Sept. 24, 2008 -- Sexism really does pay.
Researchers at the University of Florida have found that men who believe the place for women is in the home, make substantially more money than men who think women are as welcome in the workforce as they are at the hearth. And despite new laws against gender discrimination and various attempts to guarantee equal pay for equal work, the wage gap persists, partly because of what the researchers call "gender orientation."
In a detailed study published in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, Timothy Judge and Beth Livingston contend that the wage gap is partly the result of self-fulfilling prophesies. If a man thinks his role is to bring home the bacon every night, and the woman's role is to cook it, he is more likely to be committed to his job, and place more emphasis on his work than if he thinks men and women should be equal, both on the job and in the home. So, he works harder, and makes more money than his egalitarian co-workers.
Debatable, to be sure, but statistics compiled by Judge and Livingston suggest that, in some cases, it pays to be an alpha male. But it doesn't work the other way around. Women who hold more "traditional" views (the woman's place is in the home) earn a little less than women who believe the genders should share equally in work and family.
The researchers studied records compiled since 1979 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Interviews were conducted four times, most recently in 2004-2005. In 1979, 12,686 individuals were in the survey, ranging in age from 14 to 22. About 60 percent are still in the study, and they are now 40 to 50 years old.
Differences in income are much more than chump change. Men with "traditional gender role attitudes" averaged $8,500 more annually than those with less traditional, or more egalitarian, attitudes, according to the study.
Although the researchers believe attitudes change over time, and more men would probably be classified as egalitarian today than in decades past, the attitudes that mark a person as "traditional" still cut a wide swath through American society.
The researchers divided the participants into "traditional" and "egalitarian" groups, based on how strongly they believed these statements: (a) a woman's place is in the home, not the office or shop; (b) a wife with a family has no time for outside employment; (c) employment of wives leads to more juvenile delinquency; (d) it is much better if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family; and (e) women are much happier if they stay home and take care of children.
Many factors determine those attitudes, the researchers say. Men and women with more education tend toward egalitarian. Older people tend more toward traditional, and that's particularly true in the southern states. African Americans tend to be more egalitarian. And the attitude among men has moved more toward egalitarian than it has for women, perhaps because men had further to go, the researchers suggest.
But why should it make so much difference on payday?
Women with traditional attitudes may feel less comfortable in the workforce, and thus, tend toward fields that are dominated by women, generally with lower incomes, the study says. Men with traditional values are more likely to move into fields dominated by men, and thus, better paying. It's the old wage gap at work again, which narrowed for a while, but now appears to be widening again, the study notes.
The researchers suggest that gender attitudes run deep in our society.
"A traditional gender role orientation reinforces the social norm that a woman's place is in the home," the study says. "Thus, working women with traditional gender role orientations are likely to believe their true devotion should not be to their work, but to home."
Even if "traditional" women do work, their income is often regarded as "peripheral," because it's the husband's job that is considered more important. Thus, they are content to work for less in female-dominated fields, bringing down the income for "egalitarian" women in the same field, according to the study.
Conversely, traditional men regard themselves as breadwinners, so they work hard and expect to be rewarded accordingly, and that, the researchers conclude, "evokes behaviors that bring about that very outcome." It's a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you're the man, you'd better prove it, and one way to do that is to bring home a fat paycheck.
The researchers say the effect of gender attitudes on income has been largely overlooked. And they concede that those attitudes are changing.
"When workers' attitudes become more traditional, women's earnings relative to men suffer greatly," Judge said in releasing the study. "When attitudes become more egalitarian, the pay gap nearly disappears."
So, if this study is on target, it's not just what you do for a living that determines your income. It's also what you think about your gender.