Maternal instincts don't explain the gender gap on GM foods

January 25, 2019 by Matt Shipman, North Carolina State University
Credit: Pam Corey

Studies have found that women are more skeptical of genetically modified (GM) foods than men, but little research has been done on what's responsible for that gender gap. Conventional wisdom has been that maternal instincts may explain the difference, but research shows that this isn't the case.

A recent study, published in the Social Science Journal, evaluated data from more than 1,500 people – part of a 2014 Pew Research Center survey – in an attempt to tease out the factors behind the GM foods . The paper, "The gender gap on towards foods," found a surprising driver that may account for women's attitudes toward GM .

We recently had a chance to talk with Steve Greene about the findings. Greene, a professor of political science at NC State, co-authored the paper with Laurel Elder of Hartwick College and Mary-Kate Lizotte of Augusta University.

The Abstract: What made you and your collaborators decide to dig into the gender gap on GM foods?

Steve Greene: I've always found the issue of GM foods particularly interesting, due to my scholarly interest in public opinion and personal interest in science. In most matters of GM foods, there's a clear disjunction between what the science tells us (they are generally safe), and what the public at large actually believes (they are not safe). GM foods is just one of many issues with a gender gap, but since Laurel Elder and I have long been studying how parenthood shapes , we thought it was an interesting case to see whether motherhood, in particular, could explain women's greater skepticism towards GM foods.

TA: So how big is the gender gap?

Greene: As gender gaps go, this really is quite a big one. Where about 49 percent of the men in the Pew data agreed that GM food was "generally safe" only 30 percent of women agreed with that. On related questions about checking labels for GM ingredients and on scientists understanding risks of GM foods, there were also sizable gaps.

TA: I've heard people say that maternal protectiveness and concern are responsible for women's skepticism regarding GM foods. Did the data bear that out?

Greene: One of the fun things about our research on public opinion and gender gaps, and on parenthood, is that understand and have very clear hypotheses as to what might explain various gaps between men and women or mothers and fathers. Most of the people I talked to in the early stages of research expressed this very idea. Similarly, a study of GM food attitudes in Europe hypothesized this as well, though without directly testing it.

What we found, though, is that, yes, parenthood is really important for explaining more skeptical attitudes towards GM foods. But that applies just as much to men as to women. In short, moms are skeptical, but so are dads, so this did not explain the gender gap at all.

TA: So, what is responsible for the gender gap?

Greene: General orientations toward science and knowledge of science are largely responsible for the gender gap. Men have more confidence in science and scientists and are much less inclined to focus on the risks in various science fields. This seemed to explain most of the gender gap. Interestingly, though, our combination of science variables, political variables and demographic variables could not fully account for this gender gap, meaning there is still something unique to the role of in explaining GM foods that we were not able to uncover.

TA: Is that finding consistent with other research on women's attitudes towards science?

Greene: Maybe not so much science, but what we might call "potentially risky ." There's a significant body of research suggesting that men and women assess risk differently, so whether this is pollution, or nuclear power or GM foods, we can expect to see women as more attuned to potential risks.

Explore further: Drug use, religion explain 'reverse gender gap' on marijuana

More information: Laurel Elder et al. The gender gap on public opinion towards genetically modified foods, The Social Science Journal (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.soscij.2018.02.015

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4 comments

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Doug_Nightmare
5 / 5 (2) Jan 25, 2019
Related to the STEM gender gap? Prolly. Also the political gender gap, security versus liberty.
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2019
How about another factor - women are more risk averse than men
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2019
I see several causes for women's lack of confidence in GM foods.
First, women know that men lie to them, all the time, about everything important to women.

Second, men, as a group of misogynist cowards. have deliberately chosen to deny women their herstory.
It is always the "farmer" & never the "farmette".
Cause if males were honest? The gynecophobic males would jeer at them for having a small penis!

The historical information that has been denied to women?
That their gynoculture female ancestors invented agriculture & the basic development of most of the modern foods we eat.

No "manly" man does gratitude!

In addition, there exists a strong element of weak males who constantly preach submission to women & girls. The weak predators conditioning their prey to accept oppression.

Such as commercials constantly touting that the housewife who fails to buy their product? Must hate their husbands & children by serving them inferior products.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (2) Jan 26, 2019
Among other things, where, before, "science" used to "assure" the people that genetically engineered food was absolutely safe, now, they say "generally" safe. "Science" was in no hurry to inform people, for example, that Round-Up plant killer was dangerous.
With respect to females having so much skepticism, if not distrust, of genetically engineered food, maybe the direction of examination should be opposite. Why are so many men so eager to insist that genetically engineered food is so safe, when all they have to "verify" that is the "assurance' of the same "scientists" who implied Round-Up was safe? They like to prate about "toxic masculinity" in other areas, why don't they invoke it here? Individuals who are genuinely arrogant, short sighted, reckless, embracing genetically engineered food not because it is proved safe, but only for the novelty. "Justifying" that by saying the people in the white coats told them it was!

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