Gender stereotypes ‘haven’t changed in 30 years’

Men are still from Mars as new research shows gender stereotypes are just as strong today as they were 30 years despite the rise of feminism.

And the study suggests that people are even more likely now to avoid “traditional” female roles than they did in 1981.

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, compared data from 195 college students in 1983 to data from 191 adults in 2014.

The participants from each period rated the likelihood that a typical man or woman has a set of gendered characteristics.

The researchers found that despite greater diversity in the 2014 sample, people continue to strongly stereotype men and women on personality traits - such as kindness and competitiveness; gender role behaviours - such as tending the house, upholding moral and religious values); occupations, and physical characteristics.

One of the researchers Doctor Elizabeth Haines, of William Paterson University in the United States, said: “Changes in the activities and representation of women and men in society have unquestionably occurred since the early 1980s.

“However, those changes apparently have not been sufficient to alter strongly held and seemingly functional beliefs about the basic social category of gender.”

The researchers also found that in the 2014 sample, men and women were largely similar in their gender stereotyping. They showed similar stereotyping on psychological traits and occupations for both genders and on physical characteristics for men.

Women and men were believed to be more equally engaged in financial roles in 2014 than in 1982. For example, in 2014, both genders were equally believed to assume financial obligations, make major decisions, and handle financial matters.

But beliefs about male gender roles - such as that men “repair and maintain the car” - didn’t significantly change from 1983 to 2014.

The researchers said that the increase in female gender role stereotyping appears to be the result of men being perceived as less likely than women to engage in female gender roles - such as looking after the house and taking care of children - in 2014.

The 2014 figures also showed that men were more likely to believe gender stereotypes about male gender role behaviours, while women were more likely to believe stereotypes about female gender role behaviours.

Dr Haines added: “Previous research has shown that many gender differences are small or inconsistent yet the current study finds that people exaggerate the extent to which men and women are different from one another.

“People may perceive strong differences between men and women for two reasons. First, unconscious bias may distort the way in which people perceive and thus remember gender atypical behaviour as more stereotypical that it actually was.

“Second, the genders may curtail cross gender behaviour for fear that they may incur backlash that is typically directed at atypical men and women - such as wimpy men or powerful women.”

The researchers recommend that those in advising or therapeutic roles be aware of how gender stereotypes can affect the goals of their advisees and clients, even among those who express egalitarian beliefs.

For those who hire employees and give performance evaluations, the researchers recommend increased awareness of gender stereotypes and the elimination of gendered criteria on job descriptions.

The researchers also recommend that leaders of organisations consider the potential gender cues they emit, which may enable stereotypes to persist, discourage men and women from entering a particular field, and affect employee performance.