Status Effects of Gender

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Principal investigators:

Lisa Rashotte

University of North Carolina at Charlotte



Murray Webster

University of North Carolina at Charlotte



Sample size: 808

Field period: 7/15/2005-7/21/2005


We conducted an online experiment studying the status beliefs regarding men and women held by respondents of both genders. The theoretical tradition in which we work treats gender as a "diffuse status characteristic." This means that, absent convincing evidence that gender is irrelevant, individuals (women as well as men) expect men to perform better at most tasks, making men more influential in task situations such as committees, work teams, and juries.
The reason for this investigation is that some recent evidence suggests gender may be losing status significance, at least among the young and/or in particular regions of the country. Our experiment assesses the current culture of status beliefs across various geographic locales, genders, ages, ethnicities, education levels and income levels. We examine how strong, and how varied, status beliefs are across various groups of respondents.


H1: Respondents will give higher ratings to (have higher status beliefs for) male individuals than female individuals.
H2: Respondents will give higher ratings to (have higher status beliefs for) older individuals than younger individuals.

Experimental Manipulations

Each respondent saw one photograph of an individual and replied with their beliefs about that person on a series of nine items. Respondents were randomly assigned with equal probabilities to one of FOUR conditions: 2 (gender of target: female, male) x 2 (age of target: 21, 45 years old). Photo and wording differ across the four conditions:
1. Condition A: Diane Williams is a 21-year-old woman.
2. Condition B: David Williams is a 21-year-old man.
3. Condition C: Diane Williams is a 45-year-old woman.
4. Condition D: David Williams is a 45-year-old man.


1. How intelligent do you perceive Diane to be?
2. How well do you expect Diane to do at situations in general?
3. In terms of things that you think count in this world, how does Diane rate?
4. How capable do you think Diane is at most tasks?
5. How do you rate Diane concerning reading ability?
6. How do you rate Diane at abstract abilities?
7. How would you rate Diane�s grade point average?
8. Diane took the FAA exam for a private pilot�s license. How well do you think Diane probably did on this exam?

Summary of Results

Preliminary data analysis indicates that age is operating as a status characteristic as predicted. Hypothesis 2 is clearly supported across all dependent measures.
However, the preliminary findings regarding status beliefs by gender of target are much less clear. For some dependent variables, gender does not have a significant bivariate relationship. For others, the relationship appears to be the reverse of what was predicted. In other words, for some dependent measures, women targets are rated as higher than men targets. Multivariate analyses are ongoing in an attempt to tease out these relationships.


As mentioned above, this is important to understanding how, if at all, the status beliefs associated with gender have changed in the U.S. In addition to its descriptive function, this study will provide us with information necessary to the continuation of our research program. We will know when -- and where -- we can assume that gender carries status significance in the context of our theoretical tests.
Whatever the outcomes of this research, gender obviously continues to have status significance in many settings. Gender continues to produce and reproduce inequality in the workplace, for example, in ways Ridgeway (1997) has analyzed. If gender has less status significance now among college students than among employed adults, that might suggest that, with time, gender's significance may decline in the workplace also.

Additional Information

Our theory does not claim that gender is a status characteristic. That is an empirical question for any particular society and at any particular time, susceptible to change with historical changes in the society. We work with a theory of how status characteristics affect behavior and group structure; it is not a theory of gender (or of skin color, age, beauty, or any other facts that may meet the definition of diffuse status characteristics in a particular society). The theory says that if gender is a status characteristic in a society, then certain interaction inequalities will follow. Status-based inequalities would disappear if gender lost status significance and became simply descriptive, like eye color or blood type. Demonstration of women and men performing equally well at equally demanding jobs and receiving equal rewards is one mechanism that could remove status significance. While such demonstrations probably occur more in TV fiction than in real life, they may be having some effects. We include age, which also usually operates as a status characteristic, as an independent variable as well as a check on the procedures and a control.


Rashotte, Lisa Slattery and Murray Webster, Jr. 2005. "Gender Status Beliefs." Social Science Research. 34: 618-633.