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Sex and Gender: What Do We Know?

Author(s): Margaret Mooney Marini


Source: Sociological Forum, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Mar., 1990), pp. 95-120
Published by: Springer
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Sociological Forum, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1990

Sex and Gender: What Do We Know?


Margaret Mooney Marini'

The study of sex and gender is concerned with documenting the existence
of differences between the sexes and explaining why those differences exist.
This paper first examines what we know about how women and men differ,
focusing on differences in social roles, and in the abilities and traits associated
with those roles. The paper then examines why women and men differ. In
addressing this question, the roles of both biological and social influences
are considered. Although there is reason to believe some sex differences in
behavior and attitudes have a biological basis, the existence of historical and
cross-cultural variation in gender role differentiation and stratification provides strong evidence that social influences play an important role in the determination of differences between the sexes. Both biological and social
factors have influenced the division of labor by sex, and the division of labor
provides the basis for gender stratification by affecting the degree to which
each sex is able to acquire and control the valuable resources of a society.
Reduction of gender inequality in contemporary societies therefore requires
reduction of gender differentiation in the division of labor.
KEY WORDS: gender; sex; social stratification; women.

INTRODUCTION
Within the past 15 years the study of gender has emerged as a major
research area in sociology. Scholars now use the term sex to refer to biologically based distinctions between the sexes and the term gender to refer to
the social construction of differences between women and men. The term
sex is also sometimes used when an individual's "sex category" constitutes
a basis for classification and differential treatment, even when the differen-

Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455.


95
0884-8971/90/0300-0095$06.00/0? 1990 Plenum PubhshingCorporation

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96

tial treatment is social in origin (Reskin, 1988). The purpose of this paper
is to review the current state of knowledge on sex and gender.
Since the study of sex and gender is concerned with documenting the
existence of differences between the sexes and explaining why those differences exist, the review has two sections. The first briefly considers what we
know about how women and men differ, focusing first on differences in social roles, and then on abilities and traits associated with those roles. The
second examines why women and men differ. It considers the role of both
biological and social influences, dividing the latter into influences operating
at the macro- and microlevels.

HOW DO WOMEN AND MEN DIFFER?


Social Roles
The social roles and behavior of males and females have differed in
all known human societies. Research on tribal societies indicates that men
have tended to be the warriers, hunters, and processors of hard raw materials used for weaponry and tools, whereas women have tended to do the cooking and preparation of vegetal foods (Sanday, 1981). Although women have
sometimes been full-time warriers and hunters, instances of their performing these roles were rare and occurred under special circumstances.As a result
of this gender differentiation in the division of labor, men have been in a
better position to acquire and control the valuable resources of their societies
(Friedl, 1975; Sanday, 1981). Power, privilege, and status have rarely, if ever,
been shared by women and men on an equal basis.
Although some have claimed that matriarchal societies once existed,
there is no sound anthropological evidence to support these claims (Bamberger, 1974; Blumberg, 1984). There is even debate about whether societies
existed in which there was a rough equality between women and men. Until
recently, it was believed all societies were male dominated, but a number
of anthropologists now argue that egalitarian hunting-gathering and horticulturalsocieties existed prior to colonial contact (e.g., Sanday, 1981; Sacks,
1979). Anthropologists agree that more complex forms of social organization brought intensified gender stratification (Friedl, 1975). Agricultural,
pastoral, and industrial societies have all been male dominated.
To the extent that women have had relatively high status in a society,
it has largely been because of their role in economic production and distribution (Friedl, 1975; Blumberg, 1984). There are a surprising number of societies in which women controlled as much or more property than men.
Among stratified, state-level societies, however, there is no society in which

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women have held even half the economic power above the level of the local
group. There is also no concrete evidence of any society in which women
have held half of the political power or more than a small percentage of the
power of force. No society has ever had an ideology of female supremacy,
although a few posit that women and men are equal (e.g., the Israeli kibbutz, the U.S.S.R.).
In modern industrial societies, work has largely become an activity performed away from home for monetary return. Initially, men specialized in
work in the market, earning wages to support the family, while women
specialized in work in the home, becoming economically dependent with
primary responsibility for child rearing. Although there are indications of
change in this division of labor as women now enter the labor market in increasing numbers, the predominant worldwide pattern remains one of gender
role differentation.
Today, the participation of adult women in the nonagricultural labor
force is generally highest in the Soviet bloc, the Scandinavian countries, the
countries of northwestern Europe, Canada, the United States, and Japan.
In these countries over 40%oof women aged 15 and over are working in
nonagricultural jobs. In no country, however, is the proportion of women
in the nonagricultural labor force greater than 60%o.In most of the southern
European countries, between 30%oand 40%oof adult women are in the
nonagricultural labor force, although in Spain and Greece the figure is less
than 20%o.In Latin America, on average less than 30%oof adult women are
employed in nonagricultural jobs -less than 15%1o
in some countries. In the
African and Middle Eastern Islamic countries, less than 10%oof adult women hold nonagricultural jobs (United Nations, 1986: Tables 26 and 28). The
proportion of the nonagricultural labor force that is made up of women follows a similar pattern across countries (International Labor Office, 1985:
Tables 2A and 2B). Among employed workers in all countries, women are
highly underrepresented in positions of power, authority, and prestige, and
their average earnings are considerably below those of men (Youssef and
Hartley, 1979; Epstein and Coser, 1981; Treiman and Roos, 1983). Women's labor force participation therefore represents only a first step toward
improvement of the status of women, since women workers are not equally
represented in high-level jobs.
In the United States, the most dramatic improvements in the status of
women have occurred in the last 20 years. Women are earning a higher percentage of educational degrees and are more highly represented at the entry
level of high-status occupations than in the past, although they still earn far
less than half of the highest degrees awarded and their overall representation in high-status occupations is low. Between 1970 and 1984, the percentage of bachelor's degrees earned by women increased from 41.5 to 49.1,

