July 1, 2010

Gender Equality Universally Embraced, But Inequalities Acknowledged

Men’s Lives Often Seen as Better

Fifteen years after the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women’s Beijing Platform for Action proclaimed that “shared power and responsibility should be established between women and men at home, in the workplace and in the wider national and international communities,” people around the globe embrace the document’s key principles.

Almost everywhere, solid majorities express support for gender equality and agree that women should be able to work outside the home. Most also find a marriage in which both spouses share financial and household responsibilities to be more satisfying than one in which the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the house and children. In addition, majorities in most countries reject the notion that higher education is more important for a boy than for a girl.

Yet, despite a general consensus that women should have the same rights as men, people in many countries around the world say gender inequalities persist in their countries. Many say that men get more opportunities than equally qualified women for jobs that pay well and that life is generally better for men than it is for women in their countries. This is especially so in some of the wealthier nations surveyed. And while majorities in nearly every country surveyed express support for gender equality, equal rights supporters in most countries say that more changes are needed to ensure that women have the same rights as men.

These are among the findings of a 22-nation survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, conducted April 7 to May 8. This special in-depth look at views on gender equality, done in association with the International Herald Tribune, also suggests that, while egalitarian sentiments are pervasive, they are less than robust; when economically challenging times arise, many feel men should be given preferential treatment over women in the search for employment.

This is especially true in the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed as well as in India, China, South Korea and Nigeria. In these countries, solid majorities agree that women should be able to work outside the home; yet, most also agree that men should have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce. For example, about six-in-ten in Egypt (61%) and Jordan (58%) say women should have the right to work outside the home, but even larger shares (75% and 68%, respectively) say the priority should be for men to have jobs.

In some countries, male respondents are considerably more likely than female respondents to agree that men should have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce. For example, about nine-in-ten Egyptian men (92%) share this view, compared with 58% of Egyptian women. Similarly, while about three-quarters of Jordanian men (77%) say their sex should be more entitled to a job in tough economic times, a much slimmer majority of Jordanian women (56%) say the same.

Men and women also frequently offer diverging views on other aspects of gender equality, including a woman’s right to work outside the home and the importance of higher education for boys and girls; this gender gap is evident most consistently in the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed.

The survey also finds that women are far more likely than men to perceive gender inequalities. By double-digit margins, female respondents in 13 of 22 nations are more likely than male respondents to say men in their countries have the better life. And in most countries where majorities among both men and women agree that men get more opportunities than women for high-paying jobs, women are considerably more likely to say they completely agree that is the case.

Widespread Support for Equal Rights

Solid majorities in virtually every country surveyed say that women should have the same rights as men. This opinion is nearly unanimous in Western European and Latin American countries, as well as in the U.S., Poland, Lebanon, China, India, and South Korea; at least nine-in-ten men and women in these countries express support for gender equality.

In Egypt, where six-in-ten say the two sexes should have the same rights, men and women offer widely different views. About three-quarters (76%) of Egyptian women support gender equality, while Egyptian men are nearly evenly divided – 45% say women and men should have equal rights and 47% disagree. Double-digit gender gaps are also evident in Jordan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Kenya; still, majorities among both men and women in those countries agree that women should have the same rights as men.

Only in Nigeria does a majority (54%) reject the idea that women and men should have equal rights. This primarily reflects the views of Nigerian men; 65% say women should not have the same rights as men, while just 35% say they should. In contrast, a majority of Nigerian women (56%) endorse equality, although a substantive minority (44%) does not.

Vast Support for Women Working Outside the Home

Majorities in every country polled agree that women should be able to work outside the home. In 17 of the 22 countries, most say they completely agree with this assertion, including at least three-quarters in Brazil (88%), Britain (84%), the U.S. (81%) and Germany (79%).

Support for a woman’s right to work outside the home has increased since 2002 in four of the six countries for which trends exist. For example, 95% of Turks currently subscribe to the idea that women should be able to work outside the home while 85% did so earlier in the decade; support for this view is also more widespread since 2002 in Nigeria (+10 percentage points), Pakistan (+9 points) and Indonesia (+8 points), while Jordanian and Lebanese views have shown little change.

In a number of countries where the majority thinks women should be able to work outside the home, women are even more likely than men to strongly support this idea; this is particularly the case in some of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. For example, while 65% of women in Pakistan completely agree that women should have the option to work outside the home, only 31% of Pakistani men hold the same view. Similarly, while about one-third of women in Egypt (36%) and Jordan (34%) completely agree that women should be able to work outside the home, only about one-in-ten men in these countries embrace the same opinion. Significant gender differences also exist in South Korea, Kenya, Spain, Lebanon and Indonesia.

