The mother of all gender gaps

Commenter Floccina sent me the following interesting finding, from Michele Martinez Campbell:

A fascinating new national poll from Quinnipiac University shows that men and women disagree markedly on the question of marijuana legalization.  While men surveyed strongly favor legalization by a margin of 59 to 36 percent, women oppose it by a clear majority of 52-44 percent.  This 15-point gender gap in support for marijuana legalization -let’s call it the “pot gender gap” “” is not quite as large as the 20-point gender gap in support for President Obama in the 2012 presidential election, but it is striking.  What’s most interesting, though, is how it confounds the expectations set by the voting gender gap.  In voting, women trend more liberal and Democratic, while men trend more conservative and Republican.  Yet with the pot gender gap, we see women taking the more conservative, law-and-order approach.

I was a bit puzzled by this claim, as those numbers seem to indicate a 31 point gender gap, the way I usually calculate the gap.  There is an alternative method that would yield a 15 point gap.  However when you follow the link to the supposedly larger 2012 election gender gap, you get the following, from Jeffrey Jones:

PRINCETON, NJ — President Barack Obama won the two-party vote among female voters in the 2012 election by 12 points, 56% to 44%, over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, Romney won among men by an eight-point margin, 54% to 46%. That total 20-point gender gap is the largest Gallup has measured in a presidential election since it began compiling the vote by major subgroups in 1952.

That uses the approach I am more familiar with. But by that approach, the drug gap is actually 31%, which makes the drug legalization gender gap far larger than the biggest presidential election gender gap ever recorded.  A 31 point gap is mind-boggling by itself, but it’s even more astounding when you consider it reverses the normal liberal/conservative split between men and women.  This fact would tell us a lot about politics, if we bothered to pay attention.  Instead all you see in the media is endless generalizations about the left and the right, as if the views of African-Americans on social issues, for instance, could be understood simply by noting the fact that they tend to vote Democratic.  People are really complicated.

NarcoLaw’s best guess (an informed guess, but a guess nevertheless) is that female opposition stems from questions about the impact legalization will have on public health, crime and the social fabric.

I think the health/social fabric worries are wrong—but defensible.  But the crime argument isn’t even defensible.  Of course that’s just one person’s “best guess,” it would be interesting to get better data.  Why isn’t this issue being intensively studied?  What are the gender gaps on government invasion of privacy (TSA/NRA/CIA, etc?)  What is the gender gap on immigration?  I have no idea what the gap is on many of the most important issues facing our country, and no reason to think it correlates in any particular way with how each gender votes. (Democratic pols are supposedly more likely to support legalization.–but is even that true?  Is there any data?)

BTW,  I have many commenters in both the liberal and conservative camps.  But they almost all seem to favor drug legalization.  And I’d guess over 90% are male.  There are entire realms of our political reality that are almost invisible in the blogosphere.

PS.  There are also some big gender gaps in academics, which are just as perplexing as in drug legalization.  For instance, women get higher grades in college, despite getting lower average scores on SATs.  This might reflect some sort of difference in cognitive styles.  Let me throw out a hypothesis (and feel free to scold me for sexism if appropriate.)  Is it possible that men approach the issue from more of a “legalistic” perspective.  I.e. “legalizing drugs doesn’t mean one endorses their use.”  And women might approach the issue from a more “contextual” framework; “while legalization doesn’t necessarily endorse their use, it implicitly connotes the fact that society regards drug use as ‘OK’.”   It seems to me that women are at least slightly more likely to say things like “so what you are really saying is . . .”   Another thought is that men might be more individualistic; “no one can tell me what I can or cannot do,” whereas women might be more used to thinking in a social context; “how does this impact the family?”  These might all be stereotypes on my part, but the gender gap is certainly very real; 31 points is way outside the margin of error for a public opinion poll.  Marijuana is illegal in America mostly because women want it illegal.  Just to be clear, I am not trying to pick on women here.  My views on other issues like use of military force and reproductive rights are more “feminine” than masculine.

