Pew Research Center Presents ... Seeing the Second Sex: Global Values, Perceptions, and Realities in Gender Equality

By Horowitz, Juliana Menasce; Wike, Richard | Harvard International Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Pew Research Center Presents ... Seeing the Second Sex: Global Values, Perceptions, and Realities in Gender Equality


Horowitz, Juliana Menasce, Wike, Richard, Harvard International Review


The global gender gap in educational attainment, workforce participation, and political representation has narrowed in recent years. According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, the share of female legislators in national assemblies increased by 8 percent around the globe between 1998 and 2008, compared with a mere 1 percent increase over the previous two decades. About 200 million women have joined the workforce worldwide over the last decade, and gender equality has been reached in primary schooling in much of the world.

Still, people around the world say gender inequalities persist in their countries and that more changes are needed to ensure that women have the same rights as men. In particular, many, especially in wealthy nations, say that men receive more job opportunities than equally qualified women and that life is generally better for men than it is for women in their countries.

These are just some of the findings from a 22-nation survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project in the spring of 2010. The study also reveals that gender equality is generally embraced across the globe, even in some countries that have not made wide strides toward giving women the same opportunities as men. Still, there are some notable exceptions, especially on the issue of whether women should have the same right to jobs as men when economic times are tough. In many countries, there are significant gender gaps on these questions, with women expressing more support for gender equality and perceiving more gender disparities than their male counterparts.

Support for Gender Equality

Majorities in 21 of the 22 nations surveyed say women should have equal rights with men, and across 13 countries, more than 90 percent express this view, including 99 percent in Spain and France and 97 percent in Argentina, Germany, Britain, and the United States. Nigeria is the clear outlier--54 percent of Nigerians believe women should not have the same rights as men--while more than three-in-ten also reject equal rights in Indonesia, Egypt, and Jordan.

In addition to the general concept of equal rights, people around the world also tend to believe that women should have educational and economic opportunities similar to those of men. In 18 of 22 countries, majorities disagree with the notion that a university education is more important for a boy than for a girl. More than 80 percent hold this opinion in the United States as well as in the Western European and Latin American nations surveyed. The strongest support for the idea that a college education is more important for boys is in India, where 63 percent agree with this notion.

The survey also finds broad support for women entering the job market. Majorities in all 22 nations agree that women should be able to work outside the home. Moreover, publics in nearly every country surveyed say a marriage where both husband and wife have jobs and take care of the house and children is more satisfying than one where the husband provides financially while the wife cares for the household.

However, support for women working outside the home and a preference for a more egalitarian approach to marriage do not necessarily mean that people think women should always have the same employment opportunities as men. Indeed, in half the countries polled, most people believe that when jobs are scarce, men should have more of a right to jobs than women.

Overall, attitudes toward gender equality are tied to economic conditions, as higher levels of support for equality are consistently associated with greater per capita GDP. For instance, in the countries surveyed, the percentage of those saying that women should have the same rights as men is strongly correlated with per capita GDP. On the question of whether a man should have more right to a job than a woman when jobs are scarce, views are even more strongly correlated with GDP. …

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Pew Research Center Presents ... Seeing the Second Sex: Global Values, Perceptions, and Realities in Gender Equality
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