- 19% of both men and women say abortion should be totally illegal
- 31% of women and 26% of men want abortion to be totally legal
- 42% of female college graduates want abortion to be totally legal
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Many U.S. political leaders may think of abortion as a key "women's issue," but it is not an issue about which women have substantially different attitudes than men. A Gallup analysis shows that differences in views on the legality of abortion between men and women have been relatively narrow for decades, going back to the 1970s. Additionally, there are only slight differences in men's and women's descriptions of themselves as pro-choice or pro-life.
Gallup's 2010 comprehensive analysis of gender differences in views of abortion concluded, "Over the past three decades, men and women have consistently held similar views about the extent to which abortion should be legal." The current update, adding in data for the years 2010-2018, shows a continuation of this same general pattern.
Gallup's long-term trend question on this issue offers three choices on abortion: legal in all circumstances, illegal in all circumstances or legal in only certain circumstances.
Since 1990, the average gender difference in the view that abortion should be legal in all circumstances is four percentage points, with women more likely than men to hold that attitude. For the past four years, an average of 31% of women and 26% of men have held this view.
Gender differences in the view that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances are even smaller, with an average gap of two points since 1990. For the past four years, there has been no difference, with 19% of both men and women saying that abortion should be totally illegal.
The modal choice for both men and women is the view that abortion should be legal, but only in certain circumstances. Men have been slightly more likely than women to hold this view since the 1980s, including by a five-point average difference over the past four years.
Only Small Gender Differences in Self-Described Pro-Choice, Pro-Life
There is a narrow gender gap in Americans' descriptions of themselves as either pro-choice or pro-life. Gallup began asking this question annually in 2001 as part of Gallup's Values and Beliefs survey, and since that time, men have been slightly more likely than women to choose the pro-life descriptor. The gap has been between three and four points since 2010 -- including the most recent period from 2015-2018, with 47% of men and 44% of women choosing the pro-life label.
The slight male edge in identification as pro-life reflects women becoming slightly more pro-choice in recent years, with 50% of women and 46% of men choosing the pro-choice label over the past four years. Similarly small differences were evident in previous years, including an even tie in self-descriptions as pro-choice between 2005 and 2009.
The net result of these attitudes is that men are divided in their self-identification -- 47% pro-life and 46% pro-choice, while women tilt toward describing themselves as pro-choice, 50% to 44%.
Among College Graduates, Women More Likely to Favor Abortion Being Legal
Educational attainment is a significant predictor of Americans' position on abortion, with college graduates more likely than those with less education to favor abortion being legal in all circumstances.
There has been and continues to be a significant gender gap on this measure among college graduates, with female graduates more likely than male graduates to favor abortion being legal in all circumstances. This pattern has been constant over the past decades, despite modest fluctuations in the overall percentages favoring legalized abortion. Most recently, over the past four years, 42% of female college graduates have chosen the "legal in all" alternative, versus 32% of male college graduates.
Over the past four years, only one or two points have separated the percentages of men and women with some college education, as well as men and women with a high school education or less, who support abortion being legal in all circumstances. In prior years, the gap was slightly larger.
There are significant gender gaps on a number of political and social issues in American society today, including political party identification, presidential job approval, views of the death penalty, and views of the moral acceptability of pornography, stem cell research, marijuana and cloning animals -- but abortion is not one of these issues. Women are slightly more likely to favor abortion being completely legal and slightly more likely to personally identify as pro-choice than men are, but these differences are quite small -- as has generally been the case for decades.
One exception to this pattern occurs within the ranks of Americans with college degrees, with female college graduates over the years consistently more likely than male graduates to favor completely legal abortion. Gender differences among those with less formal education are much smaller.
Other research shows that abortion attitudes differ significantly along political and ideological dimensions, and by age, the latter the topic of a forthcoming Gallup analysis.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 1-10, 2018, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.
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