Sexism and Gender Inequality Across 57 Societies
The idea that sexism can have negative consequences within workplaces and specific areas of public life is well-established. But how sexist attitudes on the part of individuals can operate in the aggregate at the societal level — their national economic and social consequences — has not been well documented.
A 2011 study from DePaul University published in Psychological Science, “Sexism and Gender Inequality Across 57 Societies,” examined survey data from nearly 83,000 people measuring levels of sexist ideologies and looked at correlations with data from the U.N. Gender Equality Measure (GEM). As the author explains, “The GEM is a composite measure summarizing the extent of women’s and men’s parity in their shares of managerial and professional jobs, parliamentary seats, and earned income in a society.”
The study’s findings include:
- Even after controlling for changes in society over time, and for differences between as well as within societies, the data suggest that “greater sexism predicts decreases in gender equality over time.”
- Separating and tracking the effects of men’s and women’s expressions of mainstream sexist ideologies shows that “sexism may be a consensual legitimizing myth endorsed by both high-status and low-status groups in the creation of gender hierarchy.”
- As might be expected, the researchers found that “sexism is more prevalent in countries that are less developed and have more gender inequality.”
- Overall, the “results presented here suggest that sexism not only legitimizes gender inequality, but actively makes it worse.” This means that, though “employment decisions, pay inequity, and violence against women” are all important factors in the creation of gender inequality, the “ideological forces that drive these effects and exacerbate the subjugation of women” also demand scrutiny.
The researcher cautions that the precise casual mechanisms that link sexism and inequality still need to be established in future research. However, the study’s author notes three potential avenues: “First, sexism is related to discrimination against women, and discrimination could directly account for sexism’s contribution to the creation of inequality … Second, when adolescents (especially females) endorse sexist gender ideologies, they are less likely to aspire to a university degree, and women who endorse these ideologies earn lower wages than those who do not endorse these ideologies…. Third, sexism may exacerbate societal gender inequality by causing women to perform worse on a variety of tasks, thereby providing an ‘objective’ basis to deny women jobs and promotions.”
Tags: sex crimes, women and work
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the DePaul University study “Sexism and Gender Inequality Across 57 Societies.”
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related The Atlantic article "Are TV Ads Getting More Sexist?"
- What are some of the key ideas that connect the study and the article? For journalists covering issues of gender inequality, what are some of the specific areas in society that might be investigated to highlight how this issue plays out?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.