Printer Friendly Version Of
American Sociological Association: 2007 Press Release
ASA Press Releases
Contact: Jackie Cooper or Lee Herring
Phone: (202) 247-9871
Subscribe to ASA News Updates
Follow us on Twitter
November 30, 2007
Surveys of British and American Employees Conclude
Women Must Work Harder
The joke, "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought
half as good," may not be totally off the mark in the workplace.
recent study, no matter how they sliced the data and controlled certain
variables, American Sociological Association members Elizabeth Gorman of the
University of Virginia and Julie Kmec of Washington State University, came to
the same conclusion: women say they have to work harder than men.
different surveys given in different years, to different groups of men and women
in Britain and the United States, a gender gap persisted in ratings of the
statement: "My job requires that I work very hard." Women were significantly
more likely to say they strongly agreed or agreed.
"Even when women and
men are matched on extensive measures of job characteristics, family and
household responsibilities, and individual qualifications, women report that
their jobs require more effort than men do," Gorman said. “Between a man and a
woman who hold the same job, shoulder the same burdens at home and have the same
education and skills, the woman is likely to feel she must work
What explains the association between gender and perceived
required work effort, if it’s not more difficult jobs or more demands at home?
"We argue that the association between sex and reported required work
effort is best interpreted as reflecting stricter performance standards imposed
on women, even when women and men hold the same jobs," said the researchers in
the paper, "We (Have to) Try Harder: Gender and Required Work Effort in Britain
and the United States," to be released on Nov. 21 in the December issue of the
journal Gender and Society. “A lot of experimental research has shown that
people rate the same performance as better when told it was done by a man. It
follows that women have to do better than a man in order to get the same
evaluation. Here we see how this plays out in the effort women must put in at
work,” Gorman added.
"This is what women are up against. They have to
prove themselves," Gorman said.
The statement in the survey about
required work effort is not one in which employees are comparing themselves to
the opposite sex, noted Gorman. It's also not asking for a perception of how
hard the work is or how much effort they actually exerted.
"Our focus is
on required work effort," the sociologists wrote in their article, "the effort
that an employee is expected to exert in order to perform her or his job at a
level that is satisfactory to the employer. It is important to distinguish
required effort from an employee’s actual exerted effort."
researchers compared results from the same question asked in nationally
representative surveys in 1977, 1992, two in 1997, and in 2001. The four later
national surveys used the same statement as in the 1977 survey to yield
comparable answers. The study concentrated its analysis on the two surveys
conducted in 1997, the U.S. National Study of the Changing Workforce and the
Skills Survey of the Employed British Workforce, both comprising
cross-sectional, representative interviews of about 3,500 and almost 2,500
Controlling for physical and mental demands of the
job and whether family responsibilities drained energy, Gorman and Kmec found
that neither group of factors explain the different findings about work effort.
The only interpretation that held up was that women were held to higher
The researchers analyzed the survey data to see
if, in fact, women did have more difficult jobs, but that was not the case. Even
when the jobs were almost identical, women still were significantly more likely
to say they had to work very hard.
In looking for another potential
reason, the sociologists considered whether domestic responsibilities outside of
work, including child care and housework, made women feel more fatigued and that
they had to work harder to keep up, but that did not emerge as the answer
"Marriage and parenthood had the same effect on reports of
required effort for women and men. In the U.S. sample, the researchers were able
to match workers on the number of hours they spent on childcare and housework.
Between men and women who performed the same amount of child care and housework,
women were still more likely to say their jobs required them to work very
Gorman and Kmec then compared their findings to research about
attitudes and beliefs held about men and women in the workplace. “We know that
people give lower marks to an essay, a painting or a résumé when it has a
woman’s name on it,” Gorman said. “And when a man and a woman work together on a
project, people assume the man contributed more than the woman did. Even when a
woman’s work is indisputably excellent, people don’t believe she’s good — they
think she got lucky. In light of this previous research, it makes sense to
conclude that women have to work harder to win their bosses’
Gorman stressed that it wouldn't be fair to use this research
to reinforce stereotypes. "We don't want employers to be exploiting female
workers," she said, because they know women impose higher standards on
themselves and will work harder.
Instead, Kmec noted, employers should
take into account women's hard work when considering who to promote and reward.
"We do not want to insist that female workers shirk their job responsibilities
to make this gap go away. Rather, we hope employers make job performance
standards more transparent and be held accountable for their evaluations of
women at work," said Kmec.
The possible consequences of the effort gap in
the workplace include some added difficulties: the quality of women’s work
experience is likely to be lower than men’s; physical and emotional effects
could, in turn, have negative repercussions for families; and the difference in
required effort could also have consequences for women’s careers, making it
harder for them to be recognized and promoted.
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org),
founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to
serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science
and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.