November 19 2012
Is the Gender Gap Misunderstood?
After vanishing in the 2010 midterms, the gender gap was back with a vengeance in 2012: women voters handed President Obama a second term.
As Inkwell readers know, there is a gap within the gap: unmarried women, who are likely to favor more government safety-net programs, skew Democratic in their voting, while married women skew Republican.
Scholar and author Kay Hymowitz says we aren’t looking at the all-important gap within the gap in quite the right way:
Analysts offer a number of theories about the marriage gap: married women are more financially stable and therefore less reliant on government assistance; they care less about reproductive issues than about their pocketbooks and security; when they marry, they adopt their husbands’ political preferences.
But the obvious reason for the marriage gap is that for several decades now, married women have become likelier to be white, educated, affluent, and older—demographic groups that leaned Republican in this election. Romney lost the black, Hispanic, and Asian vote, while he won the college-educated vote (though not post-grads), the votes of those making over $50,000 a year, and the votes of older Generation X-ers, Baby Boomers, and voters over 65.
In other words, married women voted less as part of a sisterhood than as part of a cohort of white people holding college diplomas, earning more than $50,000 a year, and wearing reading glasses.
Similarly, unmarried women voted just the way you’d expect them to, considering their age, income, education, race, and ethnicity. A large number of unmarried women are single mothers—and minorities are disproportionately represented among that population.
More than 30 percent of single mothers are Hispanic, and 28 percent are black, even though Hispanics are just 17 percent of the population and blacks 12 percent. Single mothers are also likely to be younger, less educated, and poorer than married women are. Sure enough, all these groups went Democratic in this election. The category “single women” also includes childless women in their twenties and thirties. These are by definition part of the “youth vote,” which went heavily for Obama, regardless of gender….
The chatter about the “largest gender gap on record” ignores one last surprising fact: women, like men, were less likely to vote for Obama in 2012 than in 2008. The gender gap expanded not because more women went blue but because so many men switched to red. Obama won the male vote in 2008 by 2 points; this year, again, Romney won among all men, 52 percent to 45 percent.
So yes, taken as a group, women vote more Democratic than men do. But that has little to do with their sex, which is why analysts would be wise to pay a little less mind to the gap
That the Obama campaign put so much stock in its much-mocked but ultimately brilliant “Life of Julia” infomercial—it featured a single woman who lived a life of dependence on government—shows that they viewed the gender gap in the more traditional way. But that doesn’t rule out the class element Hymowitz emphasizes.
The class element makes the gender gap more intractable: we can’t view unmarried women as people who will get married, establish a family, and then start voting for less government.