Poll: Slow Progress For Women

women's movement feminism liberation
Despite the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the defamation of the term "feminist," the women's movement is extremely popular, according to a current CBS News national poll. Support for the ERA has increased dramatically since the 1970s, and roughly two-thirds of both men and women view the women's movement favorably, as the public says that gender equality remains elusive in many important areas.


  Men Women

Favorable 65% 67%

Unfavorable 18 18


While many people feel that the women's movement has made their lives better, especially in the area of jobs and salaries, general perceptions of occupational discrimination against women remain unchanged from nearly 20 years ago.

Thirty-nine percent of adults say achievements by the women's movement have made their lives better in some way, including 48 percent of women, and 30 percent of men. Women have felt some progress over the past 16 years, as many more now say they have benefitted than did in 1983. In 1983, only 25 percent of women said their lives were made better by achievements of the women's movement.


  Among Women
  Now 1997 1983

Yes 48% 43% 25%

No 40 48 65

Among those who say their lives have benefitted, the benefits cited most frequently are increased and better job opportunities for women, mentioned by 28 percent, and more equitable pay for women, mentioned by 15 percent.


When it comes to equality, however, few believe we are there yet. Sixty-three percent of adults say that it is easier for men than women to get top positions in business or government, and another 65 percent say men make better salaries than women do for comparable work. These numbers have barely budged over the past two decades. In 1982, 67 percent of the public thought top jobs were easier for men to get, and 70 percent thought men were paid higher salaries for similar jobs.

There also remains the perception of discrimination in politics. On the positive side, 91 percent of adults say they would vote for a woman for president, if she were qualified for the job, while only 6 percent would not. This support has increased steadily over the past 40 years: in a 1955 Gallup poll, 52 percent said they would support a woman for president. But while the public says they would vote for a woman president, they are currently divided over whether it could actually happen: only 48 percent of adults say that Americans are ready for a women president, while 45 percent believe we are not.


  Now 1982

Men get paid more for same job 65% 70%

Easier for men to get top jobs 63% 67%

  Would Vote For America Ready For

Yes 91% 48%

No 6 45

Additionally, while nearly half of the public says it's difficult for both men and women to juggle work and home, another 40 percent of adults say it's easier for men, while only 9 percent say it's easier for women. American adults also overwhelmingly say that women do more around the house than men do, even when both are working full-time. And this appears to be true: among adults who are both married and employed full-time, 54 percent of women say they do all or most of the housework, compared to 16 percent of men.


  Men More Women More Equal

How easy to juggle work and home 40% 9 49

Who does more around the house 3% 70 25

Few Americans see any drawbacks to the women's movement: only 15 percnet say their lives have been made worse. Sixteen percent of women and 14 percent of men say their lives are worse because of the movement. The most frequently mentioned ways in which people say they have suffered include women taking jobs away from men (11 percent), the legalization of abortion (9 percent), kids growing up without mothers around and men treating women differently (8 percent each).


Perhaps because of these lingering inequalities, nearly three-quarters of adults say they support the Equal Rights Amendment. This support is a marked increase from when the amendment was working it's way through the ratification process: in March of 1980, 51% supported the ERA. After the amendment's demise, support increased, hitting 75% in 1988 and remaining at that level to this day.


  Now 7/88 3/80

Favor 74% 75% 51%

Oppose 10 16 39


Despite the current popularity of the women's movement and the ERA, the term feminist continues to evoke negative reactions. Only 17 percent of adults consider themselves to be feminists, including 20 percent of women and 14 percent of men. Women have become less likely to call themselves feminists over the past decade: in a Time/CNN poll from 1992, 31 percent of women labeled themselves feminists.


  Among Women
  Now 1997 1992

Yes 20% 26% 31%

No 74 69 63

Findings suggest that the low numbers of self-described feminists have less to do with attitudes toward the women's movement than they do with the demonizing of the term over the past two decades. When asked whether they consider the term an insult, a compliment, or a neutral descriptor, by nearly three-to-one people say it is an insult rather than a compliment. While 56 percent call it a neutral term, 22 percent say the term is an insult and only 8 percent believe the word is a compliment.

Perhaps as a result, younger women are less likely to adopt the feminist label, although they are no less likely to support the goals of the women's movement. Only 17 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 29 call themselves feminists, compared to 22 percent of women over 45. But at the same time these young women are more likely to view the women's movement favorably.


  18-29 30-44 45-64 65

Favorable 84% 72% 63% 45%

Unfavorable 9 16 23 24

Eighty-four percent of women aged 18 to 29 years say they have favorable impressions of the women movement. Impressions of the movement are less favorable among older women: 63 percent of women between 45 and 64 view the movement favorably, and only 45 percent of women over 65 view it favorably.

Young women also feel that the women's movement has made their lives better, although at somewhat lower rates than women who were part of the movement's first generation. Forty-five percent of women ages 18-29 say the movement has made their lives better, while 59 percent of women 30-44 say their lives are better, and 49 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 64 say the same. Young women are equally as likely as other women to support the Equal Rights Amendment.

This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,558 adults interviewed by telephone December 13-16, 1999. There were 840 women. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the total sample of adults and the sample of women. For full question wording and poll findings, please contact the CBS Election and Survey Unit at 212-975-5554.

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