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Study Ties Wage Disparities To Outlook on Gender Roles

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008

Men with egalitarian attitudes about the role of women in society earn significantly less on average than men who hold more traditional views about women's place in the world, according to a study being reported today.

It is the first time social scientists have produced evidence that large numbers of men might be victims of gender-related income disparities. The study raises the provocative possibility that a substantial part of the widely discussed gap in income between men and women who do the same work is really a gap between men with a traditional outlook and everyone else.

The differences found in the study were substantial. Men with traditional attitudes about gender roles earned $11,930 more a year than men with egalitarian views and $14,404 more than women with traditional attitudes. The comparisons were based on men and women working in the same kinds of jobs with the same levels of education and putting in the same number of hours per week.

Although men with a traditional outlook earned the most, women with a traditional outlook earned the least. The wage gap between working men and women with a traditional attitude was more than 10 times as large as the gap between men and women with egalitarian views.

If you divide workers into four groups -- men with traditional attitudes, men with egalitarian attitudes, women with traditional attitudes and women with egalitarian attitudes -- men with traditional attitudes earn far more for the same work than those in any of the other groups. There are small disparities among the three disadvantaged groups, but the bulk of the income inequality is between the first group and the rest.

"When we think of the gender wage gap, most of our focus goes to the women side of things," said Beth A. Livingston, co-author of the study. "This article says a lot of the difference may be in men's salaries."

Livingston said she was taken aback by the results.

"We actually thought maybe men with traditional attitudes work in more complex jobs that pay more or select higher-paying occupations," she said. "Regardless of the jobs people chose, or how long they worked at them, there was still a significant effect of gender role attitudes on income."

The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, is based on information collected by a federal government survey over a quarter-century. The Labor Department's National Longitudinal Survey of Youth began tracking 12,000 people in 1979 when they were 14 to 22 years old. The survey participants are now 43 to 51 years old.

Because many participants in the survey were children when it started, incomes for men and women changed dramatically over the 25 years that Livingston and co-author Timothy Judge studied. Averaged over the quarter-century, salaries ranged from $34,725 for working men with traditional attitudes to $20,321 for working women with traditional attitudes. Working men with egalitarian attitudes made $22, 795 on average, while working women with egalitarian attitudes made $21,373.

Livingston and Judge, who are organizational psychologists at the University of Florida, compared people's incomes over time to their evolving views on whether a woman's place is in the home and whether it is better for men to be the only breadwinners. People who endorsed distinct roles in society for men and women were considered to have traditional views, while those who advocated equal roles for men and women at home and in the workplace were classified as having egalitarian views.

The study offers an unusual window into the gender disparities in income that have been observed for decades. Critics of the gender-gap theory regularly suggest that the disparity is an artifact of the career choices that men and women make or the different hours that men and women work.

The critics argue that more men choose higher-paying professions such as law and business and more women choose lower-paying professions such as education and social work, and that men tend to work longer hours. Researchers said all the conclusions in the new study were based on comparisons between people in similar jobs, working similar hours, with similar qualifications.

"Some would say, 'Of course traditional men earn more than traditional women -- they are both fulfilling their desires to play different roles in the home and workplace,' " said Judge, emphasizing that the researchers compared working men with working women, not working men with women who stay home. "Our results do not support that view. If you were a traditional-minded woman, would you say, 'I am fine working the same hours as a traditional-minded man in the same industry with the same education but earning substantially less'? I don't think traditional-minded women would say that."

The empirical evidence in the study showed a connection between people's attitudes about gender roles and their salaries. It was not designed to explain why those disparities come about or how people's attitudes -- supposedly a private matter -- affect how much money they make.

Livingston and Judge said there are two possible explanations: Traditional-minded men might negotiate much harder for better salaries, especially when compared with traditional-minded women. Alternatively, it could also be that employers discriminate against women and men who do not subscribe to traditional gender roles.

"It could be that traditional men are hypercompetitive salary negotiators -- the Donald Trump prototype, perhaps," Judge said. "It could be on the employer side that, subconsciously, the men who are egalitarian are seen as effete."

Livingston, a doctoral candidate in management, added: "People make others uncomfortable when they disconfirm stereotypes -- we don't know how to interpret them."

Increasing numbers of Americans hold egalitarian views about the role of women in the workplace, and the researchers suggested that if attitudes about gender roles are indeed at the core of the long-standing wage gap, disparities in income might recede as egalitarian views become more prevalent.

Parents looking at the study might be tempted to inculcate their sons with traditional gender views with an eye to greater financial success, but the researchers warned that this would come at their daughters' cost -- traditional-minded women suffer the greatest income disadvantage for doing the same work.

"Traditional values," Judge said, "do not have to be traditional gender-role values."

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