In Lebanon and Nigeria, views also differ along religious and sectarian lines. More Lebanese Sunnis (75%) and Christians (73%) completely agree that women should be able to work outside the home than do Lebanese Shia (63%). The gap is far larger in Nigeria where 73% of Christians are in complete agreement with the notion of a working role for women compared with 43% of Nigerian Muslims.

Egalitarian Marriage Seen as More Satisfying

In 19 of 22 countries, majorities say that a marriage where both husband and wife have jobs and take care of the house and children is a more satisfying way of life than having the husband provide financially while the wife cares for the household.

This view is particularly widespread in Western Europe, where more than eight-in-ten in France (91%), Spain (91%) and Germany (85%) agree that the preferred marital model is one where husband and wife share a family’s financial burden as well as the household and child care responsibilities. More than eight-in-ten in Brazil (84%) and Kenya (81%) and at least three-quarters in China (78%) and Mexico (76%) share this view.

Across predominantly Muslim countries, support for both spouses working is mixed. About nine-in-ten in Lebanon (92%) favor a double-income household and an egalitarian approach to tasks at home, as do 72% in Turkey. In Indonesia, the majority in favor of dual workers both inside and outside the home is narrower (56%), with 43% of Indonesians saying that a marriage where the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the house and children is preferable.

Egyptians and Jordanians are more divided; 48% and 47%, respectively, embrace the egalitarian approach to marriage, while about four-in-ten (38% in Egypt and 40% in Jordan) choose a more traditional arrangement. In contrast, Pakistanis are overwhelmingly of the opinion that a marriage where the husband bears the financial responsibility while the wife cares for the house and children is more satisfying; nearly eight-in-ten (79%) share this view, compared with just 18% of Pakistanis who favor a non-traditional approach.

Views of marriage have become more egalitarian since earlier in the decade in seven of the 19 countries for which trends are available. This change has been especially dramatic in Jordan, where the balance of opinion has shifted since 2002; then, 37% of Jordanians opted for a more egalitarian approach, compared with the nearly half who do so now.

In Russia, Poland, Lebanon, Mexico and the U.S., where majorities already expressed a preference for a more non-traditional marriage arrangement in 2002, even more say that is the case today. For example, about three-quarters (74%) of Russians now say that a marriage where the husband and wife both have jobs and share household responsibilities is preferable, compared with 56% in 2002. Similarly, in the U.S., 71% now hold this view, compared with 58% earlier in the decade. In Poland, where the change since 2002 has been less pronounced, opinion has shifted dramatically since 1991; currently, 68% say an egalitarian marriage is more satisfying, compared with 60% in 2002 and just 41% nearly two decades ago.

French and German views of marriage are largely unchanged from 2002, but far more in these countries – as well as in Spain, which was not surveyed in 2002 – support a more egalitarian approach to marriage than did so in 1991. Nearly two decades ago, 67% in Spain, 64% in France and 58% in Germany found a marriage where the husband and wife both had jobs and took care of the house and children to be more satisfying than one where the husband provided for the family while the wife took care of the household; today, 91% in Spain and France and 85% in Germany share this view.

In China, Pakistan and Nigeria, however, views of marriage have become more traditional since 2002. In Pakistan, the share who say a marriage where the husband works outside the home while the wife takes care of the house and children is a better way of life has increased by 16 percentage points from 63% in 2002 to 79% today. In Nigeria, where fewer now say they prefer an egalitarian marriage than did so in 2002 (61% vs. 78%), the decline in support for this approach to marriage primarily reflects a change in opinion among Muslims. Currently, 47% of Nigerian Muslims say a marriage where both husband and wife have a job and take care of the house and children is preferable; 70% expressed this view in 2002. Changes have been less pronounced among Nigerian Christians – about three-quarters (74%) favor an egalitarian approach to marriage, compared with 85% earlier in the decade.

Across most of the countries surveyed, opinions about what type of marriage brings the most satisfaction vary little, if at all, between male and female respondents. In the predominantly Muslim countries of Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey as well as in South Korea, however, more women than men favor an egalitarian approach. For example, roughly six-in-ten women in Jordan (59%) and Egypt (58%) take an egalitarian view, compared with just under four-in-ten men in these countries (36% in Jordan and 38% in Egypt).

Preferential Treatment for Men in Tough Economic Times

Publics across the countries surveyed offer mixed views on whether men should have more of a right to a job than women during tough economic times. Majorities in 11 of 22 countries surveyed reject this idea, and this is particularly true in the U.S. and Western Europe. In Nigeria as well as in many Asian and predominantly Muslim countries, however, most respondents say that men should receive preferential treatment when jobs are scarce.

