In recent years, women in the United States have come a long way in smashing some gender stereotypes, but others remain deeply rooted, according to a study published this week in American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association.
The researchers analyzed 16 public opinion polls of more than 30,000 U.S. adults from 1946 to 2018 to determine how attitudes have shifted regarding the strengths and weakness of men and women.
In the 62 years, the percentage of survey respondents who thought men and women were equally intelligent increased from 35% to 86%. There was also a marked shift among those who thought there was a difference between the genders. In 1946, more respondents thought men were more intelligent than women. In 2018, more respondents thought women were more competent than men.
The study looked at three traits: competence (intelligence, creativity), communion (compassion, sensitivity) and agency (ambition, aggression). Like with competency, people have also come to view women as more emphatic and sensitive than men over time.
But, "contrary to conventional wisdom about convergence in gender roles ... men are still viewed as more ambitious, aggressive and decisive than women," lead author Alice Eagly, a Northwestern University psychologist, said in announcing the findings. "That stereotype has not substantially changed since the 1940s."
The lack of change in perception of agency, the study says, puts women at a clear disadvantage when it comes to leadership positions in the workplace and community.
"When women entered the workforce starting in the '60s and '70s, they tended to enter certain roles and occupations that do reward social skills and also provide social contributions: teaching, nursing, customer service," the study said. "Such tasks demand competence, but ambitious employees avoid them because they seldom further advancement."
Eagly calls the findings on agency "sobering."
"The great majority of those in Congress and CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are men," she said. "The finding on agency needs to be taken seriously. It's holding women back."