PPS.  A gap that big cannot be accounted for by the fact that somewhat more men than women use illegal drugs.  Or by the fact that women care more about children.  Do dads want their sons to get addicted?  And do moms really want their sons to go to prison?

PPPS.  Off topic, I love this Sunstein post on Hayek.



47 Responses to “The mother of all gender gaps”

  1. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    6. November 2014 at 08:35

    It’s probably bc working single moms don’t like picking between bums doing bong rips all day. It’s clearly the one spot where single women and married women agree.

    Another confounding odd fact, is that professionally I don’t know many high achievers who unwind with a joint rather than a stiff drink, but the ones I do know are women.

  2. Gravatar of Kevin Erdmann Kevin Erdmann
    6. November 2014 at 08:47

    My definition of progressive vs liberal may be slightly idiosyncratic, but I would suggest that that is the difference. Women tend toward the progressive side of liberal instead of the libertarian side. For instance, women’s suffrage was bundled up with prohibition. Considering that history, this shouldn’t be surprising.

  3. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    6. November 2014 at 08:48

    “My views on other issues like use of military force and reproductive rights are more “feminine” than masculine.”

    Note that the marijuana gender gap is much, much larger than the abortion gender gap. (There’s zero gender gap, and no controversy whatsoever, on 90%+ issues like birth control.) You can occasionally even get a poll where women are more supportive of particular abortion restrictions than men.

    Dem pols are more likely to support at least decriminalization. Here’s Drug Policy Action’s voter guide. Note that there were 7 or so very useful test votes in the House, with 5 having a pro-pot result, thanks to a bipartisan, but mostly Democratic, coalition. There were basically no votes in the Senate, because there were basically no votes in the Senate. Not even filibusters; just nothing came up for a vote at all.

    It’s an issue with support and opposition on both sides, but tilts Dem. Other exit polls show that around 40% of voters who voted pro-pot in the recent elections voted Republican.

  4. Gravatar of brendan brendan
    6. November 2014 at 08:48

    Yeah, women are worse at “is vs. ought” distinctions.

    “Yes honey, what your cousin said was rude, but you can’t help how she is, no point in getting accept about it.”

    “So you’re taking her side!”

    They have trouble tallying the cost-benefit of two crappy choices when they can imagine a third non feasible choice that’s more attractive.

  5. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    6. November 2014 at 08:50

    Kevin Erdmann:

    “For instance, women’s suffrage was bundled up with prohibition.”

    True, but women’s suffrage was *also* bundled up with rejecting the social stigma against women smoking. Check out the interesting Torches of Freedom campaign, the long history of cigarette companies sponsoring women’s sports, etc. There was a period of time when women smoking was associated with women’s lib.

  6. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    6. November 2014 at 08:53

    The difference between the association of women’s suffrage with the temperance movement, and the association of women’s suffrage with women smoking is the difference between feminists who focus on changing a society that champions “patriarchal/masculine” virtues over feminine ones, and feminists who focus on individual women being able to perform in masculine ways. Both strains of feminism are with us today, even if still in some tension with each other. (I think it contributes to some people not wanting to call themselves feminists.)

  7. Gravatar of brendan brendan
    6. November 2014 at 08:53

    Ya know, the pot gap is especially weird since women are more likely to abuse rx painkillers and to be on anti-depressants.

    One difference between pot and painkillers is that pot use is conspicuous and social, painkillers secretive.

    Which makes sense if its conformity that explains the pot legalization gender gap.

  8. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    6. November 2014 at 09:03

    Willie Nelson probably had it figured out. Only he sang, “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.”

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. November 2014 at 09:18

    John, Are there any senators who are to the left of Rand Paul on drugs?

  10. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    6. November 2014 at 09:20


    Yes, Sen. Merkley of Oregon. Came out for (said he “leans in favor of”) full legalization, just re-elected. Rand Paul has kept to saying he supports the rights of states, etc. to do what they want on it, a little more vague.

  11. Gravatar of babar babar
    6. November 2014 at 09:31

    i wonder what the gender balance is in the comment section.

