Illustration: Emily Wilkinson, www.mindfulmaps.com
To all our women readers: it's great to be living in a post-discrimination world, right? Right? Is this thing on?
Whatever your view – and regardless of facts such as woman's earnings standing at under 80% of men's - many people seem to feel that way, such as the 53% of Americans in a recent Gallup poll. Nicole Stephens and Cynthia Levine of Northwestern University identify one reason for this: the 'choice framework', a view of the world particularly popular in the US that treats all actions as freely chosen based on our preferences. Seeing life purely in terms of choices can empower individuals, and studies show we can benefit psychologically. But in a new paper to be published in Psychological Science, these researchers explore how it can make us reluctant to see discrimination as a cause of mothers leaving the workforce.
In a first study, 171 stay-at-home mothers revealed through questionnaire ratings that they saw their departure from the workforces as a choice rather than something imposed on them. The more they endorsed the choice explanation, the less likely they were to interpret genuine gender inequality in a range of industries as due to discrimination or structural challenges to women working (such as a default model of work that doesn't adequately account for childcare).
The second study adopted experimental methods to manipulate exposure to the choice framework. While waiting to begin the experiment, 46 undergraduates were unwittingly exposed to a poster on the wall about “women's experiences in the workforce”; in one condition, the title began with the phrase “Choosing to leave”. Participants then completed a questionnaire, and those who had had this slight level of exposure to the choice framework were somewhat more likely to rate gender discrimination as non-existent.
Stephens, Nicole, & Levine, Cynthia (2011). Opting Out or Denying Discrimination? How the Framework of Free Choice in American Society Influences Perceptions of Gender Equality Psychological Science