Response Options and Feminism

How many women consider themselves to be a feminist?

Feminist self-identification was the subject of a recent BBC article by Dr Christina Scharff (King’s College London).

On social media, Kate Andrews (Institute for Economic Affairs) said that 90% of British women don’t consider themselves to be feminists. In response, the barrister Jessica Simor QC said that figure was actually 66%.

Which is correct: do one in ten or one in three British women consider themselves to be feminist?

10% or 34%?

When a Conservative leadership candidate was questioned about feminism, Kate Andrews (Institute for Economic Affairs) wrote that:

The barrister Jessica Simor QC replied that the figure was actually 66%, citing Dr Scharff’s BBC article.

Ms Andrews then stated:

The contention is whether 10% or 34% of British women regard themselves as feminists.

The Survation internet panel poll of women was conducted in December 2015 on behalf of the Fawcett Society (not “2019 data”). This is being compared against the female sub-sample from a YouGov internet panel poll conducted in February 2018. Nor is there a need to be “exact” here: surveys provide estimates.

However, the main difference is not timing, but the response options.

In the Survation poll, five substantive options are given (“which of the following statements best describes your view?”):

9% in the sample clicked “I describe myself as a feminist” — roughly 1 in 10. The most popular option was “I believe in equality for women and men but I don’t describe myself as a feminist” (65%). 10% clicked “none of the above”.

Image for post
Image for post
The Fawcett Society commissioned this survey on gender issues. (Source: Survation/Fawcett Society)

A Binary Choice

The YouGov question offers two attitudinal options (“do you consider yourself to be a feminist?”), with the option to be unsure:

In the female sub-sample, 34% clicked ‘Yes, I do’. Sub-samples are not ‘internally weighted’, and we should somewhat cautious about the central estimate. (The BBC article compares to another YouGov poll in October 2013, with the more direct variant: “Are you a feminist?”. This wording difference is not noted in the article.)

Image for post
Image for post
The binary question had a lower reading than their September 2015 poll. (Source: YouGov)

When a binary choice offered, those self-describing as ‘feminist’ increases dramatically. This is plausibly due to the limited options and acquiescence bias. In Survation’s question, the response options allowed women to express a belief in gender equality, whilst rejecting the term ‘feminist’.

In High Definition

In February 2018, YouGov split their samples and asked a binary question of feminist self-identification in three different ways: direct self-reporting, providing a definition plus asking if they were a feminist, and agreement with a definition.

The definition given was:

Across seven European countries, there was a rise in self-reporting when a definition is given, and agreement with that definition is even higher.

Image for post
Image for post

As Tanya Abraham of YouGov notes, there appears to be a serious image problem with the word ‘feminism’ — whilst people generally subscribe to gender equality.

Both figures used by Kate Andrews and Jessica Simor QC are from polls conducted by British Polling Council members.

The response options differed — with Survation’s five options giving a lower estimate than YouGov’s binary choice. When citing survey data, people need to be clear on when the survey was conducted, what the question was, and what options people were offered.

Different response options can lead to different estimates.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store