Report

Men or Women: Who's the Better Leader?

  • August 25, 2008

Americans believe women have the right stuff to be political leaders. When it comes to honesty, intelligence and a handful of other character traits they value highly in leaders, the public rates women superior to men, according to a new nationwide Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends survey.

Nevertheless, a mere 6% of respondents in this survey of 2,250 adults say that, overall, women make better political leaders than men. About one-in-five (21%) say men make the better leaders, while the vast majority -- 69% -- say men and women make equally good leaders.

The paradox embedded in these survey findings is part of a wider paradox in modern society on the subject of gender and leadership. In an era when women have made sweeping strides in educational attainment and workforce participation, relatively few have made the journey all the way to the highest levels of political or corporate leadership.

Why not? In the survey, the public cites gender discrimination, resistance to change, and a self-serving "old boys club" as reasons for the relative scarcity of women at the top. In somewhat smaller numbers, respondents also say that women's family responsibilities and their shortage of experience hold them back from the upper ranks of politics and business.

What the public does not say is that women inherently lack what it takes to be leaders. To the contrary, on seven of eight leadership traits measured in this survey, the public rates women either better than or equal to men.

Read the full report Men or Women: Who's the Better Leader? on the Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends Web site.