Marijuana legalization – a rare issue where women are more conservative than men

Surveys show that on issue after issue, women are more liberal than men, save for one: Men are more likely than women to support the legalization of marijuana.

Americans are becoming more supportive of marijuana legalization each year but the gender gap remains a constant: While 68 percent of men now support marijuana legalization, only 56 percent of women do.

What’s behind this gender gap?

We suspected mothers might be a key driver. In our book “The Politics of Parenthood,” we were able to show that mothers support policies that help children, whether it’s subsidized health care or public assistance for needy kids. So we naturally assumed that mothers – out of concern for children’s health – were driving the gender divide on the issue.

We were wrong.

Parenthood is political

Becoming a parent and raising a child is a profound life-altering experience. It changes how you spend your time, the way you think about your finances, whom you socialize with, and what you worry about.

But until recently, political scientists had ignored the ways being a parent might shape political attitudes.

In previous research, we drew from a range of national data sets to show that parenthood is, indeed, political. We showed that parents have distinct views on a range of policies, from government spending on education and child care, to the role the government should play in helping others.

Dads today are more likely to take on child care duties than in the past. But we found that parenthood remains a highly gendered experience. Mothers still spend more time parenting than men. Mothers also engage in more of the day-to-day work of parenting such as scheduling play dates and making doctor appointments.

Given the greater amount of time women spend caring for and worrying about their children, it’s perhaps not surprising that women’s political views are more affected than men’s by the experience of being a parent.

Across time and across demographic groups, motherhood consistently pushes women to embrace more liberal views on the role of government, which they see as a source of support for their kids.

Testing the motherhood hypothesis

All of this previous research fortified our belief that motherhood would be a major driver behind the gender gap on marijuana legalization. After all, so many of the anti-drug messages in the media focus on the dangers drugs hold for children.

It makes sense that mothers – worried about the safety of their children – might not want a mind altering drug to become freely available. Some earlier research even hinted that this might be the case.