• Amanda B. Diekman, Department of Psychology, Miami University; Monica C. Schneider, Department of Political Science, Miami University.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Amanda B. Diekman, Department of Psychology, 90 N. Patterson, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056. E-mail: diekmaa@muohio.edu


Men and women tend to espouse different political attitudes, as widely noted by both journalists and social scientists. A deeper understanding of why and when gender gaps exist is necessary because at least some gender differences in the political realm are both pervasive and impactful. In this article, we apply a social role theory framework to understanding gender gaps in political attitudes. The core principles are that men's and women's political attitudes diverge because of diffuse gender roles (e.g., broad expectations based on sex) as well as differential specific roles (e.g., family and occupational roles). We delineate several mechanisms by which diffuse and specific roles would produce differences and similarities in political attitudes. In particular, our analysis examines (a) the influence of gender-stereotypic expectations, (b) internalized traits and goals, and (c) variations in status and resources. A range of evidence shows that the general shape of gender differences in political attitudes aligns with the social roles of men and women, particularly with regard to elements that associate agency and higher status with men and communion and lower status with women. Additionally, we consider intersections among diffuse gender roles and specific roles, following the general principle that gender gaps in political attitudes emerge especially when both diffuse gender roles and specific roles emphasize agency for men and communion for women. The consideration of a social role perspective offers opportunities not only to integrate existing data about gender gaps in political attitudes but also to highlight directions for new research.