The Gender Gap: Women and Trust

The Gender Gap: Women and Trust

A Trilogy on Trust

This briefing exists to provide a snapshot of the academic literature in the arena of women and trust. It sits alongside a fresh analysis of a field study commissioned by the John Smith Centre of 1,400 UK adults’ attitudes towards politicians and our public services.

Political trust matters because of its relationship to engagement or participation in politics. We know that distrusting citizens are less likely to cast a vote (Hooghe 2018). Recent literature on political participation found that women were more likely to participate in “non-institutionalised” forms of participation – those with no direct relationship to the electoral process, or to the functioning of key political institutions – than more formalised means of political participation. Hooghe and Marien (2012) found that while women were less likely to participate in institutionalised politics – by contacting their elected representative, or voting – they were more likely to take part in non-institutionalised participation – by signing a petition, attending a public demonstration or boycotting certain products. While sizeable gender gaps in participation persist, there is a clear need to better understand political trust amongst women, and women’s attitudes towards politics and public life.

We have undertaken new analysis for this briefing of a 2019 survey commissioned by the John Smith Centre, of 1,424 people living in Scotland, Wales and England. Within this survey sample, we found that:

  • Fewer women than men said they trust politicians: Fewer than 1 in 8 women reported high levels of trust in politicians, and 1 in 4 reported high levels of trust in their local MP.
  • Fewer women than men thought democracy was working well in the UK. Fewer than 1 in 4 women surveyed thought democracy was working well in the UK.
  • Fewer women than men agreed that politicians keep promises made during an election campaign: Just 1 in 4 women surveyed agreed, compared to nearly 1 in 3 men.
  • 1in 5 Women who voted remain reported high levels of trust in government. Whereas, only 19% of women who voted leave reported high levels of trust in government.

It’s clear from the findings in this report that the relationship between gender and political trust ought to be further explored, particularly in seeking to understand how distrust amongst women can be tackled; structural barriers to women’s participation in politics lowered; and equal representation realised.

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