  12. Gravatar of Nick Nick
    6. November 2014 at 09:37

    You said you didn’t know what the gender gap on immigration is. But that same poll you linked to had much more info (long term) on exactly that point (and others). The gender gap was unsurprising in almost all other cases btw, including immigration. I know you dislike polls in general but you seem to be picking an odd spot to care. Over at econlog you wrote about how there aren’t as many ‘doesn’t matters’ in polisci but I think you are ignoring research on public opinion that you yourself often seem to lean on. Lots of ‘doesn’t matters’ … But there’s end user demand for results that DO matter so that’s what they try to come up with.

  13. Gravatar of David David
    6. November 2014 at 10:05

    Hi Scott,
    I just looked up a survey (from 2010) on this issue in Germany and there was no gender gap on marijuana legalization.
    Then I found a more recent one (from 2014) and it had a gender gap just as big as the one the US study found.
    (Both surveys had a statistically representative group of ~1000)

    So now I’m confused. Was there a huge change in recent years that caused this issue to divide on gender lines? Or is the exact choice of words in your question extremely important? (The polls were from different institutes.)

  14. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    6. November 2014 at 10:10

    Nick, Thanks for pointing that out, I missed that link. I wish they had asked different questions, I don’t find their results to be very interesting.

    Have no idea what the second half of your comment is about, maybe you can rephrase.

    BTW, I don’t dislike all polls.

  15. Gravatar of Boris Boris
    6. November 2014 at 10:14

    Marijuana legalization views are also very heavily age-biased (younger folks are strongly for, older folks strongly against). The confounder here is the gender split in different age groups is different; older groups tilt more female. It would have been good to see numbers split out by both gender and age group, not just one or the other. That way we could tell whether it’s age or gender or both driving the disparities in views.

  16. Gravatar of wiretap wiretap
    6. November 2014 at 10:16

    Men go to prison 10+x more frequently than women. It’s probably a similar situation to whites having more favorable attitudes to the justice system when they are told it discriminates in their favor.

  17. Gravatar of Michael Terry Michael Terry
    6. November 2014 at 10:41

    Morgan Warstler,

    This is so obviously the only right answer that it boggles my mind that it even needs to be debated. Do you all not know the plight of real women? Most people aren’t spending their opinions on high-minded abstractions. Women want a man and it sucks to them that so many men are so fascinated by pot (and not fascinated by anything else, like developing their careers).

  18. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    6. November 2014 at 11:25

    The wrongness, it burns!

    The goggles, they do nothing!

  19. Gravatar of Don Geddis Don Geddis
    6. November 2014 at 11:35

    Years of comment responses by “ssumner”. And now we get one by a so-called “Scott Sumner”. I would suspect some kind of fraud, if the content weren’t so spot-on. Has our Prof Sumner learned how to customize his profile? Does he still type with two fingers?

    Old dog, new tricks. Perhaps there is hope for the rest of us, yet.

  20. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    6. November 2014 at 11:40

    The gender gap is natural: women view the legal system (more or less correctly) as a tool to control bigger, stronger, more aggressive men. As with other demographics, men are locked up at much higher rates because men commit more violent crimes at much higher rates. Unfortunately, people sometimes apply concepts perfectly rational for violent crime to consensual transactions they feel are immoral or unjust.

    professionally I don’t know many high achievers who unwind with a joint rather

    Take the number that you do know, and now multiply by the coefficient of not telling people in a professional circle you’re doing something illegal.

  21. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    6. November 2014 at 11:44


    I think you are right that men approach these issues from an individualist perspective while women approach the issues from a collectivist perspective.

    It’s not just marijuana or alcohol that have counterintuitive gender gaps. There’s another “progressive” right that has an even bigger reverse gender gap: prostitution.

    Most groups advocating john shaming/john prosecution/internet stings/hotel surveillance/etc. are women’s groups. Groups advocating brothels? There aren’t many who are even willing to offer public support. But as we learned from Eliot Spitzer, the prosecutor is often a client.

