Young liberal non-white women and climate change

Some new(ish) analysis of climate attitudes in the US helpfully puts more solid numbers against a lot of what we’ve seen here in the past. The analysis was run by an academic at Michigan State Uni, and shows the effect of different factors on attitudes and knowledge about climate change.

It’s a very straight-forward paper (go on, have a look), which draws on Gallup Polls from over the last eight years to build a dataset that’s big enough for some serious subgroup analysis. The main focus of the paper – which is picked up by Leo Hickman in the Guardian Environment Blog – is about gender differences. These are indeed interesting, and there are a few other striking issues that the analysis shows.

Gender notwithstanding, the factor that is most strongly correlated with concern about climate change is an individual’s knowledge about it. This is knowledge as measured by the likelihood to answer that global warming is already happening, is man-made, and that most scientists believe it is occurring – rather than a stated level of personal knowledge (which yields quite different results).  Of course, some people would dispute these as objective measures of knowledge.

I see two possible readings of this correlation between concern and knowledge. You could argue that this proves that if someone knows about climate change, that knowledge makes them worry. But the alternative causal direction could also be valid. Someone who – for whatever reason – has become concerned about climate change then goes onto learn more about it, and this knowledge could potentially not have any impact on their overall level of concern (in theory).

Maybe that one wasn’t so surprising, but others are a bit more interesting. After knowledge, the factors that correlate most with concern about climate change are, in order of the strength of the correlation:

Political ideology and party affiliation: the more Democratic and liberal a person is, the more likely they are to be knowledgeable and concerned about climate change.

Race: while people who are white are more likely to be more knowledgeable about climate change, people who are not white are more likely to be concerned.

Gender: women are more likely to be both knowledgeable about climate change, and concerned about it (to put this in context, in the Gallup polls, 35% of women said they worry about global warming a great deal, compared with 29% of men:  not a huge difference, but statistically significant).

Age: younger people are also more likely to be both knowledgeable and concerned about climate change.

Income: there is a weak correlation between higher earners being more knowledgeable about climate change – but a stronger correlation between lower earners being more concerned.

Religiosity appeared at first glance to be fairly well correlated with lower concern with climate change – but the analysis also shows that when controlling for other relevant variables, it doesn’t have any significant impact.

So how does this compare with the UK?   Unfortunately, we don’t have the same longitudinal studies as are available in the US to give us the kind of robust base sizes we need for a proper regression analysis against this range of factors.

From what we have, the UK data do seem to show similar results to those in the US in terms of gender. This ICM/Guardian poll suggests women are more likely to believe that climate change is anthropogenic, and also to say they’re already taking action. Equally, we might conclude that this YouGov/Left Foot Forward poll reflects the US finding that women are less likely to be self-confident in their knowledge about climate change, and so turn away from language about “immediate and radical steps” in favour of a more measured conclusion.


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