Depressing Study Finds Gender Stereotypes Haven’t Changed Since the 1980s

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In the early 1980s, psychologists published a study examining the gender stereotypes held by American college students. Thirty years later, a different team of psychologists was curious: So much has changed since then. How have young people’s ideas about gender changed along with the times?

The depressing answer: They haven’t. The new study, published online this week in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that the college students they studied in 2014 “perceive strong differences between men and women on stereotype components today, as they did in the past.” Despite all that’s changed — for example, women now make up 47 percent of the workforce, compared to 38 percent in the 1980s — gender stereotypes have held steady for three decades.

In that original 1980s study, college students were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 100 how likely it was that the average woman and the average man would have a certain trait, role, physical characteristic, or occupation. A few examples: “defers to the judgment of others,” “source of emotional support,” and “plans for the future.” In each of these categories, gender stereotypes stayed consistent when compared to the 1983 study.

Psychology, you may have heard, is in the midst of a replication crisis — that means, basically, that experiments that went one way for one researcher turned out very differently when another researcher tried it. As lead author Elizabeth L. Haines joked on Twitter, “I was hoping NOT to replicate this one.”

Gender Stereotypes Haven’t Changed Since the 1980s