What’s Behind Canadian Women’s Caution Toward Asian Investment?

Results from the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s 2015 National Opinion Poll (NOP) indicate that women are less likely than men to support investment from major Asian trading partners such as China, Japan, India, and South Korea.

For example, while 42 per cent of Canadians support Chinese investment, there is a sizeable gap in support between women and men - only 37 per cent of Canadian women support Chinese investment, compared to 47 per cent of men.

And the gap gets bigger for Canada’s other major Asian trading partners. Nearly four-fifths of all Canadians (78%) support investment from Japan; however, when the gender dimension is taken into account, our 2015 NOP found that 86 per cent of men support Japanese investment, compared to 71 per cent of women. The gap is even greater for India (men: 68%; women: 51%) and South Korea (men: 78%; women: 56%). This difference across genders holds even after controlling for factors such as age, educational level, and region. 

Why are women less supportive of investment than their male counterparts?

First, this phenomenon is not unique to Asian countries. The same hesitancy among Canadian women toward foreign investment is also found in their attitudes toward investment from countries in other regions. For instance, 73 per cent of women support investment from the United States, while the comparable figure for men is 82 per cent.

This gap has been consistent over time. APF Canada’s 2014 National Opinion Poll indicated that the gender gap in support for investment from state-owned enterprises also exists for countries such as the United Kingdom (men: 54%; women: 34%),  Australia (men: 51%; women: 40%), and Brazil (men: 25%; women: 13%).

Second, men’s support for investment tends to be slightly inflated by the fact that they are more likely to express their views on investment questions. We can see this by looking at differences in the proportion of men and women who express uncertainty about their opinions on investment. When asked about support or opposition to foreign investment, a larger percentage of women tend to select the “Don’t Know” option. For the five countries included in APF Canada’s 2015 survey, the percentage of women expressing uncertainty about whether they support or oppose investment ranges from 11 to 16 per cent. The range for men is only 5 to 7 per cent. This does not mean that men are more informed about investment, but it may be the case that women are more honest about their uncertainty.

Even after taking into account these tendencies – women’s skepticism of foreign investment in general and men’s relative aversion to answering “don’t know” – men and women still exhibit different attitudes toward investment from Asia.

Results from APF Canada’s 2015 survey suggest men and women give priority to different sets of issues when assessing foreign investment. Men tend to focus on traditional economic benefits when discussing their perceptions of investment. For example, they are more likely to associate both Chinese and Japanese investment with the terms "economic growth," "job creation," and "increased trade," which indicates market-based ways of thinking.  

In contrast, women are more concerned with the social issues tied to investment. They are more likely to associate Chinese investment with the terms "environmental damage" and "poor labour standards," and Japanese investment with the terms "foreign workers" and “poor labour standards.” 

Further evidence of a gender gap in Canadian perceptions of Asian countries is found in the Angus Reid Institute’s recent report on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Canada. For instance, according to that survey, women are far more likely to think about India as "a dangerous place for women" (52%), relative to men (38%), which may help explain why they are less supportive of investment from the country.

It is clear that men and women have different opinions on the benefits and drawbacks of investment from Asian countries. Because men and women tend to be interested in contrasting facets of investment, a generalized message may not appeal to both groups. Clearly, if you want to communicate effectively and engage Canada across the gender divide, you must take into consideration the differences in the way men and women understand foreign investment.

Nathan Allen

Nathan is a Faculty Member, Political Science, at St. Francis Xavier University and a former Program Manager, Surveys and Research Methods, at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

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