The Massive Gender Gap in the Science Audience
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Last month Pew released a comprehensive analysis of news audience trends over time and across demographics. One of the key findings (depicted at left) was the continued decline in public attention to news about science and technology, with only 13% of Americans saying they follow the topic "very closely."
News about the environment and health fair better, with roughly 1 out of 5 Americans answering that they follow these issues "very closely." Yet even for health, there has been a significant decline in news attention, dropping from 26% in 2002.
Far more troubling, however, is the massive gender gap in the news audience for science and technology. As the table at left depicts, among the audience who follows science and technology "very closely," 71% are men compared to 29% who are women. The gender gap on science and technology is the widest for any news genre and roughly equivalent to that for sports. Whereas men dominate the news audience for science and technology, women are disproportionately represented among the attentive audience for health (64% women to 34% men). There is no significant gender gap on news about the environment.
As I have written before, these trends reflect the "problem of choice" in a fragmented media system. Absent a strong preference or motivation for news about a particular topic, even among the college educated, an individual can very easily avoid such information, and only pay attention to their preferred news genre or alternatively, the many competing entertainment content choices.