Tag Archives: gender

All hands dimorphic: Gnomeo and Juliet edition

I previously complained about Tangled‘s 75%-male cast and extreme sex dimorphism in the romantic leads, as seen in this hand shot:


Keeping to my policy of two-year delays in movie reviews, let me add the same complaint about Gnomeo and Juliet, the charming adaptation from Disney’s Touchstone imprint. Here, a writing team of 8 men and 2 women (including Shakespeare) gives us a named cast of 14 men and 7 women, in a love story featuring these two adorable garden gnomes:

gnomeojulietHe’s only a little taller, and (judging by the gray beard) a little older. And in the movie she demonstrates bravery and feats of strength, as is now the norm. But look at those hands! Take a closer look:

gnomeojuliethandsWhat is it about hands that makes it so essential for men and women to have such differences? In the “man hands” episode of Seinfeld we learned how distressing it can be for a man to find out the woman to whom he was attracted has large hands.


That scene required a hand double. In real life, men’s and women’s hands differ on average but with a lot of overlap in the distributions — lots of men have hands smaller than lots of women. But in animation the gloves are off — and Disney is free to pair up couples who are many standard deviations apart in hand size. If real people commonly had this range of hand sizes, would such an extreme difference be considered desirable?


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Yes, mothers and fathers still exist

On FamilyScholars.org, which (having retreated on opposing homogamous marriage) is busy promoting its “new conversation on marriage,” Elizabeth Marquardt writes: “Where do babies come from? The state of New York seems unsure.”

Her link to a “report” is to one of those “you wouldn’t believe what my friend saw” posts on the Christian conservative site First Things:

A friend’s wife recently gave birth. He reports that the New York birth certificate asks for the sex of the mother, and the sex of the father.

It goes on to mock people who think seriously about sex and gender. And so the thing starts spreading around the religious-conservative sky-is-falling blogosphere.


I’m not too embarrassed to say I spent 15 minutes trying to look this up. Live and learn.

It’s hard to find information about birth certificates, because everything online keeps steering you to ways to order birth certificates, not create them. But, in New York state it appears there is a state system, and a state system excluding New York City. On the New York City site, there is an Electronic Birth Registration System, described here. It asks for a lot of information about the mother and father, but not their sex or gender.

I didn’t find the equivalent for the rest of the state, but the state’s Department of Health reports that they follow National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS) guidelines, which seem to refer to this revised birth certificate recording form, which was revised in 2003. In addition to health information, it records the mother’s and father’s marital status (mother only), country of birth, education, Hispanic origin, and race. The mother is “the woman who gave birth to, or delivered the infant.”

The only mention of sex (or gender) pertains to the child: “Print or type whether the infant is male, female or if the sex of the infant is not yet determined.” And “not yet determined” is a temporary state, as the recording instructions clarify:

An N code for “not yet determined” should not be allowed for any record in the file at the time the file is closed. NCHS will query states to obtain the sex of the infant for all records still retaining the N code at the time the file is closed.



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Work-family links for male bosses

From Reeve Vanneman comes a tip about an interesting piece of research: researchers asked if men in positions of authority were more likely to make sexist judgments if they were themselves in “traditional” marriages involving stay-at-home wives.

In this article, we examine a heretofore neglected pocket of resistance to the gender revolution in the workplace: married male employees who have stay-at-home wives. We develop and empirically test the theoretical argument suggesting that such organizational members, compared to male employees in modern marriages, are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are harmful to women in the workplace.

First, in an analysis of the General Social Survey, they found that men with stay-at-home wives had more negative opinions toward working women and women’s employment. Second, using the GSS linked to the National Organizations Survey, they found that men were less likely to see their female dominated workplaces as “running smoothly” if they had stay-at-home wives.

Then they conducted an experiment using several hundred married, male college students with managerial jobs. The men were asked to rate the “organizational attractiveness” of a fictional organization where they might work; and some of the men were additionally told that women were well represented on the organization’s board of directors. As expected, men in “traditional” marriages were less likely to find the egalitarian organization attractive as a potential workplace.

Finally, researchers recruited another few hundred male managers from an accounting association. These men were asked to make a recommendation about employing a person whose resume they reviewed; half received a resume with a man’s name and half reviewed an identical resume from a woman. The results also matched their expectations, with managers in “traditional” marriages being less likely to recommend the female applicant.

Is it all really Carmela’s fault?

The write-up of the study in Forbes took the nonsensical, but not surprising, approach of finding a way to blame women:

But new research … adds another layer to the debate over gender discrimination at work, and another (possibly just as important) person to blame: your boss’s stay-at-home wife.


Anyway, the authors speculate that they have uncovered “a pocket of resistance to the gender revolution,” and that seems reasonable. It is no surprise that the gendered nature of relationships at home and at work would be related in this way.

