Today’s political landscape sometimes appears to be neatly divided by gender, with men on the right and women on the left. This is the case both for the US and Canada, and for Western Europe. Superficially, it makes perfect sense: us women like to care, share and stick our noses into other people’s businesses, and men like to cut each other’s throats to get the babes. This may be partly nature, partly nurture. After all, girls are taught to be nice and helpful, while boys are encouraged to compete.
These are broad brush strokes. But this question has garnered some real research, and it appears women have not always been the bleeding-hearted liberals. Edlund and Pande (2002) state that:
Until the mid-1960s, women were consistently more conservative than men [Duverger 1955; Harvey 1998]. In the 1980s a signiﬁcant number of men, so called “Reagan Democrats”, switched party allegiance to the Republicans, leading to a political hegemony of the right. The 1990s saw previously conservative voting women, so called “Soccer Moms”, moving to the left, resulting in the Clinton years [Stark 1996].
According to this paper, the reason (middle class) women shifted their views to the left over the last few decades has been because of decreased marital stability. Edlund and Pande propose the (very reasonable) hypothesis that an average individual’s income will affect their political views, especially “preferences with respect to redistribution.” They go on to suggest the (also reasonable and backed-up-by-evidence) assumption that marital decline has made women poorer:
This view of family formation is consistent with several stylized facts: women, on average, earn less than men; spouses’ potential earnings are positively correlated [Becker 1991; Mare 1991; Qian and Preston 1993; Juhn and Murphy 1997]; high male relative to female earnings is conducive to marriage [Blackwell and Lichter 2000; Blau, Kahn, and Waldfogel 2000]; on divorce, female income falls substantially, with remarriage the main route to economic recovery [Weitzman 1985; Duncan and Hoﬀman 1985; Duncan and Hoﬀman 1988; Page and Stevens 2001].
Findings suggested that married women are more likely to vote conservative, while single women were more likely to vote liberal. Divorce (except for a few high-profile cases) also tends to make middle-income women worse of. However, this data is nearly a decade old. It will be interesting to see how the ever-closing income gap will affect the distribution of political preferences. Will women, once their earning power ceases to be significantly different from that of men’s after divorce, keep voting socialist? Time will tell.
Further to this, another study showed that the gender of children was enough to switch both male and female preferences. Oswald and Powdthavee (2008) claim that:
The paper finds evidence that having daughters makes people more sympathetic to left-wing parties. Acquiring sons, by contrast, makes individuals more right-wing. Ceteris paribus, in our panel data, every extra daughter (or son) leads a person to be approximately 2 percentage points more likely to vote Left (or Right).
This is most likely due to parents looking out for what they think is their children’s best interests. After all, few would disagree that reproductive freedom and affirmative action do not benefit women - and parents want this for their daughters. On the other hand, programmes like affirmative action harm (white middle class) men, and parents do not want this for their sons.
Something I think is important to keep in mind is that the desire of social conservatives to keep women “in their place” will not earn them female votes, regardless how well thought out and sensible their economic policies are. Choosing between lower taxes and access to contraception? I know what most women would chose! While issues like the morality of the Pill or abortion are still being debated, women will vote for those they see “on their side”.
So what can we learn from this research? The majority of people are amoral, pragmatic and quite willing to use the state’s violence for their own profit. If redistributive state programmes benefit women, the majority of women will vote in favour. If they benefit their daughters, even some men will vote in favour. We as libertarians must remember that our morality-based view of politics is the exception, not the norm.
Does this mean that most women are predetermined to be bleeding-hearted nannying lefties? I personally (and maybe naively) think that all people are first of all individuals. I don’t think there’s any inherent reason why women could not become more libertarian, especially with their increasing independence and quality of life. Perhaps now that women are (largely, in the West) treated as people rather than chattel, they will come to appreciate liberty.
Edlund, L. and R. Pande (2002), “Why Have Women Become Left-Wing: The Political Gender Gap and the Decline in Marriage,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117, 917-961.
Oswald, A., and Powdthavee, N. (2006). Daughters and left-wing voting. Technical report, Department of Economics, University of Warwick, U.K.