Poll: Women's Movement Worthwhile

Suffragette over muted images of suffrage march, partial graphic women's movement AP

According to a CBS News Poll conducted this past May, an overwhelming majority of women say their opportunities to succeed in life are better than the opportunities their mothers had –- and most credit the women's movement for making their lives better. But while nearly all women say the status of women has gotten better in this country, they are divided as to whether there is still a need for a strong women's movement.

WOMEN TODAY

Seventy-seven percent of women say their opportunities to succeed in life are better than those of their mother. Women in all age groups and income brackets agree. By a lesser margin, men say their opportunities are better than their father's. Sixty percent say their opportunities to succeed are better than their father's.

OPPORTUNITIES TO SUCCEED IN LIFE COMPARED TO …

Your mother
Better
77%
Worse
18%
The same
5%

Your father
Better
60%
Worse
28%
The same
10%

Nearly all women (82 percent) think the overall status of women in this country is better than it was 25 years ago. Over eight in 10 men also think women's status in this country has improved.

OVERALL STATUS OF WOMEN COMPARED TO 25 YEARS AGO (Among Women)

Better
82%
Worse
4%
The same
13%

Still, women say there are more advantages in today's society in being a man than in being a woman. More than half of men, however, think there are no advantages in being either.

ARE THERE MORE ADVANTAGES IN …

Total
Being a man
40%
Being a woman
13%
No advantages for either
45%

Men
Being a man
32%
Being a woman
14%
No advantages for either
53%

Women
Being a man
47%
Being a woman
12%
No advantages for either
39%

WOMEN AND FEMINISM

Women hold a positive view of the women's movement. Sixty-nine percent say the movement has made their lives better –- the highest number saying this since this poll started asking the question. In 1999, 48 percent of women said achievements by the women's movement had improved their lives. A New York Times Poll conducted in 1983 found just 25 percent of women said the women's movement had made their lives better.

HAS WOMEN'S MOVEMENT MADE YOUR LIFE BETTER? (Among women)

Now
Yes
69%
No
27%

1999
Yes
48%
No
40%

1997
Yes
43%
No
48%

1983*
Yes
25%
No
65%

*New York Times Poll

There are age differences on this question. While most women under age 65 credit the women's movement with making their lives better, fewer than half of women age 65 and older say their lives were made better by the movement. These older women may have been less affected by it.

In 1983, women under 45 were twice as likely as older women to have said the women's movement made their lives better. Today, many of those women would fall into the 45-64 age group, of which 7 in 10 say the women's movement has improved their lives.

In this poll, the women's movement is seen as more likely to have helped younger women, those who have at least some college education and women who work full time.

SAY WOMEN'S MOVEMENT HAS MADE THEIR LIVES BETTER(Among women)

Total
69%

Age
18-35
75%
36-44
80%
45-64
70%
65+
47%

Education
H.S. or less
59%
Some college
76%
College grad+
78%

Income
62%
$30-$50K
68%
Over $50K
77%

Full-time working women
77%

Part-time/Non-working women
62%

When asked specifically what has made their life better, women cite better jobs (17 percent), equality and more rights (16 percent), and more choices generally (14 percent). Equal pay and the right to vote are also mentioned by 12 percent of women each.

WHAT HAS MADE YOUR LIFE BETTER? (Among women who say women's movement has made their life better)

Better jobs
17%
Equality/more rights
16%
More choices
14%
Better/equal pay
12%
Right to vote
12%

Even though many women value the achievements the women's movement has made, most are reluctant to call themselves a feminist outright. Just a quarter of women say they consider themselves a feminist; 70 percent do not. These numbers have changed little over the years.

Women who call themselves feminists outright are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans by 53 percent to 17 percent. Four in 10 of self-identified feminists say they are moderate, but almost as many say they are liberal. Fifty-two percent are married and 62 percent are currently employed, including half who work full time.

DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF TO BE A FEMINIST, OR NOT?(Among Women)

Now
Yes
24%
No
70%

1999
Yes
20%
No
74%

1997
Yes
26%
No
69%

1992*
Yes
21%
No
63%

*Time/CNN Poll

The low numbers of self-described feminists may have more to do with the feminist label than with views on goals of the women's movement. Even though most women (64 percent) consider the word "feminist" a neutral term, they are a bit more likely to think of it as an insult, rather than a compliment. However, fewer women consider the term an insult today than did so in 1999.