I don’t see much evidence here that the relationship is causal, however, such that a stay-at-home wife causes a manager to make more sexist decisions. The researchers use controls for common demographic characteristics, but not much that can account for the personalities and experiences that would produce sexist men. That is, “men may be self-selecting simultaneously into traditional marriage structures and non-egalitarian attitudes and behaviors towards women in the workplace.”

But the paper does suggest that those of us who study the gendered decisions of people in positions of authority would do well to keep looking for ways to get at additional qualities beyond their gender.

I found a complete draft of the paper here.

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12 minutes in segregationland

When my daughter was 3 I accidentally told her the “gas guy” was coming to work on the house. Then I corrected myself, “Actually, I don’t know if it will be a man or a woman.”

She said, “I think it’s a man.”

Children seem to have much better learning capacity than adults (or at least better than I do). A parent telling them something about gender segregation doesn’t have much weight compared with hour after hour, day after day of simple observation.

So the other day I had 12 minutes to kill at the train station in DC. I took pictures of everyone I saw working, including the unpaid work of childcare but not including people working as servers behind counters. This is not research. I was just wondering what a child might notice about gender and work.

Here’s who I saw, with the national gender composition of their presumed occupations, from the American Community Survey:

Railroad conductors and yardmasters: 93% male

Baggage porters, bellhops, and concierges: 84% male

Grandmother (?) and grandchild: 91% of children who live with a grandparent live with a grandmother. 9% live with a grandfather and no grandmother present. http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/cps2011.html

Janitors: 75% male

Concrete finishers: 99% male (or could be construction laborers, 98% male)

Construction supervisors: 97% male

Shoe shiners: gender composition not listed.

Driver/sales workers and truck drivers: 96% male

Family members caring for children: 97% of married stay-at-home parents are women (those staying out of the labor force all year while spouse works all year)

Finally, a non-gender-typical worker, a man caring for young child in a stroller.

Not shown:

Male security guards: 78% male

Male police officers: 86% male

Again, this is not research — I was just looking around.


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Tangled up in Disney’s dimorphism

Sitting through Disney’s Tangled again, I saw new layers of gender in there. They’ve moved beyond the old-fashioned problem of passive princesses and active princes, so Rapunzel has plenty of action sequences. And it’s not all about falling in love (at least at first). Fine.

But how about sexual dimorphism? In bathroom icons the tendency to differentiate male and female bodies is obvious. In anthropomorphized animal stories its a convenient fiction. But in social science it’s a hazardous concept that reduces social processes to an imagined biological essence.

In Tangled, the hero and heroine are apparently the more human characters, whose love story unfolds amidst a cast of exaggerated cartoons, including many giant ghoulish men (the billed cast includes the voices of 12 men and three women).

Making the main characters more normally-human looking (normal in the statistical sense) is a nice way of encouraging children to imagine themselves surrounded by a magical wonderland, which has a long tradition in children’s literature: from Alice in Wonderland to Where the Wild Things Are.

That’s what I was thinking. But then they went in for the lovey-dovey closeup toward the end, and I had to pause the video:

Their total relative size is pretty normal, with him a few inches taller. But look at their eyes: Hers are at least twice as big. And look at their hands and arms: his are more than twice as wide. Look closer at their hands:

Now she is a tiny child and he is a gentle giant. In fact, his wrist appears to be almost as wide as her waist (although it is a little closer to the viewer).

In short, what looks like normal humanity – anchoring fantasy in a cocoon of reality – contains its own fantastical exaggeration.

The patriarchal norm of bigger, stronger men paired up with smaller, weaker women, is a staple of royalty myth-making – which is its own modern fantasy-within-reality creation. (Diana was actually taller than Charles, at least when she wore heels .)

In this, Tangled is subtler than the old Disney, but it seems no less powerful.


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Gender of kids, gender of parents (via color preference)

The Archives of Sexual Behavior has published my paper, “Children’s Gender and Parents’ Color Preferences,” as an online-first article. The abstract is up here, but the paper is paywalled — let me know if you’d like one of my personal copies and I’ll be glad to send it to you.

I did the research because I was interested in the effect that today’s strongly-gendered parenting might have on the adults who live in the color-coded worlds of their children. Also, I was looking for a simple way to test whether, or to what extent, color preferences were variable in adulthood (rather than genetic), and the gender of children seemed like a good, mostly-random experiment to test that.

Anyway, here is the basic breakdown of how my 749 parent respondents answered the online question, “Which color do you most prefer?” The colors here are the same ones they saw online (individual monitors vary, of course), ordered according to relative gender preference:

Pink, purple and red tend more female; green, blue and orange tend more male. In the statistical tests, with an age control, only blue, red, purple and pink had big enough gender differences to reach 95% confidence.

