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Women are now seen as equally intelligent as men, study finds  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

In the last 70 years, some gender stereotypes about women have shifted dramatically, while others remain firmly rooted, according to new research published in the American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association. 

The meta-analysis of 16 public opinion polls totaling more than 30,000 U.S. adults from 1946 to 2018 looked at three traits: competence (intelligence, creativity), communion (compassion, sensitivity) and agency (ambition, aggression).

It found the most significant change in attitudes around women's competence — most people now believe women are equally intelligent as men. But it also found that stereotypes viewing women as more compassionate and sensitive grew stronger and that women are still viewed as less ambitious than men.

The study credits women's increased participation in the workforce as a reason they're viewed as more competent. But the kinds of work women do may be contributing to stereotypes around communion. 

"When women entered the workforce starting in the '60s and '70s, they tended to enter certain roles and occupations that do reward social skills and also provide social contributions: teaching, nursing, customer service," said Northwestern University's Alice Eagly, lead author of the study. "Women are clustered into jobs that require social skills, and people use this as evidence of those tendencies."

The study also notes that the "communion" perception likely makes women more likely to be asked and more likely to accept tasks that researchers classify as "low promotability."

"Such tasks demand competence, but ambitious employees avoid them (e.g., routine committee service) because they seldom further advancement," the study said.

According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research occupational segregation — when some occupations are dominated by men or women — prevents "people from moving into occupations where they could perform well and that would satisfy them more than the ones open to them. And occupational segregation is a major cause for the persistent wage gap."

Perceptions of women's competence have changed considerably. In a 1946 poll, only 35% of those surveyed thought men and women were equally intelligent. In one 2018 poll, 86% believed they were equally intelligent and of those who believed intelligence was not equal, 9% believed women were more intelligent and only 5% believed men were more intelligent.

So why hasn't this translated to larger gains for women when it comes to the most powerful positions? The authors say it may be because even though women are viewed as equally intelligent, they are also seen as having less agency than men. 

"Leadership roles tend to require agency," Eagly said. "They require people to take charge ... in some sense be dominant. So this perception tends to work against women in terms of leadership roles and other roles that require highly competitive behavior."

Eagly calls the agency finding "sobering."

"The great majority of those in Congress and CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are men," she said. "The finding on agency needs to be taken seriously. It's holding women back."

The study showed that men and women generally agreed on the traits.

"Stereotypes change when people get new observations," Eagly said. "They form because of what people experience in daily life, what people see."

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