April 25, 2000

The Public Affairs Gender Gap

In addition to regularly tracking news interest, the Pew Research Center has periodically tested the public’s knowledge of news and current events by including “information” questions on many of its surveys. These information questions are designed to provide insight into how extensively major news stories are understood and absorbed by the public. They cover a wide range of subjects, from sports and popular culture to international policy and national politics. We have asked more than 250 of them since the Center’s inception and one of our most consistent findings has been an information gender gap. Although men and women express equal interest in the news, women almost invariably score lower than men on knowledge of basic facts about current news and events. This gap is persistent irrespective of education, age and work status.

There is evidence, however, that women are just as knowledgeable as men on issues that are of particular interest to them, such as education, abortion and health care. For example, more women than men knew of the Supreme Court’s 1990 ruling on parental notification about abortion. Similarly, members of both genders were equally aware that President Clinton had defined education as his top priority in his second term. The gap also narrows when it comes to popular culture and softer news. Two-thirds of women were able to identify actress Ellen DeGeneres, compared to 56% of men. And a larger percentage of women than men could identify slain six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.

We have written about this gender gap in several previous reports and papers: The Age of Indifference in 1990, The Times Mirror News Interest Index: 1989-1995, and Ten Years of the Pew News Interest Index, written for a 1997 meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. More recently, Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, spoke about the knowledge gender gap on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. In response to subsequent inquiries, we are now making it possible to access the Center’s data on this subject by clicking on the links above. In addition, below is a list of the information questions asked since 1997 that continue to show this gender gap trend.