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The White (Male) Effect and Risk Perception: Can Equality Make a Difference?


Anna Olofsson, Risk and Crisis Research Center, Mid Sweden University, 831 25 Östersund, Sweden; tel: +466-3-16-5567;


Previous research has shown that white males have a relatively low perception of risks, known as the “white male effect” (WME). Many of the explanations of this effect refer to the privileged position of this particular demographic group in society, adducing white males’ socio-economic resources, sense of control, worldviews, etc. It can thus be argued that inequality leads women and ethnic minorities to have higher risk perception than men and the ethnic majority. Therefore, the aim of this study is to investigate the WME in a gender-equal country, Sweden, to see if the pattern is similar to previous studies from the comparably less gender-equal United States. The empirical analyses are based on a national survey (n= 1,472) on the perception of risk conducted in Sweden in the winter of 2005. The results show that in Sweden there is no significant difference between men and women in risk perception, while people with foreign backgrounds perceive risks higher than native people. The chief finding is that there is no WME in Sweden, which we concluded results from the relative equality between the sexes in the country. On the other hand, ethnicity serves as a marker of inequality and discrimination in Sweden. Consequently, ethnicity, in terms of foreign background, mediates inequality, resulting in high risk perception. Equality therefore seems to be a fruitful concept with which to examine differences in risk perception between groups in society, and we propose that the “societal inequality effect” is a more proper description than the “WME.”