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Explaining the Gender Gap in Political Knowledge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 June 2009

Mary-Kate Lizotte
Stony Brook University
Andrew H. Sidman
John Jay College of Criminal Justice


Much scholarship has noted that there are significant differences in the political behavior of women and men. Women, for example, are found to be more likely to identify as and vote for Democrats, less likely to hold conservative issue positions, and more likely to vote for incumbents. One of the more disturbing gender gaps occurs in political knowledge: Specifically, women are typically found to be less knowledgeable about politics and government than their male counterparts. We propose that much of the gap can be explained by theories of risk aversion, which imply that women are less likely to guess on questions for which they are uncertain. Using item response models, we demonstrate that failure to consider these gender-based differences leads to scales that significantly underestimate the political knowledge of women. Consistent with other work in this area, we find that accounting for the higher propensity of men to guess decreases the gender gap in knowledge by around 36%.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2009

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