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the percentage of master's degrees from 39.7 to 49.5, and the percentage of doctor's degrees from 13.4 to 33.3 (U.S. Bureau of the Census,
1986). Although women earned 28% of the medical degrees and 37%o
of the law degrees awarded in 1984, only about 17Woof all physicians and
18%oof all lawyers in the United States in 1985 were women (U.S. Bureau
of the Census, 1986). Similar patterns of change are occurring in other highstatus "male"occupations, although the percentages of women currently in
these occupations are still relatively low. To a large extent, women are employed in traditionally female occupations (Beller, 1984). The median annual earnings of women working full-time and year-round approach only
65-70% of those of men (Marini, 1989). Women are running for and winning
elective offices and being appointed to administrativeposts and major boards
of directors in greater number than ever before (Cocks, 1982; Steinem, 1983),
but they are still only a small minority of those in positions of power.

Abilities and Traits


Gender role differentiation is associated with gender differences in behavior, attitudes, and dispositional traits. This differentiation also leads to
gender stereotyping, or the formation of consensual beliefs about differences
between the sexes. In keeping with similarities in the pattern of gender role
differentiation across societies, there is similarity in gender stereotypes (Williams and Best, 1982). Instrumental traits tend to be associated with males
and expressive traits with females. A high level of agreement also exists between males and females about traits that differentiate the sexes, and these
consensual beliefs are independent of race, age, religion, education, and marital status (Broverman et al., 1972; Williams and Bennett, 1975; Hershey,
1978). Gender stereotypes have also been relatively stable in recent history
(see, for example, Sherriffs and jarrett, 1953; Spence and Helmreich,
1978).
Nevertheless, people commonly believe sex differences to be far greater than they actually are (Brovermanet al., 1982; Williams and Bennett, 1975).
Research on actual sex differences indicates that there is little basis for many
gender stereotypes(Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974; Block, 1976; Fausto-Sterling,
1985; Hyde and Linn, 1986). There is no consistent evidence, for example,
that the sexes differ in cognitive style, creativity, independence, susceptibility to influence, general self-esteem, emotionality, empathy, nurturance, sociability, or loquaciousness. Some evidence indicates the existence of sex
differences favoring males in quantitative and spatial abilities, and sex differences favoring females in verbal abilities, but these differences do not appear in all studies, and when they do appear, they are small. In studies
reviewed by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974), sex accounted for only 1%oof the

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variance in verbal ability, between 1%oand 4%oof the variance in quantitative ability, and 4Woof the variance in visual-spatial ability (Maccoby and
Jacklin, 1974; Hyde, 1981; Plomin and Foch, 1981). The magnitude of these
differences has declined over time, with females making significant gains relative to males (Rosenthal and Rubin, 1982).
Evidence pertaining to sex differences in dispositional traits is weaker.
Among the most well-documented differences is the tendency for males to
be more aggressive. Even this sex difference, however, may account for only
about 5%oof the variance in aggression (Hyde, 1984) and may emerge in only
some situations (Frodi et al., 1977). Interpretations of the evidence on sex
differences in other traits differ (see Block, 1976). Research on achievement
motivation indicates a tendency for females to score higher in orientation
toward work, and for males to score higher in orientation toward mastery
and competition. Among males and females working for achievement in the
same field, however, gender differences in orientation toward work and
mastery decline, but men continue to score higher on competitiveness (Spence
and Helmreich, 1978, 1983). Gender differences have also been found in nonverbal behaviors, such as touching, gaze, posture, and personal space (Deaux,
1985), and there is evidence of female superiorityin both encoding and decoding nonverbal cues (Hall, 1979). Again, however, the amount of variance
explained in the latter is small.
Although relativelyfew sex differences in abilities and dispositional traits
have been documented, recent and controversial work by Gilligan (1982) suggests that women and men may have different images of themselves and how
the world works that are reflected in the way they resolve moral conflicts
and arrive at moral standards. According to Gilligan, male solutions to moral
dilemmas reflect concern with abstract standards of justice, fairness, and
the balancing of individual rights, whereas female solutions reflect concern
with caring for others, human attachments, and the balancing of conflicting
responsibilities. Because women and men have different modes of thinking
about relationships, they seem to have different moral premises and different approaches to choice and the resolution of conflict.
Research on sex differences in physical strength and ability indicates
that, on average, men are somewhat taller and stronger than women (FaustoSterling, 1985). Differences favor males in both upper and lower body strength
(Hudson, 1978). Males are more vulnerable to illness and disease, however,
and display higher mortality rates than females of comparable age. Females
show somewhat greater tolerance for heat than males and tend to have more
body fat, which gives them an advantage in some activities requiring endurance (Wood, 1980; Fausto-Sterling, 1985). Sex differences in dexterity depend on the task observed. Females have been found to have somewhat better
finger dexterity but do not have better overall manual dexterity (Maccoby
and Jacklin, 1974).

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WHY DO WOMEN AND MEN DIFFER?


