BSA 40: The evolution of the gender gap?

This chapter explores what British Social Attitudes data tells us about the emergence of a ‘modern’ gender gap in Britain.
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  • Authors:
    Rosie Campbell (King's College London)
    Rosalind Shorrocks (University of Manchester)
  • Publishing date:
    21 September 2023

Key findings

Women have historically been more likely to support parties of the right than men, due to their greater religiosity and lower exposure to the social institutions of the left. In many wealthy nations, as gender roles shifted, this traditional gender gap declined and a ‘modern’ gender gap emerged (with women being more likely to support leftwing parties than men). This chapter explores what British Social Attitudes (BSA) data tells us about the emergence of a ‘modern’ gender gap in Britain and whether this links to long-term shifts in the attitudes and values of men and women – and of younger generations of men and women specifically.

A gender gap in party support?

BSA data suggests that a ‘modern’ gender gap has emerged over the past decade, somewhat earlier than is conventionally claimed.

  • There has been a small ‘modern’ gender gap in reported party vote on each survey conducted in an election year since 2005, with women being more likely to support the Labour Party compared with men (there was a gender gap of 6 percentage points in 2020).
  • A ‘modern’ gender gap is evident for political party identification in every survey since 2008, and on a handful of surveys prior to that. In 2022, the modern gender gap in party identification stands at 4 percentage points.

The role of generations

There is some evidence that the emergence of the modern gender gap in recent years is the product of underlying generational differences in gender gaps in party support.

  • Prior to the 2000s, there is little evidence of any difference in the gender gap across generations.
  • Since the 2000s, however, generations born in 1960-79 and 1980 and after have shown a consistent ‘modern’ gender gap, sometimes reaching 15 percentage points. Generations born prior to 1960 tend to show the ‘traditional’ gender gap in this period.

A shift in values and attitudes?

In most instances, the attitudes and values of men and women, and different generations of men and women over the past 40 years show a pattern of gender ‘overlaps’, rather than gender gaps.

  • Women have traditionally been marginally more right-wing than men, although the two groups exhibit very similar social values. There is no evidence in either area of a widening gender gap.
  • While women are historically less likely than men to support traditional gender roles, there is no evidence of a widening gap in the views of the two sexes, or among men and women of any generation.
  • Women have traditionally been more likely to want to remain in the European Union, compared with men. This pattern is particularly pronounced for the youngest two generations (those born between 1960-1979 and the post-1980 generation). After 2019, gender gaps in attitudes to the EU within generations reduced, perhaps reflecting the fact that Brexit has fallen in salience in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and during the cost-of-living crisis.