Although women represent a majority of the population, they are still a minority in the U.S. workforce, and achieving equality there is an ongoing struggle. Gallup's annual Minority Rights and Relations poll assessed the public's views on job opportunities for women and finds a growing perception that women are achieving parity with men. Men continue to be more likely than women to have that view, but the views of both men and women on this issue are sometimes moderated or enhanced when their other characteristics are taken into account.
For the first time since the question has been tracked, the June 6-25 Gallup Poll* finds a majority of Americans saying that women have equal job opportunities with men. Fifty-three percent of Americans believe job opportunities are equal for the sexes and 46% do not. In 2003, 49% thought women had equal opportunities and 50% did not.
Men are more likely to believe that women have achieved equality of opportunity in the workforce. Sixty-one percent of men say so, and a majority of men have held that view since 2001. This year, 45% of women say women have equal job opportunities, which is the highest percentage with that view since Gallup first asked this question.
Additionally, women are also much more likely than men to favor affirmative action programs for women -- 65% do compared with 53% of men. The poll finds 59% of Americans overall favoring such programs, while 34% are opposed.
Moving Beyond Gender
The relationships between gender and perceptions of gender issues in the workplace are straightforward, but many of these become more complex when taking into account respondents' other characteristics in addition to gender.
For example, there are significant age gaps on views of job equality, but only among men. Sixty-five percent of men under age 50 believe women have equal job opportunities, compared with 54% of men age 50 and older. Younger and older women are about equally likely to believe women have equal job opportunities (47% of women aged 18 to 49, 45% of women aged 50 and older).
Employment status is also related to views on women's job opportunities, but again, only among men. Both working and nonworking women answer the question on job opportunity similarly -- 45% of women who are currently employed say women have equal job opportunities, as do 46% of nonworking women. In contrast, 67% of working men believe women have equal job opportunities, compared with 49% of nonworking men.
Ideological differences are pronounced -- 62% of all conservatives say women have equal opportunities, compared with 52% of moderates and 39% of liberals. What is interesting is that conservatives answer the question similarly regardless of gender -- 61% of conservative men and 63% of conservative women believe women have equal job opportunities. There are large gender gaps among moderates and liberals, however. Sixty-eight percent of moderate men believe women have equal opportunities, compared with 38% of moderate women. Forty-nine percent of liberal men and 30% of liberal women think women have equal opportunities in the workplace.
Oddly enough, despite their belief that women have equal job opportunities, 61% of conservative women still favor affirmative action programs for women; a far cry from the 38% of conservative men who do. Sixty-seven percent of moderate women favor affirmative action, compared with 56% of moderate men. Among liberals, the gender gap is almost nonexistent, 76% of liberal men favor affirmative action as do 69% of liberal women.
As the poll shows, Americans are becoming more optimistic that women are getting the same chances as men in the job market. While men are more optimistic than women are, age, employment status, and political philosophy can also influence the way people evaluate the situation beyond any effects attributable to gender. Given that people's views about equality of job opportunity are affected by a number of different variables (in some fairly complex ways), it may take more than just objective data that women are achieving equality to see the public reach a consensus on the issue and for the gender gap in perceptions to erode.
*Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,264 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 6-25, 2005, including oversamples of blacks and Hispanics that are weighted to reflect their proportions in the general population. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 904 men, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 1,201 women, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.