    The much less racy school grades gap also reflects individualist vs. collectivist thinking. Men get a homework assignment and think “when am I ever going to use this?” Women get a homework assignment and think “society expects me to learn this.”

  22. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    6. November 2014 at 11:46

    Well, I found that Cass Sunstein piece to be hilariously so-20th-century. It isn’t ‘conservatives’ who are yelling, Stop the world, I want to get off! It’s ‘progressives’.

    From Thomas Piketty to Kshama Sawant. Who is it who fears the future more than them. In that vein;

    ‘A perennial optimist when it comes to technology, he [Google’s Larry Page] argues that all that will change. Rapid improvements in artificial intelligence, for instance, will make computers and robots adept at most jobs. Given the chance to give up work, nine out of 10 people “wouldn’t want to be doing what they’re doing today”.

    ‘What of people who might regret losing their work? Once jobs have been rendered obsolete by technology, there is no point wasting time hankering after them, says Page. “The idea that everyone should slavishly work so they do something inefficiently so they keep their job – that just doesn’t make any sense to me. That can’t be the right answer.”’

  23. Gravatar of Donal Pretari Donal Pretari
    6. November 2014 at 11:48

    I first read “Why I am not a Conservative” while I was in graduate school in 1980, I believe. It is this essay that led me to Burke, which led to my becoming whatever I am now. Previously, I had been an anarchist, then a follower of Auberon Herbert and David Friedman, say. By the early 90s, I was a follower of, especially, Henry Simons, but also Frank Knight, Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Michael Oakeshott. Every policy I currently favor comes from them. I’d add Adam Smith, Bagehot, Fisher, and Keynes to that list now, accepting Keynes own description of his political theory. The later economists I like tend to be their students, like Hyman Minsky and James Buchanan. I’ve never been an Austrian, although Socialism by Von Mises was a very important book for me and still is ( I’ve always been anti-Kantian, a follower of pragmatism, so Mises, Rand, and others I consider Kantians have never appealed to me).

    I have never considered myself a conservative, and would be loath to do so. Nor have I ever understood why conservatives claim Hayek or Oakeshott, or for that matter, John Randolph of Roanoke, another favorite of mine, because most of my negative views towards conservatism have largely come from these thinkers, not leftists. When I had a blog, I called myself a libertarian Democrat, which turned out to be a mistake, because I thought Burkean Whig would really throw people off.

    In any case, neither the current GOP nor the Democratic Party are small govt parties, and I chose the Democratic Party largely because of my feelings towards conservatism, although I had often voted GOP until G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
    After 35 years, I still have no idea how Hayek qualifies as any sort of conservative, nor Burke either. Anyway, now I’m back to Burkean Whig, I suppose. I don’t see the current GOP as prone to follow Hayek, that’s for sure.

  24. Gravatar of Nick Nick
    6. November 2014 at 11:48

    Im trying to say that I’m a little skeptical that the gap exists in reality. If it exists, I’m skeptical that it would survive a public political divide. If it did, it’s because in the real world legalizing pot results in less government subsidy to child rearing. I think gender divides in politics generally represents a fairly straightforward divide in economic interests based on who tends to bear most of the burden of child rearing and household chores, not differences in cognition.
    I too wish they had asked better questions. I wish polls in general had sample groups four times as large and that they asked differently worded versions of the questions to all of them. I would gladly see 1/4 as many polls that had this kind of detail. I have no idea why other consumers of polls don’t agree with me.
    I do dislike almost all opinion polls. ‘Who will you vote for?’ Works better.

  25. Gravatar of Andrew_FL Andrew_FL
    6. November 2014 at 11:52

    I did not like the Cass Sunstein piece. But not because, as you might suppose, I find the periodic dragging out of Hayek’s denunciation of conservatism to be a useless left wing canard. Far from it, I believe that Hayek was on to something, in so far as there are conservatives who are indeed averse to change of any kind. But it seems to me that the sorts of changes Sunstein thinks conservatives should stop being averse to are mostly not the kind Hayek had in mind.

