A second round of surveys conducted from July through mid-October, 2000-a period encompassing the two major party political nominating conventions and the brunt of the presidential election campaign-revealed a dramatic narrowing of sex differences in fiscal political preferences, with an almost complete elimination of the gap in "no opinion" responses as to using the surplus to fund a tax cut. Combined with other recent work, this new research suggests that sex differences in fiscal political preferences are a far more complex, nuanced phenomenon than previously thought.

Sex and money matter in American politics, but often in complex, subtle, and evolving ways. By the late 1990s, a new national fiscal issue had appeared: how to spend a budget surplus. The most salient solutions for this problem were tax-cutting, deficit reduction, protecting the social security system, and increased general social spending. This article examines men's and women's reactions to this new issue, both in the Fall of 1999, when the surplus became salient, and the following year, when the issue was debated during the presidential election campaign.

Scholars have recently begun to study better how sex has shaped the implementation of fiscal policies, looking for example at welfare and social policy (Gordon 1994; Mink 1995; Orloff 1991; Skocpol 1995) and taxation (McCaffery 1997, 1999).1 The general finding of this growing literature is that sex matters for fiscal policies in America, with specific policies tailored for men and others for women. Perhaps the most persistent bias favors "traditional," one-earner married households over more "modern," two-earner ones, as by the system of joint filing under the income tax, the lack of a second-earner exemption under the social security contribution system, and limited child-care (as opposed to per child) relief. While, in the first instance, this is a gender-neutral bias against a particular form of household, in practice and in politics the bias operates largely to favor stay-at-home mothers over working ones. This bias has persisted under both Democratic and Republican presidential regimes, and notwithstanding the dramatic rise in the incidence of two-earner marriages, with a corresponding fall in one-earner ones.2

In contrast to narrowly fiscal matters, such as tax and spending policies, there have been numerous studies documenting sex differences in opinion and behavior on other issues. Probably the most studied sex difference is the "gender gap" in presidential election voting, in which women have supported Democratic presidential candidates more strongly than men since the 1980 presidential election (Chaney et al. 1998; Mattel and Mattel 1998). This trend dramatically continued in the Fall 2000 campaign between George W Bush and Al Gore: men voted for Bush by 53 to 42 percent; women voted for Gore by 54 to 43 percent. A related line of studies documents-sometimes simply posits-differences between men and women in their opinions about social and fiscal policy issues (Gilligan 1982; Kornhauser 1987; Welch and Hibbing 1992).

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Are There Sex Differences in Fiscal Political Preferences?
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