Then I compared people who had boys only and girls only to those who had a mix of boys and girls. The result was most clear for women: those with boys only had more “female” preferences — preferred pink more and blue less. For men, having either boys-only or girls-only increased their odds of preferring blue.

Here’s the pattern for women (with no controls):

The article has little in the way of discussion and speculation — the text is only six journal pages. My post-hoc interpretation is that gender-heavy environments (single-gender gaggles of children) push parents in gender-stereotypical directions. Maybe. I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

Start to finish: 750 days

This is the only time I’ve ever collected my own data for a project and seen it all the way to publication. For those interested in the process, this is how it went:

  • March 17, 2010: Working on the chapter about gender for my family sociology textbook, I blogged about the research I was reading regarding color preferences.
  • April 18, 2010: More blogging, this time about the far-fetched evolutionary psychology I was reading on the reasons for gendered color preferences.
  • April 21, 2010: Posted the survey online at Surveymonkey.com, launched with a blog post and other social media.
  • April 26, 2010: Submitted an application to my local Institutional Review Board for permission to do the survey.
  • May 3, 2010: After one minor revision, the IRB approved it, and that gave me the green light for a UNC email blast.
  • May 4, 2010: “What’s Your Favorite Color?” email blast to UNC students, staff and faculty. More than 1,000 responses on the first day.
  • September 16, 2010: Stopped collecting responses. (The survey is still up there, though, drifting unmanned around the Internet, gathering data like so many comments on a dead blog.)
  • February 4, 2011: Submitted manuscript to Archives of Sexual Behavior.
  • June 21, 2011: Nudged the editor to see what was up with the review.
  • July 16, 2011: Received a revise-and-resubmit decision.
  • September 28, 2011: Resubmitted.
  • February 11, 2012: Received provisional acceptance.
  • March 7, 2012: Resubmitted.
  • March 19, 2012: Received proofs from the journal to review.
  • April 5, 2012: Article published online.


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Why are mothers becoming moms?

Listening to the debate about motherhood in the last few days reminded me of something that’s been nagging me for a while: what does it mean that mothers are becoming moms?

On the Republican side, in his NRA speech Friday, Mitt Romney said, “I happen to believe that all moms are working moms.” (The right-wing radio personality Laura Schlesinger always said, by way of introduction, “I am my kids’ mom,” as the most salient piece of her identity.) On the other side, both Hilary Rosen and President Obama used mom as the toughest-job-in-the-world’s title.

Why is it mom? Back in the 90s, poor single women weren’t “welfare moms.”

Here’s the trend in “working mother” versus “working mom” from Google Ngrams – the occurrence of these terms in the Google Books database:


The same pattern appears with just mother versus mom.

I don’t know why this is happening or what it means. Do you?


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What women own: U.S. business edition

The other day President Obama celebrated women owning businesses, as well as the problems they face:

More women are also choosing to strike out on their own.  Today, nearly 30 percent of small business owners are women.  Their businesses generate $1.2 trillion last year. But they’re less likely to get the loans that they need to start up, or expand or to hire — which means they often have to depend on credit cards and the mounting debt that comes with them.

Those figures come from data I already was looking at on the question of what women own globally. Most recently, I took a shot at home ownership, with the surprising (to me) finding that women own (or are buying) more homes than men in America. No such luck with business ownership.

Women do own 29% of businesses, as of the Census Bureau’s 2007 Survey of Business Owners. But their share of business receipts — the total size of businesses, as measured by income — is much less: just 4%.

Source: My calculations from the Survey of Business Owners.

The survey defines ownership based on 51% of stock or equity.  So of course there are lots of women with partial ownership of all those other businesses. But the vast majority of businesses in the survey are tiny, with few or no employees. As a measure of wealth, then, owning a business is a bad indicator. Plenty of these people would make more money using their skills working for someone else, if they could (and investing their money in stocks).

Unsurprisingly, there is a distinct pattern of ownership by industry — that is, what the businesses produce. The only industry in which women own a majority of businesses is health care and social assistance, although they are also close in education (think daycare services):

Source: My calculations from the Survey of Business Owners.

Obama went on:

Just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.  Fewer than 20 percent of the seats in Congress are occupied by women.  Is it possible that Congress would get more done if there were more women in Congress?  (Laughter and applause.)  … I think it’s fair to say.  That is almost guaranteed.  (Laughter.)

For some reason this is often a laugh line. As in, “Am I right? Just ask my wife!”

Anyway, I would hate to judge Congressional effectiveness by the quantity of work done, and the evidence that women in Congress do get more done is not clear. But in the world of business our own research (here and here), as well as newer work, does suggest that U.S. women in workplace management positions increase the gender equality around them.