Biological Influences
A primary objective of the study of sex and gender is to determine why
differences in social roles and behavior exist. Because there are biological
differences between the sexes, there has been a tendency to assume that most
differences between women and men are biologically determined. It has fallen
to social scientists to determine the degree to which such differences are cultural rather than biological in origin. This is a difficult task, not only because there is widespread agreement that both biology and culture play a
role in the development of sex differences, but because that role is increasingly believed to be interactive.
Research shedding light on the degree to which observed differences
between the sexes are biologically or socially determined involves the study
of naturally occurring situations in which either biology or culture is held
relatively constant while the other varies. One type of research has been the
study of nonhuman primates, who are biologically similar to humans but
not exposed to the same social influences. It has been argued that sex differences in behavior observed among nonhuman primates are indicative of biologically based sex differences in humans. Although there are problems in
drawing analogies between human and animal behavior (Sherif, 1979; Tavris
and Wade, 1984), research on nonhuman primates has yielded some interesting findings. One is that dominance hierarchiesare not universal among nonhuman primates and not all such hierarchies are male dominated (Rowell,
1974). Female status in the primate world is often high, ranging from assertive to clearly dominant (Rowell, 1974; Weisstein, 1982). For example, among
prosimians, females are dominant (Hrdy, 1981). Female dominance has also
been observed in more advanced species, such as squirrel monkeys (Weisstein, 1982). In addition, male dominance does not appear inherited within
primate species. Lineages have been observed to rise and fall within a generation, suggesting that what is inherited is the specific social structureof rank,
not dominance per se (Rowell, 1974). Another finding is that sexual selection for dominance does not always occur (Rowell, 1974; Kolata, 1976; Fedigan, 1982). Among chimpanzees, for example, females prefer more sociable,
less disruptive males. Variation in male dominance also exists among closely
related species, suggesting that similar genes can produce different behavior
in different environments (Weisstein, 1982). Together, these findings point
to the conclusion that male dominance in humans is not genetically inherited.
Another type of research undertaken to assess the influence of biological factors is research on the genetic inheritance of traits. Because sex-linked
traits are almost always carriedon the X chromosome, and boys, who have an
X and a Y chromosome, get their X chromosome from their mothers, it is

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Sex and Gender

possible to identify sex-linked traits as those transmitted from mother to son


rather than father to son. Research on the genetic inheritance of traits,
however, has not yet found a direct connection between specific genes and
specific sex differences (Tavris and Wade, 1984).
Other research carried out to investigate the biological basis of differences has involved the study of genetic anomalies. The study of children exposed to abnormal levels of hormones in utero permits evaluation of the effect
of parental hormones on sex differences in behavior. Such children are hermaphrodites with external genitals that are either ambiguous in appearance
or in conflict with the sex of their internal gonads (ovaries or testes). Because the external genitals are used to assign the sex according to which a
child is reared, socializing inputs received by the child are at variance with
the influence exerted by sex hormones. By comparing hermaphrodites with
individuals whose hormonal and environmental influences have been consistent, it is possible to examine the role of parental sex hormones in the development of sex differences and to investigate whether they or the sex of
rearing ultimately determines an individual's sexual identity.
Studies of hermaphrodites suggest some hormonal influences on sex
differences in behavior, but the extent of those influences cannot be identified clearly because of research problems (Money and Ehrhardt, 1972;
Ehrhardt and Meyer-Bahlburg, 1981; Fausto-Sterling, 1985). Research on
hermaphrodites is also inconsistent with respect to whether sex hormones
or the sex of rearingis more important in establishing gender identity (Money
and Ehrhardt, 1972; Fausto-Sterling, 1985). What has been established is
that gender identity is not automatically determined by fetal hormones and
that the sex of rearing can override sex hormones (Money and Ehrhardt,
1972).
Researchon infants and young childrenhas also been of interestto those
attempting to sort out biological and cultural influences on sex differences.
It has been argued that sex differences that appear in infancy and early childhood are more likely to have a biological basis because infants and young
children have had relatively little exposure to cultural influences. Sex differences that appear later in life, in contrast, have been argued to be more likely to result from socialization. Research on sex differences in abilities and
dispositional traits has found evidence of few sex differences before late childhood and adolescence. The slight difference in verbal ability that favors females does not emerge until after age 10 or 11 (Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974),
and the differences in quantitative and visual-spatial ability that favor males
are not evident until either late childhood or early adolescence (Maccoby and
Jacklin, 1974; Benbow and Stanley, 1980, 1983; Deaux, 1985). Of the most
consistently documented sex differences, only the difference in aggression
appears to emerge at preschool ages (Maccoby and Jacklin, 1980; Tieger,
1980).

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The age at which a sex difference emerges, however, does not provide
a clear indication of its source. There is increasing evidence that socializing
influences on males and females differ from the moment of birth. Parents
treat infant boys and girls differently (e.g., Moss, 1974; Seavey et al., 1975;
Condry and Condry, 1976), and grade-school teachers respond differently
to male and female students (e.g., Leinhardt et al., 1979). Thus, even sex
differences observed in infancy and early childhood can result from socialization. Sex differences that emerge later can also have a biological basis because physical maturation is associated with hormonal changes that can
produce sex differences. It can therefore be argued that sex differences appearing at any age can be a result of socialization, and sex differences that
appear only in late childhood and adolescence are not necessarily free of biological influence.
Research on gender differentiation in different societies, or cultures,
has been another important source of information on the biological and cultural basis of sex differences. Anthropological research indicates wide crosscultural variation in the behavior of females and males. With the exception
of a few tasks that are performed by males in nearly all societies and a few
that are performed mainly by females, there is considerablevariabilityin what
constitutes female and male labor and dispositional traits across societies (Sanday, 1981; Ashmore et al., 1986).
Other evidence that social learning is important comes from research
demonstrating relationships between environmental influences and the traits
on which males and females differ. The development of visual-spatial abilities, for example, has been demonstrated to be associated with practice. In
one study where first-grade boys had somewhat higher scores than girls on
tests of visual-spatial ability, girls improved with practice whereas boys improved little (Connor et al., 1978). This finding suggests that the boys had
already developed their skills to a point where additional practice did not
improve performance, but that with practice the girls were able to perform
as well as the boys. Studies of older children also show that visual-spatial
skills are related to courses taken (Fennema and Sherman, 1977; Johnson
et al., 1979) and to the range of an individual's environmental experiences
(Berry, 1971; Nerlove et al., 1971). Even when it comes to physical sex differences, such as height, there is evidence that behavior, such as activity levels,
affects development (Fausto-Sterling, 1985).

