Masculinity and Environmental Engagement

Project: Research project

Project Details


The sustainability of the earth and its living systems are being challenged by the impacts of human consumption. Past research indicates that women report being more concerned than men about environmental problems. Upon closer examination, however, the gender differences are nuanced and complex. For instance, behaviors that minimize the impact of human consumption on the environment tend to be stereotypically associated with either men (e.g., installing low-flow aerators in faucets) or women (e.g., decorating rooms with light colors that reflect daylight). In addition, messages designed to inspire pro-environmental actions do so via the arousal of emotions that may be stereotypically associated with either men (e.g., anger) or women (e.g., worry). The lab experiments and representative survey studies contained in this proposal examine whether the gendered nature of environmentally relevant behaviors and emotions affect men and women's environmental attitudes and behaviors. More specifically, the PIs propose that gender matching, or the tendency for people to prefer behaviors and emotions that match their respective gender roles, can help explain gender differences in environmental engagement.

Compared to femininity, however, masculinity is more restrictive, must be continual asserted, and is readily susceptible to threats when engaging in gender mismatched behaviors. These characteristics of masculinity could make gender matching more important for men than women, especially among men for whom being masculine is more important. This could often result in men's greater resistance to pro-environmental behaviors and emotions. Finally, when masculinity is threatened, men respond with efforts to restore their masculinity which could include competitive behaviors and risk taking that could harm the environment.

Based on this analysis, the PIs propose to test three novel theoretical propositions that specify linkages between masculinity and environmental engagement. First, because masculinity is a cherished social identity for men, the tendency to support pro-environmental behaviors that are gender consistent (e.g., organic solutions for women, technological solutions for men) is stronger for men than women. Second, men who have internalized cultural ideals of masculinity will be particularly likely to resist gender mismatched environmental engagement. Third, when masculinity is threatened, men will be more willing to engage in environmentally damaging and risky behaviors because these behaviors are consistent with masculine role norms.

This research provides a needed theoretical framework to explain cultural influences on individual environmentally relevant behaviors. At an applied level, the proposed studies address an inherently important social problem (sustainability). This research will also involve women and minority students as undergraduate and graduate student research assistants. Students will be trained in research methods, critical thinking and data analyses and will be mentored in making their presentation of scientific findings from this research. Our findings will be published in scientific journals and be useful for businesses and government agencies who are attempting to engage the public in environmentally responsible behavior.

Effective start/end date6/1/125/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $300,194.00


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