Deirdre Van Dyk
It's no secret that some people get paid more than others for doing the same job, but the reason may have less to do with employers' attitudes, than those of the employees themselves. In a new study, two researchers from the University of Florida find that men who subscribe to "traditional" (read stereotypical) ideas of gender roles make more money than their peers who have a more egalitarian mindset.
Organizational psychologists Timothy Judge and Beth Livingston found that men who reported holding traditional views (that is, that women belong in the home, while men earn the money) earned on average $11,930 more annually for doing the same kind of work as men who held more egalitarian views. The reverse was true for women, to a much smaller degree. Female workers with more egalitarian views (that men and women should evenly divide the tasks at home and contribute equally to their shared finances) earned $1,052 more than women who did similar jobs but held more traditional views.
The effect was starkest, however, when researchers compared women's salaries to those of men, while also taking into account their gender-role biases. Men with traditional attitudes not only earned more than other men with egalitarian attitudes, but their annual salary was $14,404 greater than women with traditional attitudes, and $13,352 greater than women with egalitarian attitudes. Put differently, men with traditional attitudes made 71% more than women with traditional attitudes, while egalitarian-minded men made just 7% more than their female counterparts.
Judge and Livingston analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study, a survey of 12,686 people who were interviewed four times between 1979 and 2005. In 1979, the study group ranged in age from 14 to 22; by the end of the study, those volunteers were approaching 50. The salaries that researchers analyzed ranged from $22,795 on average for egalitarian-minded men to $34,725 for men with traditional attitudes. Women with egalitarian attitudes made $21,373, compared with women who held traditional attitudes and earned $20,321. The findings were published in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.
"What really surprised us was the magnitude of the difference," says Judge. "We suspected that 'traditional' gender-role attitudes would work against women. What surprised us was the degree to which that effect held, even when you start controlling for a variable that you think would make the effect go away, like how many kids you have, or how many hours you work outside the home, what type of occupation." When the researchers controlled for education, intelligence (based on the participants' IQ test scores), occupation, hours worked and even what region they lived in the United States, Judge found that "none of those really made the effect go away."
In other words, it's not that men make more than women because they work longer hours, are more highly educated or simply take higher paying jobs. Rather, the new findings suggest the wage gap may be largely attributable to gender-role attitudes. And the big winners, it seems, is men with traditional views. Why the gap persists, Judge and Livingston aren't sure, but Judge thinks it might be have something to do with the different ways men and women sign onto new jobs. Women on the whole are less effective at negotiating salaries than men, and they tend to be less aggressive about asking for bigger salaries, or they accept employers' offers without negotiating at all. And Judge suspects that tradition-bound women may be even worse at it than their more egalitarian counterparts: "I would posit that egalitarian women are not as susceptible to settling for less in the negotiating process," he says.
As for those money-making traditionally minded men, Judge theorizes that if they believe they are the family's primary breadwinner, they may show greater dedication to career and are perhaps more aggressive than other men in terms of salary negotiation. Compared with men with egalitarian attitudes, the primary breadwinner simply has more at stake. "Maybe the egalitarian guy thinks, 'Well, I don't have to go the extra mile because my wife and I share earning responsibilities equally,'" Judge says.
Another factor could be bias on the part of the employer. "We're learning that more and more aspects of organizational psychology are operating somewhat subconsciously," says Judge. "It may be that employers are more likely to take advantage of traditional gender-role women." We can learn a lot about someone based on a very short acquaintance; perhaps employers make judgments about a prospective employee's gender attitudes, on the basis of things like a more conservative style of dress or hairstyle and demure mannerisms, Judge says. "I wouldn't be surprised," he says, "if employers are treating these women differently." Employers perhaps should be aware of this subconscious effect and make more of an effort to be fair. "Most employers," says Judge, who studies gender differences in negotiating skills, "wouldn't be happy to see a big salary differential between men and women in the workplace."
The bottom line is that "psychology and people's attitudes toward their roles in life matters in an earnings gap, just as economics do," says Judge. But his sample of middle-aged men and women were employees of a more universally old-fashioned workplace; Judge thinks there's hope for future generations of workers: "The gap is narrowing," he says. "Older people do have more traditional views but each year the [attitude] gap between those that hold traditional views, and those that believe men and women are equal is narrowing. One would be hopeful that for new entrants into the workforce, this won't be as much an effect."
6 months ago