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.

Really?

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Research reports

One response to “Work-family links for male bosses

  1. Pretty sparse models, and the key confounding variables are missing—-identification with sectarian Christianity and fundamentalist religious beliefs. Patriarchy follows them to work.

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