At least eight-in-ten in Spain (87%), Britain (85%), the U.S. (85%), France (80%) and Germany (80%) disagree that in tough economic times, men should have more right to a job than women. Majorities in Mexico (69%), Brazil (63%), Argentina (56%), Kenya (53%) and Poland (51%) also reject this notion.

In contrast, the view that men should have more of a right to a job than women during tough economic times is prevalent in nine of the countries surveyed. At least seven-in-ten in India (84%), Pakistan (82%), Nigeria (77%), Egypt (75%), Indonesia (74%) and China (73%) subscribe to this idea. About two-thirds in the predominantly Muslim countries of Jordan (68%) and Turkey (67%) as well as 60% in South Korea also say that men are more entitled to a job than women when jobs are scarce.

Opinions are more mixed in Lebanon and Russia, where about as many agree (51% and 47%, respectively) as disagree (49% in each country) with the notion that men should have more right to a job than women in tough economic times. Lebanese views split along religious and sectarian lines; a majority (58%) of Sunni Muslims in that country say men should receive preferential treatment when jobs are scarce, while most Lebanese Christians (63%) reject this notion. Shia Muslims are divided – 48% agree and 52% disagree that men should have more of a right to a job than women when times are tough.

In many countries, men are more likely than women to agree with the idea that men should receive preferential treatment for jobs in tough economic times. This is particularly true in Egypt; 91% of men feel they should have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce while 58% of women hold the same opinion. While less pronounced, a similar pattern also exists in Jordan, Russia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Korea, Poland, Indonesia and Lebanon.

In Japan, the opposite pattern in gender differences is evident; women (48%) are more likely than men (33%) to agree that men should receive preferential treatment for jobs in challenging times.

Support for Educating Boys and Girls

Publics in 18 of 22 countries disagree with the notion that a university education is more important for a boy than for a girl. And in 10 of these countries, many strongly reject this idea; majorities in Lebanon (84%), Brazil (78%), Argentina (72%), Britain (71%), France (70%), Mexico (65%), Germany (64%), Spain (62%), the U.S. (60%), and Kenya (59%) completely disagree that is it more important for a boy to receive a university education.

Still, a solid majority in India (63%) and about half in Pakistan (51%), Egypt (50%) and China (48%) say that a university education is more important for a boy than for a girl, and sizeable minorities in several countries agree. For example, in Jordan, 44% agree that it is more important for a boy than a girl to get a college education; about one-third in Japan (35%), Poland (34%) and Nigeria (34%) also embrace this view.

Nigerian opinion is split along religious lines. A solid majority (81%) of Christians in that country disagree that a college education is more important for a boy than for a girl. In contrast, Nigerian Muslims are nearly evenly divided; 50% agree and 49% disagree. Muslim men and women in Nigeria offer opposing views – nearly six-in-ten (59%) Muslim men agree that it is more important for boys to receive a college education, while 60% of Muslim women in Nigeria disagree.

A considerable gender gap in views of whether a university education is more important for boys than for girls is also evident in four of the six predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. Majorities of men in Egypt and Jordan say it is more important for a boy to receive a university education (60% and 56%, respectively); 60% of women in Egypt and 67% in Jordan disagree. In Pakistan, where more than twice as many men agree (64%) as disagree (30%) that a university education is more important for boys than it is for girls, about half (48%) of women disagree and 36% agree.

The gender divide is somewhat less pronounced in Turkey. While most among both sexes in that country reject the idea that a post-secondary education is of greater importance for a boy than a girl, more women (77%) than men (62%) subscribe to an egalitarian approach to education.

In some countries where overwhelming majorities disagree that a university education is more important for a boy than for a girl, women are considerably more likely than men to say they completely disagree. This is especially true in the U.S. – seven-in-ten women completely disagree that it is more important for a boy to receive a university education, compared with just about half (49%) of American men. Women in Argentina and in all four Western European nations surveyed are also more likely than men in those countries to strongly reject the notion that it is more important for a boy to get a college education than a girl.

Wearing a Veil

In four of the seven countries where the question was asked, clear majorities of Muslims say that women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil. This view is most widespread in Turkey, Indonesia and Lebanon.

In Turkey, where a ban on veils in civic spaces and government buildings remains, support for a woman’s right to decide whether she wears a veil is nearly universal and intensely held; 96% of Muslims in Turkey agree that women should have the right to determine if they wear a head cover, including seven-in-ten who completely agree that women should have this right.

In Indonesia, where national law makes wearing a veil optional in all but the autonomous province of Aceh, an overwhelming majority of Muslims (92%) believe women should have the right to decide if they cover their heads. Similarly, 89% of Lebanese Muslims feel women should determine whether or not to don a veil. A solid majority of Muslims in Pakistan (65%) also support a woman’s right to choose whether to cover her head.

