Unmarried Women Are More Politically Liberal. Here's Why.

Sociologists Find Stronger Sense of "Linked Fate" Among Them

Cara Delevingne wears an "Ain't no Wifey" tank, illustrating the move away from this particular gender role.
Cara Delevingne models an "Ain't No Wifey" tank.

There's long been evidence that unmarried women are more politically liberal than married ones, but there's never been a good explanation for why this is the case. Now there is. Sociologist Kelsy Kretschmer of Oregon State University (OSU) found that women who are not married tend to be more concerned about the social status of women as a group, which makes them more politically liberal and likely to vote Democrat than married women.

Kretschmer told the American Sociological Association (ASA), "Over 67 percent of never married women and 66 percent of divorced women perceive what happens to other women as having some or a lot to do with what happens in their own lives. Only 56.5 percent of married women hold the same views."

Kretschmer presented the study, coauthored with OSU political scientist Christopher Stout and sociologist Leah Ruppanner of the University of Melbourne, at the August 2015 meeting of the ASA in Chicago. There, she explained that women who are not married are more likely to have a strong sense of "linked fate," which is the belief that what happens in their own lives is connected to the social status of women as a group in society. This means they are more likely to believe that gender inequality--manifested for instance in the gender pay gap, the gender wealth gap, and discrimination in education and the work place--has a significant impact on their own life chances.

To conduct the study, the researchers drew from the 2010 American National Election Study and included data from women respondents 18 years and older, who they sorted as married, never married, divorced, or widowed. Using this data, they found that a sense of linked fate has a significant impact on one's political orientation and behavior.

Using statistical analysis the researchers were able to rule out income, employment, children, and views on gender roles and discrimination as factors that explain away the gap in political preference between married and unmarried women. A sense of linked fate is in fact the decisive variable.

Kretschmer told the ASA that women with a sense of gendered linked fate, who tend to be unmarried, "think in terms of what will benefit women as a group." This means that they are likely to support candidates who promote, and political measures for, things like "wage equality, workplace protections for pregnancy and maternity leave, anti-domestic violence laws, and welfare expansion."

Kretschmer and her colleagues were motivated to do this study because the concept of linked fate has been used by other sociologists to help explain why strong racialized voting patterns exist among Blacks and Latinos in the U.S., but not among other racial groups. The concept had never been used to examine political behavior among women, which is what makes the study and its results notable and important.

The study also revealed that women who have never been married are more likely than those who are married to believe that is important to have women politicians, and that married and widowed women demonstrated the same degrees of linked fate. The researchers pointed out that widowed women are likely to still be "engaged in the marriage institution" via things like a husband's pension or social security, so they tend to think and act more like women who are married than those who are not (never been, or divorced).

While notable, it's important to recognize that this study demonstrations a correlation between marriage status and a sense of linked fate, and not causation. At this point it is impossible to say whether linked fate influences whether or not a woman will get married, or if getting married can reduce or eliminate it. It's possible that future research will shed light on this, but what we can conclude, sociologically speaking, is that cultivating a sense of linked fate among women is necessary to making political and social change that advances equality.