Why are women more skeptical of genetically modified foods?

Are you thinking it’s because they are moms?  If so, wrong.  Anyway, if you read this blog, you know I have an interest in GM foods.  And you definitely know I have an interest in public opinion and parenthood.  And, yes, I did bring it all together in a recent research article (along with always-awesome-co-author Laurel Elder and new awesome co-author Mary-Kate Lizotte).  Here’s the abstract:

Ever since genetically modified (GM) foods were introduced into the food supply in the 1990s they have provoked debate and concern. The number of GM foods approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and offered on supermarket shelves has steadily grown at the same time that public wariness about the safety of GM foods has increased. Studies within the scientific literature show a strikingly large gender gap in attitudes towards GM foods with women consistently more skeptical than men. However, there have been few efforts to understand the determinants of the gender gap on GM foods within the political science literature. This study employs a 2014 Pew Research Center survey on science issues to test several possible explanations for the gender gap in attitudes towards GM foods rooted in the different life experiences of women and men. The results show that while being a parent predicts more skeptical views about genetically modified foods overall it does not explain the gender gap in attitudes. In contrast, knowledge about science and having confidence in science do play a significant role in mediating the gender gap. By exploring the robust and pervasive gender gap on the issue of GM foods, this study sheds light on the fundamentally different ways men and women approach political issues.

And here’s a fun Q&A on the topic with my awesome NCSU news services friend, Matt Shipman,

The Abstract: What made you and your collaborators decide to dig into the gender gap on GM foods?

Steve Greene: I’ve always found the issue of GM foods particularly interesting, due to my scholarly interest in public opinion and personal interest in science. In most matters of GM foods, there’s a clear disjunction between what the science tells us (they are generally safe), and what the public at large actually believes (they are not safe). GM foods is just one of many issues with a gender gap, but since Laurel Elder and I have long been studying how parenthood shapes political attitudes, we thought it was an interesting case to see whether motherhood, in particular, could explain women’s greater skepticism towards GM foods.

TA: So how big is the gender gap?

Greene: As gender gaps go, this really is quite a big one. Where about 49 percent of the men in the Pew data agreed that GM food was “generally safe” only 30 percent of women agreed with that. On related questions about checking labels for GM ingredients and on scientists understanding risks of GM foods, there were also sizable gaps.

TA: I’ve heard people say that maternal protectiveness and concern are responsible for women’s skepticism regarding GM foods. Did the data bear that out?

Greene: One of the fun things about our research on public opinion and gender gaps, and on parenthood, is that ordinary people understand and have very clear hypotheses as to what might explain various gaps between men and women or mothers and fathers. Most of the people I talked to in the early stages of research expressed this very idea. Similarly, a study of GM food attitudes in Europe hypothesized this as well, though without directly testing it.

What we found, though, is that, yes, parenthood is really important for explaining more skeptical attitudes towards GM foods. But that applies just as much to men as to women. In short, moms are skeptical, but so are dads, so this did not explain the gender gap at all.

TA: So, what is responsible for the gender gap?

Greene: General orientations toward science and knowledge of science are largely responsible for the gender gap…

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: