Ideas about sex roles may affect wages more than economics, society

Published: September 22 2008

Category:Business, Family, Gender, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Men’s and women’s attitudes about their proper place at work and home may matter as much as economic forces when it comes to how much money they make, a new study finds.

Women with traditional ideas about sex roles earn less than their female counterparts with more egalitarian views; in contrast, men with traditional beliefs make more than those who are less conventional minded, said , a professor. His study appears in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology published by the .

Among married couples, the biggest wage disparity occurs among those with a more traditional outlook. A 25 percent wage gap exists among couples who think husbands should be the family’s primary breadwinner and wives should manage the home, compared with about a 10 percent gap in marriages where more progressive attitudes prevail, Judge said.

“Our children need to be taught that there is no such thing as ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work,’” he said. “If one is concerned about economic inequality between men and women, then we should realize that traditional attitudes about gender roles are the enemy of wage parity.”

The study controlled for job complexity, number of hours worked, initial earnings, industry employed and education level. It used a nationally representative sample of men and women, who were interviewed four times between 1979 and 2005.

Judge worked with Beth Livingston, a UF management graduate student, in analyzing the data, which in the beginning involved a total of 12,686 participants, ages 14 to 22, with a 60 percent retention rate over the course of the study.

Among married couples with traditional ideas about gender roles, the husband is predicted to have an annual earnings advantage eight times greater than that within marriages where the partners have less orthodox views, Judge said.

Traditional-minded men make an average of about $8,500 a year more than their male counterparts with a less-conventional orientation; however, their wives earn an average of about $1,500 less than women with egalitarian beliefs, he said.

Perhaps women with a traditional outlook are more accepting of lower earnings, making it easier for employers to pay them less, Judge said.

“It’s likely that traditional women approach the work role in such a fashion that they demand less, settle for less, negotiate less aggressively and otherwise fail to put their economic interests first, at least to the same degree as traditional men,” he said.

Because the gap in earnings was found to be strongest in jobs of low complexity, which employ large numbers of traditional men, these women’s husbands, who also work in male-dominated environments, stand to benefit salary-wise, he said.

“Some low complexity, ‘blue collar’ jobs may become hyper-masculinized and reward those who are the most traditional in terms of gender roles,” Judge said. “There may be a ‘double-whammy’ both in terms of greater employer prejudice and greater actions on the part of employees to conform to traditional roles.”

This belief that work is more important to men and they should be paid more becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, he said.

Overall, the study found a much more rapid change over time in gender role attitudes of men, who started out as considerably more traditional in 1979, Judge said. While other studies show that the gender pay gap has narrowed, it has not disappeared; today’s women earn on average about 80 percent of what men do, he said.

Although laws such as the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbid explicit discrimination based on gender, have reduced discrimination’s effects, much of the continuing wage gap is due to the individual employee rather than employer, he said.

“Our findings show that the gender wage gap is not solely a reflection of economic or sociological forces; psychology also plays a role,” Judge said. “Parents should realize that if they want their daughters to be economically self-sufficient and successful, teaching them traditional gender role attitudes hinders that goal.”

Children raised by educated parents and who are educated themselves, as well as those growing up in urban areas, are less likely to have traditional ideas about gender, he said.

Gender role attitudes were determined by asking study participants how strongly they agreed or disagreed with such statements as “a woman’s place is in the home, not the office or shop;” “employment of wives leads to more juvenile delinquency;” and “it is much better if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.”


Cathy Keen,, 352-392-0186
Timothy Judge,, 352-392-0163,

Category:Business, Family, Gender, Research