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Gender and Race in Beliefs about Outdoor Air Pollution

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Abstract

Universal need for, or reactions to, risk communications should not be assumed; potential differences across demographic groups in environmental risk beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors could affect risk levels or opportunities for risk reduction. This article reports relevant findings from a survey experiment involving 1,100 potential jurors in Philadelphia concerning public responses to outdoor air pollution and air quality information. Flynn et al. (1994) and Finucane et al. (2000) found significant differences in risk ratings for multiple hazards, and in generic risk beliefs, between white men (or a subset) and all others (white women, nonwhite men, and nonwhite women). This study examined whether white men had significantly different responses to air pollution and air pollution information. An opportunity sample of volunteers from those awaiting potential jury duty in city courts (matching census estimates for white versus nonwhite proportions, but more female than the city's adult population and more likely to have children) filled out questionnaires distributed quasi-randomly. On most measures there were no statistically significant differences among white men (N = 192), white women (N = 269), nonwhite men (N = 165), and nonwhite women (N = 272). Nonwhites overall (particularly women) reported more concern about and sensitivity to air pollution than whites, and were more concerned by (even overly sensitive to) air pollution information provided as part of the experiment. Nonwhites also were more likely (within-gender comparisons) to report being active outdoors for at least four hours a day, a measure of potential exposure to air pollution, and to report intentions to reduce such outdoor activity after reading air pollution information. Differences between men and women were less frequent than between whites and nonwhites; the most distinctive group was nonwhite women, followed by white men. Flynn et al. (1994) and Finucane et al. (2000) found a far larger proportion of significant differences, with white men as most distinctive, probably due to use of different measures, study design, and population samples. However, all three studies broadly confirm the existence of gender and race interactions in risk beliefs and attitudes (particularly for white men and nonwhite women) that deserve more attention from researchers.

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