Most Americans now view men and women as being equally competent
Women are no longer viewed as being less competent than men, according to a study from Northwestern University. The new perception of women is consistent with their growing achievements in education as well as in the workforce.
On the other hand, just because women are now perceived as being more proficient does not mean that they are earning the top job positions. The research suggests that this may be due to the fact that women are still seen as less ambitious and decisive, which puts them at a disadvantage in regard to leadership roles.
The researchers analyzed 16 surveys conducted in the United States that involved more than 30,000 adults. The respondents were asked to compare men and women in terms of many characteristics, such as competence, intelligence, creativity, compassion, decisiveness, and ambition.
The analysis revealed that most Americans now view women and men as being equally competent. Furthermore, among those who felt there was a difference, most reported that women are more competent than men. Study lead author Professor Alice Eagly said some of the other findings were also surprising.
“The perceptions of women as communal and men as agentic have not eroded since the 1940s, contrary to conventional wisdom about convergence in gender roles,” said Professor Eagly. “Rather, communal stereotypes have changed but increasingly towards portraying women as more compassionate, affectionate and sensitive than men. Men are still viewed as more ambitious, aggressive and decisive than women, and that agency stereotype has not substantially changed since the 1940s.”
The researchers pointed out that these stereotypes are generally shared by diverse groups of respondents. For example, women were ranked as being more competent than men by respondents regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, college education, marital status, or employment status.
Professor Eagly explained that women’s increasing labor force participation and education likely underlie the increase in their perceived competence, but added that occupational segregation was found to persist.
“Specifically, women are concentrated in occupations that reward social skills or offer contribution to society. People observe the social roles of women and men and infer the traits that make up gender stereotypes. In general, stereotypes reflect the social position of groups in society and, therefore, change only when this social position shifts. That’s why gender stereotypes have changed,” said Professor Eagly.
“The current stereotypes should favor women’s employment, because competence is, of course, a job requirement for virtually all positions. Also, jobs increasingly reward social skills, making women’s greater communion an additional advantage.”
The study is published in the journal American Psychologist.
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