Brace yourself for a spate of stories about how “what you think may affect what you earn,” as the press release from the American Psychological Association puts it. Sounds innocuous. But the "what you think" refers to whether you believe that a woman's place is in the home. “A new study has found that men who believe in traditional roles for women earn more money than men who don’t,” APA continues. There you have it: if you want to rake it in, guys, adopt attitudes that value keeping the little lady barefoot and pregnant.
Before we look at how this conclusion is not exactly supported by the actual study, which I encourage anyone with half an hour or so to read for themselves, it’s only fair to see what the researchers did. Timothy Judge, a management expert at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, and graduate assistant Beth Livingston analyzed data from 12,686 men and women who were interviewed four times between 1979 and 2005; the participants were 14 to 22 when the study began, and 40% of them dropped out or disappeared before the fourth interview. Nonetheless, it's a lot of data, as the researchers report in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.
At each interview, participants answered questions about their views on gender roles: do you believe a woman’s place is in the home? If a mother works outside the home, are her children more likely to be juvenile delinquents? Should a man be the achiever while the woman takes care of home and family? (Like other studies, this one finds many factors that influence people’s attitudes on all this, including marital status, gender, race, ethnicity, whether they live in a city, religiosity, and whether their parents held traditional views of gender roles. People living in Northeastern cities had less traditional views of gender roles, for instance, as did people whose parents both worked outside the home, while married and religious people had more traditional views.)
Then the researchers correlated these views with how much people earned. Bottom line: men with traditional views of gender roles made an average of about $8,500 more per year than their enlightened peers, while women who held traditional views made an average of $1,500 less per year than women with more egalitarian views.
The last finding has a straightforward explanation. If you’re a woman with a job, and if you think you shouldn’t be at work but back home with the kids or hubby, it’s not surprising that, 1) you don’t push yourself to work that hard and get promotions or bonuses or overtime, and 2) you probably didn’t try for a well-paying, high-powered job in the first place if working made you feel guilty.
But how about the men? As they write in the paper, “One straightforward possibility is that traditional gender role orientation advantages men and disadvantages women because traditional men show greater dedication to their work and traditional women show greater dedication to their homes.”
This is as good a place as any to pause and point out the obvious. Although this study is being cast as showing a cause-and-effect relationship between gender-role attitudes and earnings, it proves nothing of the sort: a man who believes in gender equality has the option of working just as hard at his career, and earning a lot, as does a traditionalist. It does not show that egalitarians are doomed to penury.
Similarly, although the researchers say that “traditional men, especially when compared with traditional women or egalitarian individuals, may negotiate their salaries more aggressively and effectively,” that, too, is hardly inevitable or even logical. Guys, if you believe that the little woman has just as much a right to work outside the home as you are, you don't have to slack off on salary demands.
The key to the whole thing, it seems to me, is a little sentence dropped into the paper’s summary (the abstract): “Occupational segregation partly explained these gender differences.” That is, a woman who doesn’t think she should be working—but, perhaps, has to for economic reasons—may “feel uncomfortable in a high-paying, complex job or in those jobs in which she is surrounded by men,” so she chooses to be, say, a secretary rather than an entrepreneur. Similarly, a “keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant” kind of man is probably not going into academia (where the male-female wage gap is small) or teaching (ditto), but is more likely to be drawn to, say, construction, engineering or finance, where the wage gap can be large. As the researchers admit, "traditional men (vs. egalitarian men) and traditional women (vs. egalitarian women) make different occupational choices. . . . For instance, traditional gender role orientations led to higher earnings in male-dominated jobs than in female-dominated jobs, and men were more likely to hold male-dominated jobs.”
So for all you young men out there just entering the work force, let’s be clear: holding egalitarian views does not mean your earnings will inevitably suffer. You have a choice about which fields to enter, and you don't have to check your enlightened views at the office door.