WOMEN are less likely to support independence than men because they are more uncertain about the consequences of Scotland leaving the UK, according to a new expert analysis.
The paper, published today, found women who take a view on the issues have broadly similar expectations to men about an independent country's prospects.
However, significantly more women than men are unsure what independence will mean.
Paper author Rachel Ormston, research director of the ScotCen social research institute and co-director of the authoritative Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSAS), says women have been stereotyped as "being more feartie" than men about a Yes vote. She suggests their stance is an understandable reaction to the debate.
The paper, entitled Mind The Gap, is part of a wider ScotCen study of the referendum campaign.
Based on interviews with 1,339 Scots in May and July, the study found support for independence up from 36 per cent to 39 per cent, once don't knows are excluded, in the past year. But the survey also found growing concern over the consequences of independence, including a big rise in those who fear it will damage the economy.
According to the latest SSAS figures, 31 per cent of women intend to vote Yes compared with 43 per cent of men, after the don't knows have been excluded.
Ms Ormston cites survey figures showing 23 per cent of women believe the economy would be better under independence, compared with 28 per cent of men.
The same number - 44 per cent - of men and women believed the economy would fare worse.
The biggest gender difference was in the don't knows, with 19 per cent of women unsure compared with 10 per cent of men.
Significantly, more women than men were unsure about other questions, including whether independence would close the gap between rich and poor.
Ms Ormston writes: "While the relationship between gender, uncertainty and voting intentions could be stereotyped as women being more risk-averse or 'feartie' than men, an alternative reading is that uncertainty is an understandable reaction to an inherently complex debate in which opposing claims are frequently stated as fact by the two sides.
"In the final weeks of the campaign, capturing women's votes remains a key challenge, particularly for the Yes campaign. However, the No campaign should not assume it will automatically benefit from women's lower level of support for a Yes vote, as nearly a third of women remain undecided."
The survey put support for Yes on 39 per cent, excluding undecideds, and No on 61 per cent. A year ago, the survey found 36 per cent support for Yes and 64 per cent for No.
The number believing a Yes vote would damage the economy rose from 34 per cent to 44 per cent, while 30 per cent felt the gap between rich and poor would widen under independence, up from 25 per cent last year.
Professor John Curtice, Co-Director of the SSAS, said: "Support for independence has only increased because those who are convinced it would be beneficial for Scotland are more willing to put their cross in the Yes box." But he said there are still insufficient voters of that view to deliver a majority for independence.
A Yes Scotland spokesman said: "It is encouraging to see support for an independent Scotland reach its highest level since 2005 when the different options are presented in this survey, but of course we have work to do."
Margaret Curran, Labour's Shadow Scots Secretary, said: "The First Minister was more concerned with talking about aliens and pandas during his TV debate with Alistair Darling … but this survey shows that the key issue for families in Scotland is the economy."