Study finds sexism encourages choice explanations for the gender income gap

New research in Psychology of Women Quarterly suggests that sexism rationalizes gender income inequality by influencing people’s beliefs about the reasons men tend to earn more than women.

“I became interested in this topic when I noticed the ways in which ‘choice’ was deployed in public conversations about the gender income gap. I noticed a parallel with other research on individualistic attributions and prejudice, and I was struck that this topic hadn’t been examined before,” said study author Rachel Connor, a PhD candidate at Princeton University.

In two studies, with 890 participants in total, the researchers found that sexist beliefs were associated with the acceptance of gender income inequality. This association was mediated by the belief that women’s choices are responsible for the gender pay gap.

People who agreed with statements such as “Women are too easily offended” and “Most women fail to appreciate fully all that men do for them” were more likely to agree with statements such as “Women accept lower earnings for more flexible job,” which in turn predicted their support for statements such as “Differences in income between men and women are often justified.”

“Choice explanations (i.e., inequality is the result of men’s and women’s differing choices) can be used to justify or license sexism,” Connor told PsyPost.

Furthermore, conservative participants exposed to sexist statements such as “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men” became more likely to view gender income inequality as justified. But the opposite effect was observed for liberal-leaning male participants. Liberal men were less likely to agree that the gender income gap could be explained by choices after being exposed to the sexist statements.

“A major caveat is that our experimental findings depended on political ideology, with only conservatives showing predicted effects. Future studies should be careful to disentangle political ideology and sexism, as they are correlated,” Connor said.

“My work focuses on ideological mechanisms of inequality maintenance; I am not disputing that choice and preference contribute to inequalityHow Hostile Sexism Encourages Choice Explanations for the Gender Income Gap”, was authored by Rachel A. Connor and Susan T. Fiske.