Women have as much free time as men for political activities but have fewer other resources for politics

April 11, 1995
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR— While previous research asserts that traditional gender roles in the home have robbed women of free time for political activities, the real culprit may be lack of political resources, such as money and civic skills, says a University of Michigan researcher.

” Our study results add another dimension to the widespread concern about the role of money in American politics, a concern that has thus far not been focused at all on issues of gender,” says Nancy E. Burns, assistant professor of political science.

In their study of more than 2,500 Americans nationwide, Burns and colleagues Kay Lehman Schlozman of Boston College and Sidney Verba of Harvard University found that men and women have roughly the same amount of free time” 6.5 hours daily” to devote to activities such as politics (after adjusting for time spent on housework, child care, employment, studying and sleeping).

In fact, women who participate in politics actually devote more time (4.8 hours per active week) to political activities than do men (3.8 hours per active week), but are less likely to be involved in the first place because they lack the resources to do so, they say.

” Our results demonstrate not only that, in the aggregate, women have as much free time as men, but also that the availability of free time seems not to be critical for the decision to take part,” the researchers say. ” However, women are disadvantaged when it comes to the resources that facilitate political activity. ”

According to the study, women have less money in their households and less control over that money than men do, a crucial drawback for an increasingly important form of participation” making financial contributions to political causes and organizations.

Men donate, on average, $306 a year to political causes and campaigns, compared with $223 given annually by women, the researchers say. Also, slightly more men (27 percent) than women (20 percent) make political contributions in the first place.

The study results show that, on average, women who work full-time say they make about $21,700, compared with reported earnings of $35,600 for fully employed men. Moreover, the mean household income reported by women is

Also, among married couples who both work full-time, men say their earnings account for 62 percent of their household income, while women report that their incomes comprise 43 percent of household earnings.

” Given gender differences in both work force participation and earnings, it is not surprising to find that, by every measure, women have less income than men,” the researchers say. ” As a consequence of both lower family incomes and lower contributions to family incomes, we should expect women to contribute less money to political causes than men. ”

In addition to having less money than men, they say, women also possess fewer civic skills” communication and organizational abilities crucial to political activity.

As a result, men are more likely than women to affiliate with political organizations, work on campaigns, contact government officials, work informally to address community problems, serve on local governing boards, and vote, according to the researchers.

Men, they note, are more likely than women to develop civic skills in the work place, because they are more apt to work in jobs that facilitate such abilities.

Women, on the other hand, rely more on their involvement in non-political rganizations, such as religious institutions, to gain such skills.

” Since the work place produces, on average, more skills than do religious institutions, men wind up advantaged in terms of civic skills,” the researchers say.

Voluntary activity in non-political secular and religious organizations not only helps develop civic skills essential for political participation, but can be used as a springboard into the political realm, they add.

For example, such groups often take part in political activities to further organizational goals and volunteers can make contacts that later may be used in politics.

While the study found little difference in the likelihood of men (36 percent) and women (39 percent) volunteering for secular activities, women are more likely than men to devote time (31 percent of women, 24 percent of men) and money (69 percent of women, 55 percent of men) to religious organizations.

However, as with political organizations, men make larger financial contributions than do women to both secular

” These results alert us that we need to pay particular attention to the different roles of money in men’s and women’s voluntary involvement,” they say.

” If women were as well endowed with political resources as men, their overall levels of political activity would be closer to men’s and their financial contributions would be considerably closer to men’s. “

Harvard University