Women’s uncertainty about their economic opportunities after the overturning of Roe v. Wade

Kaitlen CassellResearch Director
April 28, 2023, 5:46 PM GMT+0

While abortion has long been a staple in political discourse, it has become particularly salient in light of the Supreme Court’s landmark 2022 decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion that had been in place since the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The YouGov Social Change Monitor has been measuring attitudes towards abortion since the May 2022 leak of a draft of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs. Data from May 2022 to February 2023 show that U.S. adults’ attitudes towards abortion have remained largely stable over time, with an average of 65% of American adults believing that the government should not restrict women’s access to abortion. Preferences vary drastically by political party: 83% of Democrats say the government should not restrict abortion access, compared to 66% of Independents and just 39% of Republicans. While a distinctively partisan issue, abortion access has a disproportionate impact on women. Among U.S. adults, women are more likely than men to express pro-choice views: 69% of women say that the government should not restrict women’s access to abortion, compared to 61% of men.

The Social Change Monitor also asks about the potential economic effects of abortion. About half (52%) of American adults believe that women will have fewer economic opportunities if abortion is restricted. Party identification is again closely linked to how Americans answer this question: Three-quarters (75%) of Democrats say that women will have fewer economic opportunities if abortion is restricted, compared to 49% of Independents and just 26% of Republicans. Gender also is tied to responses to this question: Women are more likely than men to express concern about women’s economic opportunities if abortion is restricted (57% vs. 47%).

Unlike attitudes about the government’s role in regulating abortions, Americans’ attitudes about the economic implications of abortion have changed in response to major events in the ongoing debate over the past year. Three notable 2022 events stand out in the data: the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June, Senator Lindsey Graham's September proposal of legislation banning abortions after 15 weeks nationwide, and November's midterm elections. The first two events prompted peaks in agreement that women will have fewer economic opportunities if abortion is restricted: about 55% of U.S. adults said so. These peaks are followed by a drop of 8 percentage points following the midterm elections, when 47% of the population said that women will have fewer economic opportunities with abortion restrictions rolling into place post-decision.

Women’s attitudes about the economic implications of abortion are especially responsive to policy changes compared to men, a trend that holds across age groups. The trendline for women reveals a more pronounced spike following the Supreme Court decision on Dobbs compared to all U.S. adults as a whole – a 10-percentage-point increase from before the decision to after — while men's attitudes remained largely unchanged. The difference between genders following this event is noteworthy: 63% of women say that women will have fewer economic opportunities compared to 47% of men (a 16-percentage-point difference, compared to the average difference across all waves of 10 percentage points). Comparing gender differences within generations, the data reveal a similar pattern of women expressing greater concern than men in response to pivotal moments in the abortion debate: It's true across generations, with more pronounced reactions from Gen Z and Millennial women.

Men's and women’s evaluations of women’s economic opportunities are largely in sync in the wake of Graham’s proposed legislation, the only one of the three events where changes in attitudes among genders are comparable. The shares of both men and women agreeing that women will have fewer economic opportunities rose after the legislation was proposed: among women, to 59% from 54% and among men, to 51% from 48%.

Following the midterm election, women’s attitudes again experience a greater change wave-over-wave: Women experienced a 10-percentage-point decrease (from 59% to 49%) from just after Graham’s legislation to after the midterms, compared to a 5-percentage-point decrease for men (from 51% to 46%). Instead, men appear to experience a delayed reaction to the midterm results, with the low point among men (42%) coming about two weeks after the low point among women.

The delay in shifts among men’s attitudes is also present following the midterms: While women’s attitudes towards abortion’s economic implications trend sharply downwards in the wake of the election and then immediately rise again to pre-election levels, men do not show the same pattern until two weeks later.

Taken together, these data highlight two notable trends. First, women are more concerned than men about women having fewer economic opportunities due to abortion restrictions, which likely reflects the disproportionate burden abortion restrictions place on women. Second, while men’s attitudes also change in response to major events, women’s attitudes change more dramatically.

As the country grapples with the fallout from overturning Roe v. Wade, Americans appear poised to continue reacting to the uncertainty surrounding abortion policy, though not necessarily in the same way. In the Social Change Monitor’s most recent interviews about abortion in mid-February, men and women are trending in opposite directions, with women expressing more concern and men less concern — a 14-percentage-point divergence between genders. Future waves of the Social Change Monitor will shed light on whether growing macroeconomic uncertainty will affect attitudes about women’s economic opportunities, particularly among those most affected by unequal access to abortion health care.

Methodology: The YouGov Social Change Monitor is a biweekly survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adults interviewed online, including bi-weekly interviews about abortion attitudes from early May 2022 to late November 2022 (14 consecutive waves), and then quarterly interviews thereafter beginning in February 2023 (2 waves to date). A total of 25,672 interviews were conducted on abortion attitudes between May 2022 and February 2023. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2020 Presidential vote choice. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 0.5% for the entire sample.

Image: Getty (Hinterhaus Productions)

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