Both Men and Women Show Bias Against Women for Jobs and Activities Requiring Intellectual Ability

A new study led by Lin Bian, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychology at Stanford University has found that both men and women have a bias against women and girls for jobs or activities requiring intellectual ability.

In two initial experiments conducted while Dr. Bian was a graduate student at the University of Illinois, more than 1,150 participants were asked to refer individuals for a job. Half of the participants were led to believe that the job required high-level intellectual ability, such as a high IQ, superior reasoning skills, and natural intelligence, while the other half were not. The results found that people were less likely to refer a woman when the job description required high intelligence (43.5 percent women referrals) compared to when it did not (50.8 percent women referrals). This means that the odds of referring a woman rather than a man were 25.3 percent lower when the job description mentioned intellectual ability. Additionally, while women were more likely than men to refer women for jobs requiring superior intelligence, both women and men were less likely to refer women for these jobs than for the non-intellectual positions.

In a third experiment, the research team taught 192 children, aged 5 to 7, how to play two team games. Half of the children were told the games were for “really, really smart” kids and the other half were not. For each game, children selected three teammates from among six children (three boys and three girls) they did not know. Initially, children selected teammates of their own gender, but when they had to pick a third teammate, both boys and girls showed bias against girls, choosing girls as teammates for the “smart” game only 37.6 percent of the time. For the other game, 53.4 perent chose a girl as their third teammate.

“Our studies add to our current understanding of the processes that lead to women’s underrepresentation in ‘genius fields’ — that is, fields such as physics and philosophy, in which success is generally seen as depending on high-level intellectual ability,” said Dr. Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor of psychology at New York University and a co-author of the study. “Moreover, while gender bias may be becoming less common in employers’ and supervisors’ ‘public’ behavior, such as hiring or promotion decisions, in part because the possibility of bias is often explicitly discussed in these contexts, young women’s path to a successful career goes through many contexts in which people may be less guarded and — our evidence suggests — may still behave in biased ways.”

Dr. Bian adds that “although it is intuitive to think of gender bias as an adult phenomenon, the gender imbalances currently seen in many academic and professional fields may actually be due in part to processes that unfold early in development.”

In January, Dr. Bian will begin her position as the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor in the department of human development at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She is a graduate of Zhejiang University in China. She holds master’s degrees in statistics and developmental psychology and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Illinois.

The study, “Evidence of Bias Against Girls and Women in Contexts That Emphasize Intellectual Ability,” was published on the website of the journal American Psychologist. It may be accessed here.

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