Sexism Follows Women Across States—and Lives

Sexism Follows Women Across States—and Lives

corporate stairsWhile U.S. women’s job and life prospects have changed dramatically over the last 50 years, a new study finds the amount of sexism in the state where a woman was born can take a toll on her earnings and career prospects—even if she later moves to a less sexist state. 

(Find out which states have the most sexist attitudes.)

The Institute for Policy Research (IPR) working paper, co-authored by Northwestern University economist Jonathan Guryan, is the first to document a persistent gap in women’s socioeconomic outcomes across job markets in the United States. To avoid mixing gender issues with equally thorny racial ones, the working paper only includes data on white adults.

The research shows the level of sexist beliefs both in the state where a woman was born and the one where she currently lives affects her beliefs about who she is. That impacts her decisions about what she can or cannot do, said Guryan, professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy. These levels differ widely from state to state and even vary within the same geographic region of the country. 

Guryan and his colleagues, Kerwin Kofi Charles of the University of Chicago and Jessica Pan of the National University of Singapore, measured sexism across the United States using nationally representative survey and census data from 1970–2017 that questioned respondents’ beliefs about women’s capacities, roles, and places in society.Jon Guyran

States with more sexist attitudes had more respondents who believed that women should take care of the home and family, that men are more suited for politics than women, and that men should be the achiever outside the home.

They find that white women born in more sexist states experience larger gender gaps in wages and employment, even after they move to a less sexist state. These women also marry and have their first child at a younger age. This is because norms that women are exposed to as children, and internalize, continue to affect their life outcomes as adults, even after they move. For example, a woman born in Alabama who later lives in Massachusetts makes less money and works fewer hours when compared with a man who makes the same move. 

Additionally, women who move to more sexist states also marry and have their first child at a younger age and are less likely to work.

Read the entire story.

Read the IPR working paper.

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Photo by Steve Drey

By Institute for Policy Research
Last Modified: 8/24/18