Women know less about politics than men, regardless of how advanced, democratic or progressive, in terms of gender equality, the country they live in is, a new study has found.
The shocking research, which found that reading, watching and listening to news is typically a male activity, has come out of Britain.
Led by Professor James Curran, director of the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre at the University of London, the researchers found that the political knowledge gap between genders seemed to be a global phenomenon.
The study surveyed men and women’s knowledge of international and domestic news, as well as current affairs in Australia, Canada, Colombia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, Britain and the United States.
“It’s not only that women tend to know less about public affairs, but they are more disconnected to the political process,” Curran said. “Women are more inclined to say they are not interested in politics than men. Women are also more inclined to say politics are complicated and difficult to understand."
In Norway, which is one of the world leaders in gender equality, there was a large gap between how much men and women knew about politics, with men far surpassing women. And that gap was actually greater than that between men and women in South Korea – which has a much lower gender-equality rating.
“It comes as somewhat disconcerting to find the knowledge gap between men and women is actually greater in some western democracies, which do rank high in terms of global gender ranking,” Curran said.
However, while Norwegian men scored the highest in the study, the National Post reports that Norwegian women actually performed slightly better than Canadian men; Canadian women scored equally compared to American men.
Over all, the researchers found that news is heavily weighted towards male sources, even in countries with high levels of gender equality, and in the 10 countries in the study, women were only interviewed or cited in 30 per cent of television news stories.
Women appeared a lot in every country as sources in longer news pieces, and in soft news topics that included family, lifestyle and culture.
“Such under-representation and topical bias of women in news media may curb women’s motivation to acquire political knowledge actively, and discourage them from political participation, and even prevent women from engaging in citizens in a democratic society,” co-researcher Professor Kaori Hayashi said.
The study found that men in Canada, Norway and Britain claimed to be exposed to news more significantly than women.
Curran said women watch different amounts of hard news on television depending on the country they’re in. He used Japan as an example, whose women were shown in the study to be more informed than American women. He said the reason might be because there’s a higher sense of civic duty in Japan than in the U.S., and public-service TV is very strong in Japan, as opposed to more commercialized TV in the U.S.
There have been some possible explanations offered up as to why there’s such a gender gap in political awareness – perhaps women are busier than men, have less time for news. Maybe the jobs women typically get into don’t require such working knowledge.
Another possible explanation might be outdated social norms and expectations, like that of women spending more time doing unpaid work at home.
“It seems that gaps in exposure to media are related to the gaps of knowledge between men and women,” Hayashi said.
The researchers said the results were surprising; they were expecting men and women in more advanced countries to have an even footing when it came to knowledge of current affairs. But women in the U.S. were barely able to answer 1 in 5 questions correctly, while Canadian women answered one-third.
Curran said the study indicates it’s going to take longer than anticipated to fully erase gender inequality, even in developed countries, when it comes to women taking a bigger role in politics. But it’s important to start now, he said.
“It matters because in a democracy, governments need to be held to account and they can’t be held to account effectively unless citizens are informed.”