Across politics, women tend to be more liberal than men. In fact, FiveThirtyEight predicts that if only women voted, Democrats would hold a House majority of 275 to 160.
But there is an unusual divide when it comes to support of marijuana. Women are less likely to approve of cannabis reform, which is an issue more widely supported by liberals.
Researchers from North Carolina State University and Hartwick College wanted to understand why.
Through their study, the researchers found that the gender gap may be driven by religion and the fact that men are more likely to have tried marijuana.
“This subject got our attention because it is the rare political issue where women are more conservative than men,” Steven Greene, a professor of political science at NC State and co-lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We wanted to better understand what was behind that ‘reverse gender gap.’ ”
Laurel Elder, a professor of political science at Hartwick, is the other co-lead author of the study.
The two researchers looked at data from a 2013 Pew Research Center political survey that included 1,500 participants, evenly split between men and women, and asked a set of questions about marijuana use and policy.
Using responses to questions from the survey, such as “Is marijuana a gateway drug?” and “Should marijuana be legal?,” the researchers created a “support for marijuana” scale that ranges from zero to 100.
Men scored higher than women on the scale — 67 to 61.
A paper describing the full study is published in the journal Social Science Quarterly.
Why are women less supportive?
By dissecting the survey results, the researchers were able to find marijuana use and religiosity to be the leading reasons behind the female survey respondents’ rejection of marijuana.
They measured religiosity by determining how often survey respondents said they attend church and by whether the respondents claimed to identify as born-again Christians.
“When we ran a statistical analysis that accounted for religiosity, the gender gap shrank, so it appears to play a role in attitudes toward marijuana,” Greene said in a statement.
“But when we ran an analysis accounting for marijuana use, the gap disappeared altogether – so that clearly plays a major role,” he continued.
In the survey, 57 percent of men claimed to have tried marijuana, compared to 45 percent of women.
Before the researchers analyzed the true reasons behind the gender gap, they assumed motherhood would influence support.
Mothers have played a significant role in substance abuse policy in the past. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example, heavily influenced the increase of the drinking age from 18 to 21.
In this case, however, being a mother had no impact on the survey responses.
“One hypothesis we saw in popular media was that women are less supportive of marijuana due to their role as mothers – but the data didn’t bear that out at all,” Greene said in a statement. “In fact, mothers were no different from women without children in terms of either their support for marijuana policy or their reported use of marijuana.”
Gender gap might close
Currently, support of marijuana is trending upward, and country-wide legalization seems to be approaching.
The researchers assume that growing widespread support will shrink the gender gap, but they don’t yet have any concrete evidence to support that hypothesis.
“Not only are attitudes on marijuana legalization likely to continue to liberalize, but as marijuana legalization and marijuana use become normalized, rather than viewed as immoral and dangerous behavior, the existing gender gap should shrink,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
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Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.