The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Grappling With the Complexities of Beliefs About Women and Abortion: Does Ambivalent Sexism Relate to Abortion Attitudes?

Friday, January 17, 2014: 8:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Stephanie Begun, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
N. Eugene Walls, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background: Myriad viewpoints exist across the spectrum of attitudes toward both women as well as regarding abortion. Ambivalent sexism theory provides a framework for evaluating the complex nuances of sexism, which is comprised of old-fashioned, or hostile forms of sexism, and also modern, benevolent forms. Although previous research has examined relationships between ambivalent sexism and many other social issues, few studies have been conducted regarding potential relationships between ambivalent sexism and abortion attitudes. This study aims to address the research questions: 1) do higher endorsements of sexist beliefs relate to higher levels of anti-choice attitudes, 2) are there differences between how hostile and benevolent forms of sexism are associated with abortion attitudes, and 3) how do relationships between sexism and abortion attitudes shift as individuals’ sociodemographic identities are also considered?

Methods: This secondary data analysis examines data collected from a web-based survey of undergraduate students (N = 626) from six U.S. colleges and universities. Participants answered both demographic and attitudinal questions, which among other measures included the 22-item Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI) and five questions on abortion attitudes. Responses to ASI and abortion questions were recoded and factored accordingly, and three OLS multivariate models were run with sociodemographic variables included in all models as control variables. The first model examined the full ASI scale as a predictor of anti-choice attitudes, followed by two OLS regression models that examined relationships between hostile and benevolent sexism individually with anti-choice attitudes.

Results: The first model found that increases toward higher levels of sexism were predictive of increases in anti-choice attitudes (p < .001), with 24.4% of the variability in anti-choice attitudes explained by the overall model. The second model examined the relationship between hostile sexism and anti-choice attitudes, and found that increases in hostile sexism were associated with increases in anti-choice attitudes (p = .002), with 24.1% of the variability in anti-choice attitudes explained. The final model evaluated benevolent sexism’s relationship to anti-choice attitudes, and found that increases in benevolent sexism were additionally associated with increases in anti-choice attitudes (p = .004), with 24.0% of the variability in anti-choice attitudes explained. Demographic control variables functioned across each of the models in ways that were expected based on previous literature on abortion attitudes.

Conclusions: Findings supported our preliminary hypothesis that as individuals increasingly endorse sexist ideals, they tend to also increasingly endorse anti-choice attitudes. Since we found statistically significant relationships between both hostile and benevolent sexism subdomains and anti-choice attitudes, this suggests that sexism, regardless of whether it is justified through old-fashioned, hostile rhetoric or through a “kinder, more gentler,” benevolent rhetoric, continues to play a significant role in the opposition to abortion rights for women. Implications may extend beyond a greater understanding of how sexism and abortion attitudes are typically associated. Similar attitudinal complexities may also be seen as issues pertaining to women and/or abortion appear in social work practice and education settings. Findings may thus suggest more nuanced ways by which such dynamics may be further evaluated through social work research.