Macrolevel Social Influences


Intersociety Comparisons
As noted, all known societies have been characterized by a division of
labor by sex, and there are a few universal principles of task differentiation,

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which although not absolute, form probabilistic constraints on the division


of labor. Contemporary thinking suggests that biological factors have constrained the division of labor and that economies of effort, or efficiency,
operate within those constraints (Friedl, 1975; Burton et al., 1977).
The major biological factor constraining the division of labor is women's role in reproduction-specifically, childbearing and nursing (Brown,
1970; Ember, 1983). Since there are economies in having the same individuals perform adjacent tasks in production sequences and in assigning tasks
in clusters based on physical location and temporal sequence, and since there
are diseconomies in the exposure of females, the source of reproduction, to
danger, women have tended to perform tasks involving less travel and danger
that are consistent with childbearing and nursing (Brown, 1970; Friedl, 1975;
Burton et al., 1977). There is good evidence that a demand for female labor
can alter patterns of childbearing and childrearing (Friedl, 1975). For example, in contemporary foraging groups, where women contribute a large percentage of the food supply through gathering, the length of birth intervals
is extended through prolonged lactation, and fertility can be quite low (see
Blumberg, 1984). Similarly, when changes in the U.S. economy produced
a demand for female labor during the 20th century, an increase in labor force
participationoccurredamong women of all ages (Oppenheimer, 1970), which,
despite some fluctuations in birth rates, helped perpetuate the long-term fertility decline evident in urban industrial societies (Notestein, 1945; Caldwell,
1976; Rindfuss and Sweet, 1977; Ryder, 1980). However, although nonbiological factors can condition or override the constraint imposed by women's
childbearing and nursing, throughout most of human history restriction due
to pregnancy and nursing has been evident (Chafetz, 1984:22).
Another biological factor believed to have a constraining effect on the
sexual division of labor is men's greater physical strength (Murdock, 1949;
Murdock and Provost, 1973), although its effect is highly probabilistic. There
is great variation in the development of physical strength, which produces
wide cross-cultural variation in the extent to which males are stronger than
females. Also, many tasks performed by males requirelittle physical strength.
Thus, there has been a trend away from explanations emphasizing physical
strength and other male characteristics to those emphasizing the compatibility of tasks with women's childbearing and nursing. Men's greater physical
strength is not irrelevant to the sexual division of labor, but its effect is believed to be less important than women's childbearing and nursing.
The division of labor by sex is affected not only by biological constraints
but by societal characteristics.Among the most important of these is the technological base of the society. For example, in foraging societies women tend
to provide more than half of the food needed for subsistence and in most
horticultural societies the labor force is predominantly female (Blumberg,
1984). In agrarian societies, however, women play only a minor role in
production, and although women's productive role is greater in industrial

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societies, it is still highly subordinate to the male role. In developing theories of gender stratification, Chafetz (1984) and Blumberg(1984) have sought
to identify the factors responsible for differences in women's productive role
in different types of societies.
The division of labor is related to the degree of gender inequality in
a society. In analyzing preindustrialsocieties, Sanday (1973) found that where
women did not contribute to production, their status was invariably low.
Even in societies where women did most of the production, however, their
status could also be low. Participation in production was a necessary but
not a sufficient condition for relatively high gender equality.
Development of a general understandingof why societies differ in degree
of gender inequality has become an important area of both theoretical and
empirical analysis, based heavily on analysis of preindustrial societies (e.g.,
Sanday, 1981; Rosaldo, 1974; Friedl, 1975; Chafetz, 1984). One reason for
this focus is that preindustrial societies encompass most of the known variation in the degree of gender stratification, from roughly egalitarian to highly male dominated. The foraging and horticultural societies in which women
tended to be the primary producers and where gender equality was relatively
high were in existence for over 99Woof our three- to four-million year history (Blumberg, 1984). Agrarian and pastoral societies and the industrial societies of the present day have all been highly male dominated.
The theories of gender stratification developed by Blumberg (1984) and
Chafetz (1984) converge on major points. Blumbergis more explicit about the
connection between power and privilege, but both see economic power as
the key determinant of women's access to the scarce, valued resources of a
society (e.g., possessions, perquisites, prerogatives, freedoms, honor, deference, prestige). Blumberg argues that the power of property is more important than the power of force, the power of political position, or the power
of ideology, although she acknowledges that the major sources of power are
interrelated. For example, when women's economic power is high, the use
of force against them tends to be restrained.
According to Blumberg and Chafetz, there is evidence to indicate that
women's relative control of the means of production and the allocation of
surplus or surplus value is an important determinant of the status of women
in a society. In societies with subsistence economies, Friedl (1975) argued
that the degree to which women control the distribution of the product of
their labor (usually food) strongly influences their relative status since it creates nonkin networks of mutual obligations that establish a basis for power
and prestige. Schlegel (1977) and Blumberg (1984), however, attach primary
importance to control of production rather than distribution, since control
of the means of production tends to be associated with control of the allocation of surplus. Both Blumberg and Chafetz argue that, in societies that

