Expert Commentary

Sexism and gender inequality across 57 societies

2011 study from DePaul University published in Psychological Science linking societal-level sexism and increased gender inequality.

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

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