Wednesday, 23 April 2008
The Great Escape, Plus: Mind the Gap
Oxford is an ancient university and so certain workarounds are required to bring it into compliance with the 21st century. For example, in the good old days, if you were in the basement of a building and a fire broke out, you were content just to die of burns or smoke inhalation while silently chanting in Latin. Or, if you were lucky, you scrambled up a fire escape only to find your exit blocked by a chair against the door. Not any more. Now, courtesy of signs like that one above in Nuffield College, your escape route is clear: You simply climb to safety, emerging from the wainscoting like a rat.
I spent much of the lecture I attended in that room yesterday distractedly wondering if the panel would pop open and a ragtag line of dirty-faced survivors would crawl out. Finally, when I could take it no longer, I got up and moved a heavy table against the wall, ensuring that the proceedings wouldn't be interrupted. Now let me see, did I push the table away when the lecture was over?
Just kidding! Of course I didn't do that. I concentrated on the lecture, a talk by Paul Kellstedt, a political science professor from Texas A&M University, on sabbatical with his family here at Oxford. The lecture was entitled "The Macro Politics of a Gender Gap" and while much of it was lost on me (I start to sweat when I hear words like "variable" and "coefficient"), it was interesting.
Kelltstedt's central finding is that there is a gender gap between American men and women when it comes to political policy. Women are, on average, 2 to 5 points more "liberal" than men. What's interesting is that this relatively small number pales in comparison to other gender gaps: There are much bigger gender differences when it comes to party identification, political participation, presidential approval and presidential candidate selection. These gender gaps are growing while the macropolitical gender gap is staying the same. In other words, what you would expect to be the bedrock foundation for decisions about politics--a person's stance towards various policies (on the environment, welfare, etc.)--does not correlate directly to which candidates people support or how they vote.
I'm sure I'm mangling this completely.
Paul didn't mention it yesterday, but here's another bit of research that resulted in counterintuitive findings: The more you know about global warming, the less motivated you are to do something about it. Kellstedt and colleagues surveyed 1,093 American and asked them about global warming. "More informed respondents both feel less personally responsible for global warming, and also show less concern for global warming," they wrote in the journal Risk Analysis.
Said Kellstedt: "The findings that the more informed respondents were less concerned about global warming, and that they felt less personally responsible for it, did surprise us. We expected just the opposite."
Too bad there's no fire escape to help the planet escape from global warming.