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

Sociologists Find Stronger Sense of "Linked Fate" Among Them

Five women hold hands while facing away from the camera. Two of the women raise their hands to form peace signs.

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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, more politically liberal, and more likely to vote Democrat than married women.

Key Takeaways:

  • Unmarried women report having a higher level of “linked fate” than unmarried women: they see what happens to other women as relevant to their own lives.
  • Sociologists have suggested that this may explain why unmarried women are more likely to be politically liberal than married women.
  • A report based on 2010 American National Election Study data found that linked fate does indeed help to explain the political affiliations of married and unmarried women. 

Study Overview

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 American Sociological Association (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.

Kretschmer told the 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."

Study Methods

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

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

Key Results

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 voting patterns exist among Black and Latinx voters in the U.S. 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. The researchers also found 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 would reduce a sense of linked fate. 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 for making political and social change that advances equality.

Bibliography

“Unmarried Women: Politically Cohesive, More Concerned About Women's Status Than Married Counterparts.” American Sociological Association, 22 Aug. 2015. https://www.asanet.org/press-center/press-releases/unmarried-women-politically-cohesive-more-concerned-about-womens-status-married-counterparts