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produce a surplus, those who profit will be the product owners or controllers,
who choose the manner in which the surplus is distributed.
Blumberg and Chafetz both discuss factors that enhance what Blumberg calls the "strategic indispensability" of women's work. They also see
characteristics of the family structure, such as lineality and locality, as affecting women's relative economic power and, therefore, the degree of gender
inequality. In addition, Chafetz views gender stereotypes and the degree to
which dominant religions or secular ideologies explicitly support gender
stereotyping and inequality as factors that buttress the system of gender
stratification.
Because women and men perform different social roles, they exhibit
different behavior repertoires. Gender differentiation in social roles therefore produces gender differences in behaviors, abilities, and dispositional
traits. These learned differences have little or no biological basis. Consensual beliefs about differences between the sexes also accompany gender role
differentiation. These stereotypes exaggerate actual differences and ascribe
them to biological factors. Although it is logically possible for the two sexes
to be "separate [different] but equal," the degree of gender role differentiation in a society is strongly related to the degree of gender inequality (Sanday, 1974). "Different" usually means unequal, since the roles filled by the
two sexes do not bring the same power and privilege.

Historical Change Within Societies


Supplementing the picture of social influences on gender differentiation and gender inequality that emerges from research on foraging, horticultural, and agrarian societies are historical analyses of more recent changes
in gender role differentiation. In the agrarian societies existing prior to industrialization, work and family structures were integrated (Oakley, 1974;
Tilly and Scott, 1978; Hareven, 1982). The unit of production was the unit
of kin relationships, and the location of work was not separate from family
life. Because a large family was an economic asset, both the mother's
reproductive role and her productive work were valued.
Even in preindustrial societies, however, societal complexity affected
the sexual division of labor. With urbanization and increased population density, female participation in many activities declined. For example, female
participation in crafts declined when occupational specialization caused craft
activity to move from the home to the workshop. The intensification of
agriculture, associated with high population density, a short growing season, use of the plow, and high dependence on domesticated animals, also
produced a decrease in female participation in farming and an increase in

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female participation in less economically visible activities in the home


(Boserup, 1970; Ember, 1983; Burton and White, 1984).
With industrialization,the relationshipbetween the family and the economy changed dramatically due to the establishment of institutions separate
from the family to perform economic activities (Boserup, 1970; Tilly and
Scott,~1978; Hareven, 1982; Ryan, 1983). Work increasingly became an activity performed away from the home for monetary return. Although there
was initially some tendency for whole families to be employed outside the
home, technological change and protective labor legislation imposed restrictions on the employment of children, making them dependent on adults and
creating a need to provide for their care. Children therefore became an economic liability rather than an asset. The need to care for children and the
continuing constraints imposed by women's reproductive role, coupled with
the absence of a demand for women's labor outside the home, led to a heightened differentiation of roles within the family.
The specialization of men in work in the labor market and women in
work in the home had important consequences. It isolated housework and
child care from other work, made women and children economically dependent on men, and separated men from the daily routine of the household.
It also affected the value attached to the work of women in the home (Oakley, 1974; Hareven, 1982; Ryan, 1983). As products formerly produced at
home became available on the market, the value of women's work inevitably declined. Products came to be viewed primarilyin terms of their exchange
value rather than their use value, and the value of products produced privately for direct use declined relative to the value of those produced under
market conditions. The production of use value was generally regarded as
nonproductive because it was not financially remunerated.
The removal of economic activity from the home and the resulting evolution of the housewife role also had implications for family life. Since industrialization made housework less burdensome, the nature of the work
performed by women changed (Oakley, 1974; Tilly and Scott, 1978; Ryan,
1983). Children came to occupy a more central place in the family, and standards and ideals of child care rose. Similarly, new standards of cleanliness
emerged. Thus, although housework was less difficult, it became no less timeconsuming (Vanek, 1974; Robinson, 1980). Women also became society's
primary consumers as the change to a market economy occurred.
During the 20th century, advanced industrial societies experienced economic and social changes that are again altering the sexual division of labor.
Structural changes in the economy increased the need for large numbers of
white-collar workers and thereby created a demand for female labor (Oppenheimer, 1970; Oakley, 1974). Meanwhile, the development, acceptance,
and use of effective methods of contraception made it possible for women

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to exert a large measure of control over their fertility and helped free them
from the constraintsof their reproductiverole. Labor-savingdevices and other
products for the home also became widely available, reducing the amount
of work required for the physical maintenance of a household. In addition,
improvements in medical care brought a significant increase in life expectancy, thereby reducing furtherthe proportion of a woman's life during which
there were young children in the home. Together, these changes produced
a marked increase in the employment of women outside the home. For example, 20% of U.S. women aged 18-64 were in the labor force in 1900 (Wertheimer, 1977:210), but this figure had risen to almost 60% by 1980 (U.S.
Bureau of the Census, 1986).
Prior to 1970, women's increased entry into the labor force occurred
primarilyin clerical and service jobs into which women had become segregated. Increases in women's educational attainment during the 1950s and 1960s
and a lack of opportunity for entry into high-level "male"occupations were
among the factors that gave impetus to the resurgence of the women's movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the wake of this resurgence, women have increasingly been preparing for and moving into higher prestige
occupations.
Although the employment of married women outside the home began
to increase after World War II,little change occurred in the division of household labor in the United States prior to the 1970s. Studies of the amount
of time spent on housework between the 1920s and the 1960s showed no significant changes, although new technology resultedin the substitution of some
routine, repetitive work for more managerial types of activity (Vanek, 1974;
Robinson, 1980). Since the 1970s there have been some indications of change.
Between 1965 and 1975, there was a decrease in the amount of time spent
on family work by women, coupled with a small increase in the amount of
time spent on family work by men (Pleck, 1985; Robinson, 1980, 1988). The
decrease observed for women was associated with changes in women's labor
force participation and marital and fertility behavior over the decade (Robinson, 1980). The small increase observed for men, evident among both wifeemployed husbands and sole-breadwinninghusbands, resultedprimarilyfrom
men's spending more time on traditional male tasks such as household repairs
and lawn care (Pleck, 1985; Robinson, 1988). This pattern of change suggests a general value shift toward somewhat greater family involvement by
husbands rather than a response to the wife's employment in two-earner
households. As a result of these changes, the averageproportion of time spent
on family work by husbands increased.
Detailed U.S. surveys of work performed by husbands and wives in
the home in 1976 and 1977 indicate that wives continued to do most household work and child care (Berk and Berk, 1979; Robinson, 1980; Sanik, 1981;