CALLING SOMEONE A FEMINIST IS ...(Among Women)

Now
A compliment
12%
An insult
17%
Neutral
64%

1999
A compliment
9%
An insult
22%
Neutral
58%

When a dictionary definition of the word feminist is included in the poll question most women then say they consider themselves a feminist. When a feminist is described as "someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes," 65 percent of women identify themselves as a feminist.

A FEMINIST IS SOMEONE WHO BELIEVES IN SOCIAL, POLITICAL, AND ECONOMIC EQUALITY OF THE SEXES.
DO YOU THINK OF YOURSELF AS A FEMINIST OR NOT?(Among women)


Yes
65%
No
32%

When a definition of a feminist is provided, majorities of women in nearly all demographic groups say they are a feminist.

Women are divided, however, on whether there is still a need for a strong women's movement. Today, 48 percent say a strong women's movement is still needed, while 45 percent say that most of the goals of the women's movement have been met. These views differ from those a decade ago. According to a Time/CNN Poll conducted in 1992, 57 percent of women said a strong women's movement was needed.

IS THERE STILL A NEED FOR A STRONG WOMEN'S MOVEMENT?(Among Women)

Now
Yes
48%
No
45%

1992*
Yes
57%
No
35%

*Time/CNN Poll

Fifty-one percent of working women think there is still a need for a strong women's movement, compared to 39 percent of women who are currently not working who think so.

PROMINENT WOMEN

Gloria Steinem, one of the more prominent figures from the women's movement, is unknown to most Americans, including most women. Seventy-eight percent of women are undecided or do not know enough about Steinem to offer an opinion of her. Among those with an opinion, 10 percent view her favorably, while 10 percent view her unfavorably. As expected, younger women are less likely to offer an opinion of Steinem than older women. Women age 36 to 64 who are able to offer an opinion of Steinem are inclined to hold a favorable view of her.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is known to most Americans. And while men are split in their opinions of her, many women view her favorably. Four in ten women have a favorable opinion of Clinton, while 29 percent have an unfavorable one. Women of all age groups view Clinton more positively, than negatively.

Among all Americans, 36 percent have a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton, and 31 percent view her favorably. Last summer the public was more closely divided in their views of Clinton.

In 2003, as her book Living History was being published, more Americans had an unfavorable opinion of her than a favorable one. Forty-one percent were undecided or didn't know enough about her. In that poll, most women viewed Hillary Clinton favorably, while a plurality of men had an unfavorable view of her.

MEN VS. WOMEN

As may be expected, fewer men than women call themselves a feminist outright. In addition, 24 percent of men say the term feminist is an insult, compared to 17 percent of women who say this. When the definition of a feminist is provided, however, 58 percent of men say they are a feminist.

Men are divided in their views on whether the women's movement has made THEIR lives better. Forty-seven percent say the movement has improved their lives, while 46 percent say it has not. The number of men who say the women's movement has made their lives better is higher now than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1983, just 28 percent of men said the women's movement improved their lives and 30% said so in 1999.

Today, men are less likely than women to say a strong women's movement is still needed. Thirty-four percent think a movement is still needed, while six in 10 say the goals of the women's movement have already been met. Women are divided on this question.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES?

Men

Feminist outright
Yes
14%
No
79%

Women
Yes
24%
No
70%

Men

The term feminist is …
Compliment
10%
Insult
24%
Neutral
59%

Women

The term feminist is …
Compliment
12%
Insult
17%
Neutral
64%

Men

Feminist (definition provided)
Yes
58%
No
39%

Women

Feminist (definition provided)
Yes
65%
No
32%

Men

Women's movement has made your life …
Better
47%
Worse
46%
Same
7%

Women

Women's movement has made your life …
Better
69%
Worse
27%
Same
5%

Men

Strong women's movement still needed
Yes
34%
No
60%

Women

Strong women's movement still needed
Yes
48%
No
45%

WOMEN IN COMBAT

Sixty-two percent of Americans favor allowing women who serve in the military to participate in combat, while 34 percent oppose it. These views have not changed over the years as polls conducted in the early 1990s show a similar level of support for women in combat.

DO YOU FAVOR OR OPPOSE ALLOWING WOMEN TO PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT?(All Americans)

Favor
62%
Oppose
34%

While men and women are equally as likely to favor women serving in combat, there are some differences when it comes to age. Younger Americans support the notion of women participating in combat, but older Americans are somewhat divided on the issue. Forty-nine percent of those age 65 and over oppose allowing women to serve in combat, and 44 percent favor it.

Politically, similar majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor allowing women in the military to participate in combat.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1150 adults, interviewed by telephone May 20-24, 2005. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on all adults. Error for the sample of women is plus or minus four points.
  • Sean Alfano

Comments