SSRIC Teaching Resources Depository
California Opinions on Women's Issues -- 1985-1995
Elizabeth N. Nelson and Edward E. Nelson, California State University, Fresno

Chapter 2
Public Opinion on Women's Issues

© The Authors, 1998; Last Modified 15 August 1998
Before the 1970s, there was little public opinion polling about women's roles. There were a few surveys of women's employment during the Second World War. The Women's Bureau surveys of working women indicated that three-quarters wanted to remain working after the war (Women's Bureau 1946). In 1938, 75% of a survey of registered voters disapproved of a married woman earning money if she had a husband capable of supporting her. National surveys since 1972 have shown a steady decline in this disapproval--34% in 1972, 24% in 1982 (Mayer 1992:393), and 19% in 1994 (Davis and Smith 1994: 200). Marriage decreased in importance as an ideal for American women. In 1957, 80% of a national survey had considered a woman who remained unmarried to be sick, neurotic, or immoral, whereas only 25% held such negative opinions in 1978 (Veroff, et al. 1981). Willingness to vote for a woman as president increased steadily from 33% in 1937, to 50% in 1949, 57% in 1959, 53% in 1969, 66% in 1971, 76% in 1978, 80% in 1983 (Mayer 1992:394) and 92% in 1994 (Davis and Smith 1994: 200).

A strong interest in public opinion on women's issues emerged with the women's movement of the 1970s. Since then, opinion surveys have often included the question: "In general, do you favor or oppose efforts to strengthen and change women's status in society today?" In the early seventies, fewer than one-half of the Americans responded that they favored changes in women's status. In 1970, slightly more men than women favored changes in women's status, 44% compared to 40%. Support for changing women's roles continued to increase. By 1980, 64% of both women and men favored changes, and in 1990, the support had increased to 77% of the women and 74% of the men (The Roper Center 1990: 14).


Davis, James Allan and Tom W. Smith. 1994. General Social Surveys, 1972-1994. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

Mayer, William G. 1992. The Changing American Mind: How and Why American Public Opinion Changed Between 1960 and 1988. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan.

The Roper Center. 1990. The 1990 Virginia Slims Opinion Poll. Stores, Conn.: Roper Public Opinion Research Center.

Women's Bureau. 1946. "Women Workers in Ten War Production Areas and Their Postwar Employment Plans." Reprinted pp. 310-313 in Rosalyn Baxandall, Linda Gordon, and Susan Reverby (eds.). American Working Women. New York: Vintage.

Veroff, Joseph, Elizabeth Douvan, and Richard A. Kulka. 1981. The Inner American: A Self-Portrait from 1957 to 1976. New York: Basic Books.

Yankelovich, Daniel. 1981. New Roles: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. New York: Random House.

Previous Chapter
Module Table of Contents
Next Chapter