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Pleck, 1985). Employed wives spent only about half as much time on housework as nonemployed wives (Vanek, 1974), but even employed wives spent,
on the average, almost three times as much time on household work as their
husbands (Walker, and Woods, 1976; Robinson, 1977; Sanik, 1981; Pleck,
1985). Husbands of employed wives did not increase their family work in
the narrow sense (e.g., child care) but showed some increase in broader forms
of family participation (e.g., child contact) (Pleck, 1985).
When a broad range of child care and housework responsibilities was
considered, the employed wife spent a greater total number of hours working either in or outside the home than her husband or her nonemployed counterpart (Walker and Woods, 1976; Geerken and Gove, 1983; Pleck, 1985).
In contrast, the husbands of employed wives actually spent less time working than the husbands of nonemployed wives because their wives' earnings
enabled them to reduce their hours of market work, and they spent little additional time on housework (Walker and Woods, 1976; Geerken and Gove,
1983).
Recent evidence suggests that there has been further change in the division of household labor between 1975 and 1985, with men spending more
time on traditional female tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
Whereas women did 920/0 of female tasks in 1965 and 890/0 in 1975, they
did only 80Woof such tasks in 1985 (Robinson, 1988). Overall, men did only
about 150/oof housework in 1965, but this had increased to about 330/oby
1985 (Juster, 1985; Gershunyand Robinson, 1988; Robinson, 1988). As would
be expected, evidence of change is greater among the young. Several studies
of fathers of young children reveal increased family work by fathers (Sanik,
1981; Daniels and Weingarten, 1981). Moreover, most high school seniors
now report a preference for sharing child care and housework in their own
prospective marriages, and this trend toward sharing increased slightly between 1976 and 1979 (Herzog et al., 1983).
Studies document a trend toward increased acceptance of women's participation in nonfamily roles since at least the 1930s when polling began (e.g.,
Erskine, 1971; Mason et al., 1976; Thornton and Freedman, 1979). These
changes appear to have occurred in response to increase in women's labor
force participation and, in turn, have brought about further participation.
Overall, the record of historical change since the coming of industrialization provides strong evidence of the malleability of gender roles and associated attitudes in response to social influences. Industrialization brought
about major changes in the roles of women and men. As subsequent changes
in technology increased the demand for female labor, changes in gender roles
began to occur again. Women have enteredthe labor market in ever-increasing
numbers, initiating a reduction in gender role differentiation. Barring unforeseen circumstances, this trend is likely to continue. Unlike women's ini-

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tial entry into the labor market, the recent entry of women into high-level
male occupations has not been responsive to labor demand but has occurred
in competition with men. This change and its effect on the allocation of work
in the household are unlikely to be altered by a reduction in the demand for
labor in traditionally female jobs. What remains unknown is how far and
how fast the current trend toward gender equality will go.

Microlevel Social Processes


Socialization
Within a society at a particularpoint in time, individuals come to adopt
gender-specific behavior, attitudes, and dispositional traits through life-long
processes of socialization and allocation that perpetuate gender role differentiation. Social and developmental psychologists have developed a number
of theories of gender role socialization, which differ primarilyin the mechanism by which sex-typed behavior is hypothesized to be learned. There are
four major types of theories: social learning theories, cognitive developmental
theories, information processing theories, and identification theories (Huston,
1983). Although the process by which individuals learn behavior appropriate for their sex may occur in a variety of ways, the content of what is learned
depends on the association of sex with particular types of behavior in the
society in which an individual lives.
Much attention has been devoted by both psychologists and sociologists to the content of messages communicated to the two sexes by various
socialization agents (Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974; Block, 1976; Marini, 1978;
Huston, 1983; Marini and Brinton, 1984). Research has indicated that parents treat boys and girls differently and serve as models for gender-specific
roles and behavior. Gender role socialization also occurs within schools via
curricularmaterials, role models, differential treatment by teachers and counselors, and interaction with peers. The mass media, including films, television, books, newspapers, and magazines, constitute other important sources
of gender role learning. Gender role socialization continues in adulthood via
experiences in the workplace, interaction with family and friends, and the
ongoing influence of the media.
Through the process of socialization, individuals not only learn socially prescribed behaviors but also internalize gender stereotypes that buttress
existing gender differentiation and stratification (Hamilton, 1981; Deaux,
1985; Ashmore et al., 1986). Beliefs that the sexes are different have implications for the overall evaluation of each sex, since the characteristicsascribed
to each sex are not equally valued. Evidence suggests that both sexes view

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the characteristics ascribed to males as more desirable than the characteristics ascribed to females and, therefore, that the overall evaluation of males
is higher than that of females (McKee and Sherriffs, 1957; Broverman et al.,
1972; however, see Ashmore et al., 1986, for a discussion of the limitations
of this evidence). Because the characteristics ascribed to males are also those
important for gaining access to positions of power and privilege, gender
stereotypes create expectations for performance that negatively affect evaluations of women's past and expected future performance in high-level jobs.