In contrast, Egyptian and Jordanian Muslims are divided. Roughly half of Muslims in Egypt (51%) and Jordan (48%) agree that women should be able to determine if they wear a head scarf while roughly half in both countries disagree (48% in Egypt and 50% in Jordan). In Jordan, support for giving women this right has declined substantially since 2008, when about six-in-ten Muslims (59%) said women should have the right to decide if they were a veil.

Nigerian Muslims are the only ones who are more inclined to disagree (53%) than agree (45%) that women should have the right to decide if they wear a head scarf. However, Nigerian Muslim opposition to a woman’s right to choose whether to don a veil is down from 2008, when 64% disagreed that women should have this right.

In four of the seven countries, Muslim women are more likely than Muslim men to support a woman’s right to choose whether to wear a head scarf. For example, while 83% of Muslim women in Pakistan agree that women should have the right to decide if they wear a veil, only 47% of Muslim Pakistani men embrace the same view. A similar gender divide exists in Jordan, Egypt and Nigeria.

Achieving Equal Rights

When respondents who favor gender equality are asked whether their country has made most of the changes needed to give women equal rights with men or if more changes are needed to achieve that goal, majorities in 18 of 22 countries say the latter. At least eight-in-ten equal rights supporters in Japan (89%), Brazil (84%), France (82%) and Spain (80%) say their countries need to continue making changes to ensure that women have the same rights as men. This view is shared nearly equally among both genders in Japan, Brazil and France; in Spain, women are considerably more likely than men to say that more changes need to be made (86% vs. 74%).

Female respondents in the U.S., Britain and Germany also offer far more negative assessments of their countries’ progress on gender equality than do male respondents. About seven-in-ten American (72%) and German (70%) women who support equality say their countries need to effect more changes to give women the same rights as men; a much slimmer majority of men in both countries (55%) say that is the case. The gender gap is somewhat narrower in Britain – three-quarters of women who favor equal rights say their country still has work to do, and 62% of men agree.

Positive perceptions of how much progress their countries have made in achieving gender equality are more prevalent among equal rights supporters in Jordan, Indonesia, India and China; more than half in those countries say that most of the changes needed to ensure this goal have already been made. In Indonesia, more men (64%) than women (53%) believe such changes have been brought about.

Who Has a Better Life?

Opinions about who has a better life – men or women –are mixed. In 10 of 22 nations, majorities or pluralities say that, all things considered, men have the better life in their countries. In 10 others, more volunteer that there is no difference than say that life is better for one sex than the other. Only in Japan and South Korea do pluralities say that life is better for women in their countries (47% and 49%, respectively).

The view that men have the better life is particularly widespread in France; three-quarters in that country say that is the case, compared with just 14% who say life is better for women and 9% who volunteer that there is no difference. A majority (55%) in Poland shares the view that men have the better life in their country, as do solid pluralities in the U.S., Germany, Spain, India, Brazil and Nigeria.

Majorities or pluralities in the six predominantly Muslim nations surveyed volunteer that life is the same for men and women in their countries. More than half in Mexico (56%) and Russia (52%) and at least four-in-ten in China (49%) and Argentina (46%) share this view.

Across much of the world, female respondents are considerably more likely than male respondents to say that men have the better life in their country. This is especially true in Turkey and Spain. More than four-in-ten Turkish women (46%) say men have it better in their country, while 16% say women do, and 36% say there is no difference; among Turkish men, however, just 19% say their sex has the better life, while 38% say women have it better and 40% say there is no difference.

Many See Inequality in Job Opportunities

The view that men get more opportunities than women for jobs that pay well, even when women are as qualified for the job, is widespread in most of the countries surveyed, particularly those that are wealthy or have recently experienced substantial economic growth. At least eight-in-ten in Germany (84%), France (80%) and Japan (80%) as well as about seven-in-ten in South Korea (70%), Britain (70%), the U.S. (68%), and Spain (68%) say men get more opportunities for high-paying jobs. Similarly strong majorities in Poland (83%), India (83%) and China (73%) say that is the case.

In contrast, many in predominantly Muslim publics reject the notion that men get more job opportunities than women. More than half in Lebanon (70%), Egypt (54%) and Indonesia (53%), as well as a 49%-plurality in Jordan, disagree that men get more opportunities than women for high-paying jobs. This opinion is also prevalent in Mexico, where 55% disagree and 43% agree that job opportunities are more widely available to men than to women.

In many countries where the view that men get more job opportunities than women predominates, female respondents are more likely than male respondents to say that is the case; in particular, women in those countries are often more inclined than men to completely agree that there is gender inequality in employment opportunities. For example, about six-in-ten women in France (61%) and Germany (60%) completely agree that men get more opportunities than women for jobs that pay well; in contrast, 37% of men in France and 39% in Germany are in complete agreement.