Filed under In the news

Work product: Women’s ethnic immigration education work patterns

Five years ago Jen’nan Read and I published an article about women’s employment for 12 different ethnic groups in the U.S. In my Gender, Work, and Family seminar the other day we read it, and because of the timing in the course we were talking about developing and framing research questions. We looked at a couple of the images Jen’nan and I used to work through the many patterns we were trying to sort out in the data, and I thought the sequence might be interesting for blog readers, too. (These use data from the 2000 Census, with “employed” meaning any employment in the year 1999.)

The overall employment rates ranged widely, from 65% (Mexican, Asian Indian) to 84% (Filipina). First thing, break the groups out by education:

That helps a little. At the low end of education, employment rates are low. But at the high end, the spread is great — the line isn’t helpful — with high- and low-employment groups all found above 14 years of average education.

Next step was nativity (where they were born) and year of immigration for those born elsewhere. Looking at the high and low groups, there were distinct patterns:

Mexican women are on a diagonal line, showing a temporal progression from recent immigrants having low education and employment rates, back in time to those born in the U.S. (mostly children of earlier immigrants) with higher levels of both. The Asian Indian women are on a vertical line, with high education but low employment rates for recent immigrants, who may have come as spouses of men who had (or were getting) jobs here. The Filipinas, who are mostly labor migrants — that is, they came for their own jobs — are bunched up at high levels of both employment and education regardless of immigration timing.

This must have been the time Jen’nan hit on the title of “One Size Fits All?”, since the stories clearly diverged, and we decided to fit models of employment predictors for each group separately (details are in the paper).

One other image, a nice idea but hard to read, is also sitting in the old folder (click to enlarge):

Here there’s a dot for each ethnic group for each year of immigration. That is, the dot down in the bottom left is Mexican women who immigrated in 2000 (“M0″). The line is a weighted regression line, so it’s the overall relationship between education and employment rates. You see the Mexican women crowded around the lower left; the Filipinas in the top right; and recent Arab, Japanese, Korean and Asian Indian immigrants along the bottom. (The other initials you see are for Vietnamese, Puerto Rican, White, Chinese, Cuban, and Iranian).

When possible, I like to do this kind of descriptive exploration — making progressive slices in the data and looking at the patterns — before building complicated statistical models with a lot of factors at once. If the descriptive image survives the statistical analysis, there’s a chance of not only getting the story right, but being able to explain it.


This is cross-sectional data — that is, what each group is doing in 2000, based on the year they arrived. But it is suggestive of different immigration pathways. I’m not expert on the immigration side, but since I brought it up I should give a few pointers to recent literature on “segmented assimilation,” which focuses on such differences. The idea dates to the early 1990s, maybe this article:

These are more recent, and include reviews of the major research:

Feel free to add suggestions for additional resources in the comments.

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Pink and blue kid(s)

Jo Paoletti got a nice cover write-up from the UMD magazine Terp, for her new book, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America. I especially love the cover photo:

The photo(s) is (are) by John T. Consoli, linked without permission. This is a great exercise for noticing how we internalize gender norms. If you thought even for a moment that one of these kids is a boy and the other is a girl, you’re busted as a product of socialization. (I won’t reveal the “true” answer.)

This is much better than my own crude Photoshop version:

I’ve done a series of posts on color and children, which you can find here. That led me to do a survey on color preferences, which got close to 2,000 responses to the question, “What’s your favorite color.” Based on a simple color chart provided, these were the responses:

More than the gender breakdown, I wanted to see if the nurture-versus-nature element of color preference could be teased out in a single survey. So I asked people if they had children, and the gender of their children — figuring that might reflect some “adult socialization.” And that modest result is what I found. From the abstract:

This study asks whether the gendered social environment in adulthood affects parents’ color preferences. The analysis used the gender of children to represent one aspect of the gendered social environment. Because having male versus female children in the U.S. is generally randomly distributed, it provides something of a natural experiment, offering evidence about the social construction of gender in adulthood. The participants were 749 adults with children who responded to an online survey invitation, asking “What’s your favorite color?” Men were more likely to prefer blue, while women were more likely to prefer red, purple, and pink, consistent with long-standing U.S. patterns. The effect of having only sons was to widen the existing gender differences between men and women, increasing the odds that men prefer blue while reducing the odds that women do; and a marginally significant effect showed women having higher odds of preferring pink when they have sons only. The results suggest that, in addition to any genetic, biological or child-socialization effects shaping adults’ tendency to segregate their color preferences by gender, the gender context of adulthood matters as well.

The paper has been provisionally accepted and should be published in a peer-reviewed journal near you soon.

Jo’s excellent blog is here, where you can read about her new project, exploring the rise and fall of unisex clothing for children.


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