Allocation
Another process by which individuals come to adopt gender-specific
behavior, attitudes, and traits is through the allocation of individuals to institutional positions on the basis of sex, often to sex-typed positions. Whereas
socialization shapes the choices of individuals by conditioning their desires
and expectations, allocation involves action by others that channels individuals into positions on the basis of sex, irrespective of their desires and expectations.
Allocation is pervasive in the workplace. Recent analysis of sex segregation in the U.S. labor force indicates that more than half of the workers
of one sex would have to change detailed census occupational categories to
make the occupational distributionsof the two sexes equal (Beller, 1984; Blau,
1988; Jacobs, 1989). Within occupations, workers are also segregated within and between firms. It has been estimated that 960/0 of the workers of
one sex would have to change job titles to equalize the distributions of the
two sexes across jobs (Bielby and Baron, 1984). This high level of sex segregation arises in part from the allocation of workers to jobs by employers.
Exactly what motivates these allocation decisions is unclear. Economists have
suggested that they are affected by a process of "statistical discrimination,"
whereby employers attempt to maximize efficiency based on perceptions that
the marginal productivity of women and men differs on average for different lines of work (Phelps, 1972; Arrow, 1973). However, perceptions about
the suitabilityof women and men for different types of work are based largely
on gender stereotypes that are inaccurate (Kiesler, 1975). Moreover, given
that women and men sometimes perform the same work under different job
titles in different parts of the same organization (Bielby and Baron, 1986),
even perceived aggregate differences between women and men in marginal
productivity in a given type of work cannot explain all instances of job segregation within firms. It could be that both perceptions of gender differences
and perceptions of employee preferencesfor working with same-sex peers-in
particular, male preferences for working with males (Haefner, 1977; Hagen
and Kahn, 1975)- cause employers to discriminate or the basis of sex.

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111

Studies of selection situations and performanceoutputs provide evidence


that women and men are evaluated differently. Males are more likely to be
selected or ranked highly for managerial, scientific, and semiskilled positions
than equally qualified females. When identical professional articles and paintings are attributedto a male or a female, there is some evidence that the work
believed to be done by a man is rated more highly than the work believed to be
done by a woman. Studies have also shown that males prefer to work and
interact with competent males rather than competent females (see Nieva and
Gutek, 1981, and Wallston and O'Leary, 1981, for discussions of this
evidence).
Gender bias in evaluation is not consistent across all situations. There
is greater bias in the evaluation of qualifications than in the evaluation of
past performance since the level of inference required is lower when assessment is confined to a specific behavior or product exhibited. When the
criteria on which an individual is judged are ambiguous or there is little information available about the individual's performance, gender stereotypes
play a more important role in evaluation (Nieva and Gutek, 1981; Wallston
and O'Leary, 1981).
Evidence that gender bias in evaluation is attributable at least in part
to the effects of gender stereotyping on performance expectations can be
found in the fact that gender bias is evident in assessments of the suitability
of both male and female applicants for sex-typed jobs (Nieva and Gutek,
1981). There is also evidence that personal characteristicsthat enhance gender
stereotyping increase the degree of bias in evaluation. Studies of the evaluation of qualifications and the attribution of causes of performance in highlevel male-typed jobs indicate that physically attractive women tend to be disadvantaged by their appearance, whereas physically attractive men are advantaged (Heilman and Saruwatari, 1979; Heilman and Stopeck, 1985). This
difference arises because physically attractivewomen are perceivedto be more
feminine and therefore less likely to possess the masculine traits required for
success in male-typed jobs (Gillen, 1981; Heilman, 1983). However, display
of certain "male"traits such as assertiveness and competitiveness can cause
women to be disliked and ostracized (Lao et al., 1975; Hagen and Kahn,
1975), since this behavior violates gender role expectations and is not perceived as legitimate for women (Holter, 1971; Meeker and Weitzel-O'Neill,
1977). The range of acceptable behavior for women in male-typed occupations is therefore relatively narrow. For a woman to be accepted, Meeker
and Weitzel-O'Neill (1977) suggest that there must be evidence either that
she is cooperatively motivated or that it is legitimate for her to enhance her
own status because she has been assigned a higher status than others - e.g.,
has been appointed leader by an outside authority (see also Ridgeway, 1978,
1982). By comparison, competitive status enhancement is legitimate for men
since it is consistent with gender role expectations.

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112

In recent years simple demonstrations of differential evaluation have


been replaced by more sophisticated analyses of the structureand process of
gender stereotyping (Hamilton, 1981; Deaux, 1985; Ashmore et al., 1986).
This new research is influenced by recent work on social cognition and views
stereotypes as operating in the same way as other cognitive categoro-q Investigators are beginning to study the structureof gender stereotypes, reflected
in the components of gender belief systems, and the processes by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. These systematic efforts to place
the stereotype concept within a broader framework are likely to provide a
basis for understandingdiscrepanciesin the findings of earlier studies of performance evaluation. They are also likely to provide a clearer picture of the
ways in which gender stereotypes are formed and influence perception and
action.