    I would point to entitlement reform as the clearest example today of exactly what Hayek had in mind: almost no one on the right wants to radically change entitlements, to dismantle the welfare state. Paul Ryan for example, sees himself as the savior of the welfare state, from it’s own self destructive tendencies. The Republicans speak of preserving these Government programs, when they ought to be eliminated.

    I could make similar wisecracks about the Federal Reserve, but they wouldn’t be well received in this venue.

  26. Gravatar of Andrew_FL Andrew_FL
    6. November 2014 at 12:01

    @Donal Pretari-Without getting into your views on conservatism, you’re wrong to call Ayn Rand a Kantian. In fact, Ayn Rand despised Kant. Much of her philosophy can be understood as a reaction against Kant.

  27. Gravatar of An-Jen Tai An-Jen Tai
    6. November 2014 at 12:02

    It strikes me that this gap is not very surprising if you are even remotely familiar with the history of the temperance movement in the US during the years leading up to the 18th amendment and the Volstead Act ….

  28. Gravatar of Joe Joe
    6. November 2014 at 12:11

    It’s simple: women love liberties, such as they can perceive them, but since they see men as pack mules that exist to enrich and support their lives, don’t want them “underperforming” in any way in their assigned task.

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. November 2014 at 12:35

    Don, Don’t know how that happened, and I still use two fingers.

    Steve, The really interesting gap in prostitution is between countries, with some developed countries allowing it and others banning it. And there doesn’t seem to be much pattern. It’s legal in a wide variety of different developed countries, or at least semi-legal.

    Nick, Ok, now I see your point. Yes, the gender gaps in the actual pot referenda would be much more informative. Does anyone know what they are? I suspect they are less than 31 points, so I agree with you there.

  30. Gravatar of Justin Irving Justin Irving
    6. November 2014 at 13:37

    From the Martian Anthropologist perspective, women are programed to seek resources from men. Hence, women are against cannabis for the same reasons they’re generally against video games and other women, both are seen to distract men from their true purpose: schlepping to buy the individual women status-raising goods and/or provide generous alimony payments.

    There’d also be a gender gap on my preferred immigration policy: open borders for females, aged 18-23, from the former Warsaw Pact and Yugoslavia, and otherwise 700ft high ice/sand walls on the borders, manned by an ancient brotherhood of cutthroats and misfits. That’s not a particularly surprising or interesting result though.

  31. Gravatar of Wonks Anonymous Wonks Anonymous
    6. November 2014 at 13:54

    You say your views on reproductive issues are more “feminine”, but my understanding is that men are slightly more “pro-choice” than women.

  32. Gravatar of Bonnie Bonnie
    6. November 2014 at 14:51

    Beware of stereotypes. I have never agreed with the war on drugs, and I’m the mother of two. Government should not be a substitute for good parenting or paying attention to what one’s children are doing as if shielding them from the world is better than explaining it to them for the obvious reason that making a law against something doesn’t make whatever it is go away.

  33. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    6. November 2014 at 15:11

    Women have some history (e.g. Prohibition) of tending to be against consumables that change the behaviour of men in undesirable ways.

    I doubt that men have the reverse concern. If anything, said changes in behaviour for women might be regarded as desirable.

  34. Gravatar of Andrew_FL Andrew_FL
    6. November 2014 at 15:56

    With regard to Prohibition and a history of women on this: Women were in fact instrumental in both the movement to pass it and the movement to repeal it. I actually wrote a research paper on this many years ago for some such class or other (I can’t really remember). One of the major figures was Pauline Sabin:

    A good reference for the role of women in repeal:

    Kyvig, David E. “Women Against Prohibition” American Quarterly Vol. 28, No. 4 (Autumn, 1976), 469

  35. Gravatar of Negation of Ideology Negation of Ideology
    6. November 2014 at 16:07

    Could it be because women fear domestic violence more than men? And assume that drugs and alcohol increase the incidence of it?

