Some things I have read recently led me begin to wonder whether there is a general tendency for women to value equality and security more highly than freedom. As a social movement, feminism has obviously been more strongly associated with egalitarianism than with libertarianism. It might also be possible to construct an argument that the traditional roles of women in society might also make them inclined to have greater concerns for ‘sharing and caring’, and hence have a bias toward egalitarianism. The role of women in caring for children might also be expected to lead them to place high value on economic security.
However, such speculation does not shed much light on the question of whether there is a general tendency for women to value equality and security more highly than freedom.
As it happens, the World Values Survey has relevant data on the relative values placed on freedom, equality, and security for 59 countries, from surveys conducted over the period 2017 to 2022. The relevant questions were worded as follows:
- “Most people consider both freedom and equality to be important, but if you had to choose between them, which one would you consider more important?”
- “Most people consider both freedom and security to be important, but if you had to choose between them, which one would you consider more important?”
That wording leaves some ambiguity about the specific meaning that survey respondents attach to freedom, equality, and security. Nevertheless, the charts I have constructed using this data show some interesting patterns.
The chart presented at the top of this article plots the percentage of women who place higher value on freedom than on security against the percentage who place higher value on freedom than on equality. What do I observe?
- First, there seems to be a general tendency for the value that women place on freedom relative to both equality and security to be higher in the high-income liberal democracies than in other countries.
- Second, the percentages who view freedom as more important than equality are generally much higher than the percentages who view freedom as more important than security.
- Third, some of the outliers are interesting. For example, in Zimbabwe a high percentage of women say that freedom is more important than equality, but only a small percentage say freedom is more important than security. Perhaps that reflects the existence of tyrannical government and distrust of egalitarian ideology, combined with a desperate economic situation and a high incidence of crime which leads women to place high value on security.
Are women less inclined than men to place a high value on freedom? The next two charts shed some light on that. Gender comparison 1 (below) shows the percentages of females and males who view freedom to be more important than equality. The comparison suggests that women have a tendency to place a slightly higher value on equality, but the differences between women and men are small in most countries.
In most countries, the percentage of women who value freedom more highly than equality is much higher than the percentage who value freedom more highly than security.
In general, women are only slightly less inclined than men to value freedom more highly than equality. However, women are much less inclined than men to value freedom more highly than security.
The results suggest to me that women’s support of liberty may be dampened by their concerns about economic security (if they perceive a trade-off to be required). However, the results do not support the view that there is a general bias towards egalitarianism among women in the high-income liberal democracies.