Emergent Interaction
Gender differences are maintained in part through the effects of gender
stereotypes and related performance expectations on emergent interaction.
As noted above, there is little evidence of sex differences in mental ability
and many other stable traits that have been studied. Nevertheless, in situations involving male-female interaction, sex differences in behavior emerge.
For example, males interruptfemales more than females interruptmales, and
more interruptions have been observed in cross-sex interaction than in samesex interaction (Zimmermanand West, 1975; Kollock et al., 1985). In a study
in which leaders of three-person groups were given information that followers did not have, male leaders were asked for information more often than
female leaders (Eskilson and Wiley, 1976). Males also have been observed
to talk more than females in task-oriented situations (Strodtbeck and Mann,
1956; Curtis et al., 1975; Lockheed and Hall, 1976), and females tend to
express less confidence than males in their future performance, even on tasks
where they are known to do as well or betterthan males (see researchreviewed
by Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974). Interestingly, there is evidence that females
talk more and solve problems better as the subject they are dealing with becomes more appropriateto their sex (Milton, 1959; Lockheed and Hall, 1976).
These sex-related differences emerging in interaction resemble differences in behavior associated with other status characteristics. Berger and his
colleagues (1980) have suggested that the effects of gender stereotypes are
a manifestation of a more general status-organizing process. Expectationstates theory postulates that status characteristics constitute a basis for the
formation of performance expectations, which affect group interaction even

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113

when a status characteristicbears no relation to the goal or task of the group.


Thus, group members will assume that men are generally more capable than
women and therefore that men are probably more capable at the task the
group is performing, even when sex is not known to be relevant to the task.
This status-generalizingprocess is used to explain research findings that males
are given and take more opportunities to perform, are evaluated more highly for the same qualifications or performance, are more often rewarded for
their performance, and have more influence than females (Bergeret al., 1980).
Meeker and Weitzel-O'Neill (1977) have also argued that because men have
higher status than women, competitive or dominating behavior is viewed as
legitimate for men but not for women.
Since a status characteristic will be applied to new tasks and new situations in the course of normal interaction, expectation-states theory suggests
that the "burden of proof" is on demonstrating that sex is irrelevant to task
performance. In the absence of intervention, females are more likely to defer
to the judgment of males, and males will refuse to be influenced by females.
In one experimental study, male groups refused to be influenced by an obviously competent female even though without her they failed at their task and
lost money (Wahrman and Pugh, 1974). One study by Pugh and Wahrman
(1983) found that the effect of gender could be eliminated as a factor influencing judgment when women were shown to be more competent than
their male partners at a task related to but distinct from the group's task.
Another study (Wagner et al., 1986) showed that unambiguous demonstrations of ability at a task that disconfirmed gender stereotypes could invert
gender-related performance expectations for the task. However, gender biases continued to hinder women and help men even after intervention. Telling a man that he was not capable did not reduce his expectations and
performance to the level that telling a woman she was not capable reduced
hers. These studies demonstrate that the effects of gender inequality can be
reduced when men and women work collectively on formal and well-defined
tasks, when standards of performance are clear and measurable, and when
unambiguous demonstration of ability is possible. In the experiments,
however, actors had no prior experience with the task. In nonlaboratory situations where gender stereotypes link sex to task performance, the impact
of disconfirmation of the type used by Wagner and his colleagues may be
greatly reduced.
Although there is evidence that expectation-states theory explains the
emergence of leadership structures in initially unstructured groups oriented
to achieve collective success at a particular task, the relevance of the theory
to the explanation of other aspects of interpersonal interaction remains
unknown. Because gender differences in power use are known to exist, Molm

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(1986) examined the interaction between gender and power use in an experiment in which access to power was systematically varied. The results of her
study suggest that gender differences in power use arise largely from differential access to power in particularsituations ratherthan from a stable proclivity
toward compliance and giving by females.

CONCLUSION
Both biological and social influences play a role in producing gender
differentiation and stratification. Historically, biological factors-particularly
women's role in reproduction and, to a lesser degree, men's greater physical
strength-have constrained the division of labor. These constraints and economies of effort, or efficiency, operating within them produced a few universal principles of task differentiation that, although not absolute, formed
probabilisticconstraintson the division of labor. Although there is wide crosscultural variation in what constitutes male and female labor around these
constraints, the division of labor by sex has never permitted the emergence
of a female-dominated society. Because the division of labor puts men in
a better position to acquire and control the valuable resources of their societies, the division of labor gives rise to gender stratification.
Understanding social influences on gender roles and attitudes requires
that social scientists distinguish between processes operating at the macroand microlevels. Analysis of historical or cross-cultural variation in macrolevel units enables us to understand how gender differentiation and stratification arise, and why they take the forms they do. For example, there is
evidence that macrolevel characteristics such as the technological base of a
society and the labor demands it generates interact with biological sex differences in producing gender differentiation and stratification.
In contrast, analysis of variation at the microlevel enables us to understand how gender differentiation and stratification condition the life experiences of women and men within a society. Individuals born into a society
at a particular time come to fill gender-specific roles via processes of socialization and allocation that operate throughout life. They also internalize attitudes and beliefs, including gender stereotypes, that buttress existing gender
differentiation and stratification. Because institutionalized practices and the
beliefs that justify and reinforce their existence perpetuate the status quo,
identifying the practices and beliefs that perpetuate gender inequality makes
it possible for us to intervene to bring about change.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This paper was written while the author was supported by Grants
K04-AG00296 and RO1-AG05715from the National Institute on Aging. The
assistance of William Chan, Laurie J. Alioto, and Erica Finley is gratefully
acknowledged.

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