There is a common assumption that women are more likely to be vegetarian or vegan, but is that really true?
Let’s take a look at the data…
A 2010 random Gallup poll of 1029 adults found that American men are more tolerant of animal abuse and exploitation than women, in general. Take a look:
“The sharpest differences between men and women on these issues are not found on abortion or other reproductive matters, but on three issues that involve the ethical treatment of animals. Majorities of men, but less than half of women, consider the use of animal fur for clothing, and medical testing on animals to be morally acceptable. Also, there is a 24-point gap between men and women in their belief that cloning animals is acceptable.”
(emphasis added, source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/137357/four-moral-issues-sharply-divide-americans.aspx )
If that’s the case then it seems that women might be more likely to be veg*n than men. But take a look at this study done by Harris Interactive of 1010 American adults:
“Seventeen percent of Americans stated they ‘don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry at many of my meals (but less than half the time),’ and 16 percent don’t eat these foods at more than half of their meals (but not all the time). Thus, one-third (33 percent) of the country is eating vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time. That’s in addition to vegetarians!
Approximately 5 percent of the country say that they never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry, which makes them vegetarian. Approximately half of these vegetarians are also vegan; that is, they also don’t eat dairy or eggs. Note that we had respondents select ‘I never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry’ or ‘I never eat meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs.’ Because we use the word ‘never’ and give the definition rather than having respondents self-define, our numbers may be lower than other polls. We also did not ask about honey, which would most likely give a lower figure for the number of vegans.
There is a misconception that more women than men are vegetarian, but it appears that the split may be pretty even. A larger difference shows up when looking at who is eating vegetarian meals one day per week or at many meals.”
(emphasis added, study link is here: http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2011issue4/vj2011issue4poll.php )
So, it’s about even. There are likely equal numbers of male vegans as there are female vegans with no significant gender difference. And that seems to be true from my personal experience. I know lots of vegetarians and vegans and the gender split is about equal.
Vegans… read on…
However, from the standpoint of veg activism we might want to focus more on one gender than the other. The data from the Harris study suggests that nonvegetarian women eat more vegetarian meals than nonvegetarian men OR that nonvegetarian women think they eat more vegetarian meals than nonvegetarian men, and so these women may be a good audience for a vegan message.
Does that mean vegan adocates ought to spend more time encouraging women to go veg because they represent the “lower-hanging fruit” and will increase our total numbers of veg*ns more quickly? Or does that mean advocates should work harder at convincing men to choose plant-based diets because they face the most obstacles and need our support more?
There’s a group called the Humane Research Council that collects data about animal issues and makes suggestions for activists so that we can be most effective. Their website is here: http://www.humaneresearch.org/ A study done by the Council in 2007 (3200 adults) to determine the most effective strategies to reduce farmed animal suffering and death found that “Females are the majority of all key meat reduction segments“. That study is online at http://www.humanespot.org/system/files/HRC_Veg_Study_2007.pdf (You will need a HRC account in order to access the data yourself).
But that’s not the end of the story. HRC actually suggests tailoring the veg message depending on the audience. They do not suggest reaching out only to women, rather they suggest that some reasons for veg*nism (animal welfare, health, or the environment) are more compelling to certain segments of the population than other reasons. So we’re really back to square one: It’s best to take an individualized approach to animal advocacy depending on the specific situation.