It’s increasingly obvious that there is (gradual) parity in earnings between the genders. Whilst there are still gaps between earnings, the amount of money brought into the household by women has been on the up for some time. Indeed, there are a growing number of households where the woman is the primary breadwinner.
All of which is fantastic, not least, of course, from an equality point of view. This new reality is not really reflected, however, in how we still generally perceive men and women. For instance, men are still regarded as the traditional breadwinner, regardless of the age, race or even gender of the person asked.
That’s the finding of a new study looking at the (non)changing shape of perceptions around work. The paper, led by researchers at Georgetown University, suggested that gender roles and our perceptions of them are often much slower to change than the reality of the world.
“Although objective indicators, such as real wages and workforce participation, show women closing the gender gap at the societal level, our data suggests that at the individual level certain people may be slower to accept and/or seek these changes than others,” the researchers say.
Stereotypes start young
The paper reveals that the typical gender roles are ingrained in children from a very young age. So men tend to be linked with money or wealth, leading people to then automatically assume men will have higher salaries than men. These norms are then perpetuated through continual social reinforcement.
The research team developed a new measure for gauging our attitudes towards gender roles. The test measured how strongly we believe gender is a major factor in our abilities, skills and characteristics. It’s what’s known in the field as gender determinism.
“The higher someone’s score for gender determinism, the more he or she views gender as influencing how someone will or should behave, possibly making it harder for that person to accept or act upon evolving gender roles,” they say.
About the study
The team conducted a number of experiments, and the findings were remarkably consistent across each of them. They all showed that the stronger the belief in gender determinism, the stronger the desire for more ’traditional’ wage distribution between a husband and wife.
“Intra-marital wage distribution preferences are less about time availability and individual abilities than they are an indication of beliefs about work and home roles and who is best suited for each domain,” the paper says.
One experiment, for instance, saw participants complete the gender determinism test, whilst also answering a number of questions about their spouse and their earnings. They were particularly looking for their views on their partner out-earning them and how that would make them feel.
As the researchers predicted, most of the women in the group were hoping that their partners would earn more than them, but very few men did. What’s more, this trend was particularly strong amongst those who scored highly on the gender determinism test.
The link to our careers
Interestingly, the research also found that this gender determinism was not merely a theoretical thing but was found to influence the career choices of women and their subsequent earnings. For instance, if men scored high for gender determinism, they were much less likely to work from home, whereas the opposite was the case for women.
“We find that strong beliefs in the determinism of gender, in other words, that gender is immutable, have important implications for individual wage preferences and in women’s work choices,” the authors conclude. “The continuing gender wage gap at the societal level may both reflect and re-enforce an individual’s deterministic views of gender and intra-marital wage preferences.”
These findings could also have strong implications for workplace behaviour. For instance, if our boss is a strong determinist, they may punish employees who break traditional gender roles. For example, a woman trying to move into a leadership position, or indeed a man wanting to work from home to care for his children.