Study at Cornell University Finds That Scholars More Apt to Refer to Men by Using Only Their Last Name

A new study led by Stav Atir, a recent Ph.D. graduate in social psychology at Cornell University who will conduct postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, finds that on average, study participants were more than twice as likely to call male professionals – even fictional ones – by their last name only, compared to equivalent female professionals. For example, Charles Darwin is often referred to simply as Darwin. But Marie Curie is rarely referred to simply as Curie. This type of gender bias, say researchers, may be contributing to gender inequality.

The researchers conduct eight different studies. In one, they found that on, males were 56 percent more likely than women to be referred to only by their last name. In another study, researchers found that political commentators were twice as likely to refer to men with only their last name than was the case when they referred to women.

Lead author Stav Avir says that “it’s possible that when the default gender in a field is male, using the full name is a way to highlight that the person is a woman in a male-dominated field.”

But doing so, said Melissa Ferguson, co-author and professor of psychology at Cornell, may undermine the woman’s prominence, since the implication is that the woman isn’t as well-known and thus needs to be identified by her full name – and if she isn’t as well-known, then she isn’t as important or deserving of recognition.

The research, “How Gender Determines the Way We Speak About Professionals,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.

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  1. Tom says:

    This is because there are more accomplished male professionals than female and there will always be more due the natural dimorphism between men and women.

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