  36. Gravatar of aretae aretae
    6. November 2014 at 16:56

    Have you read the new book by Kurzban and Weeden? Sheds light on that liberal women conservative men line.

  37. Gravatar of benjamin cole benjamin cole
    6. November 2014 at 18:17

    Lorenzo: dang straight.

  38. Gravatar of Anon Anon
    6. November 2014 at 18:33

    Men, I think, tend to be more libertarian overall. A lot of people assume the gender gap comes from social issues. I tend to see it as more based on economic issues. There’s a larger gender gap in opinion on the minimum wage than abortion, for example. Also, post on the gender gap broken down here:

  39. Gravatar of Chris Ingraham Chris Ingraham
    6. November 2014 at 18:52

    I’d note that in the exit polls of the most recent ballot measures on marijuana in FL, OR, and AK, the gender gap on support for those measures was much, much smaller – in the neighborhood of 5 points or so. I’d be hesitant to draw too many conclusions from a survey conducted two years ago.

  40. Gravatar of Owen Owen
    6. November 2014 at 23:22

    One factor that hasn’t been mentioned – modestly more men than women have used marijuana, but I’m guessing that a hell of a lot more men than women have actually purchased it. (In my experience, high school and college aged women often just get it for free, and older women very often get it through their partners.) And, for most users, that’s the only part of the process where one tends to feel much danger of being busted. So if that’s correct, a lot more men than women (and a lot more than use numbers would suggest) have personally felt stress and worry as a result of marijuana’s legal status.

  41. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    7. November 2014 at 05:35

    @Negation, I don’t think violence is the issue. I’m unfamiliar with the concept of a ‘marijuana-induced rage’.

  42. Gravatar of Donal Pretari Donal Pretari
    7. November 2014 at 08:45

    Andrew_FL I’ll look back into that. It’s been a long time since I read her.

  43. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. November 2014 at 08:52

    aretae, Unfortunately I don’t have time to read many books anymore.

    Thanks Chris, see my new post.

  44. Gravatar of Donal Pretari Donal Pretari
    7. November 2014 at 09:12

    Andrew_FL I’ve gathered my thoughts about Rand as best I can remember them, and I’ll boil them down to this:
    1. Her views about Kant are incorrect.
    2. Her views about logic and reason are, in my view, Kantian.
    Kant believed you can develop a set of rules or principles from which you can derive a specific set of moral principles or rules of action. Rand does something very similar. But it would take a lot of work to flesh my views out. I’ll reread a couple of her non-fiction works someday and think about it further.

    I’m an odd person. I never liked her novels, but I did enjoy her non-fiction. It’s just that I disagreed with her. In some ways, my views about Rand are similar to my views about Mises. I enjoy reading him, but quite simply disagree with the basis of his views. He is also Kantian ( not Kant ), in my view.

  45. Gravatar of Andrew_FL Andrew_FL
    7. November 2014 at 09:22

    @Donal Pretari-A quick google search should suffice to find information on her views pretty quickly. She described Kant as “the most evil man in mankind’s history.”


  46. Gravatar of Andrew_FL Andrew_FL
    7. November 2014 at 09:22

    Ah okay nevermind you already found stuff.

  47. Gravatar of Donal Pretari Donal Pretari
    7. November 2014 at 09:43

    Andrew_FL Yes. I saw that. But her reasons for despising Kant rest on, in my view, an incorrect reading of his views. In any case, she still fits into my category of Kantian.

    Let me put it this way. It is reason itself, logic itself, mathematics itself, scientific thinking itself, that summons the skeptic. The skeptical view is constitutive of these forms of reasoning, and of perception itself. The skeptic cannot be refuted. And, indeed, as science has progressed, the skeptical view, the skeptical brief, has only grown stronger. I hope this helps clarify my reasons for rejecting her philosophy, and labeling her a Kantian. My views are based upon existentialism and pragmatism.

    BTW, it doesn’t mean I disagree with everything she says or can’t learn from her. She doesn’t throw me into fits. Given her early life, much of what she believes makes sense to me.

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