Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Behavioral Norms

LGBTQ_Symbols[Dr. Marina Gorsuch, Professor of St. Catherine University, recently wrote an article in the ILR Review entitled “Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Behavioral Norms in the Labor Market.” We are pleased to feature it and it will be free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Gorsuch discusses how she became inspired to conduct this type of research and provides advice for future researchers.]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

There are striking, persistent differences in earnings based on sex and sexual orientation. I first started this project after wondering if insight from psychology could help economists understand these earnings differences. In particular, I was intrigued by the research from social psychology testing more subtle forms of prejudice and stereotypes based on sex and sexual orientation. I drew on this interdisciplinary inspiration to develop an innovative laboratory experiment that tested how different types of prejudice and stereotypes impact labor market decisions.

Were there any surprising findings?

In this study, I asked participants to evaluate resumes that were manipulated on sex, perceived LGBT status, and whether the resume used traditionally masculine or feminine adjectives. My first set of results is not surprising – I find that male participants penalized resumes with an LGBT activity, and the LGBT penalty was slightly stronger effect for male resumes.

When testing more subtle forms of prejudice, I found some surprising results. Male participants evaluated non-LGBT women who used feminine adjectives more positively than when they used masculine adjectives. However, the resumes of women with the LGBT activity were immune to this effect. This suggests that perceived-heterosexual women are discouraged from masculine behavior that would be rewarded in the labor market, while perceived-LGBT women are not.

Additionally, the same men who had the strongest reaction to perceived-heterosexual women using masculine adjectives also had the strongest negative reaction to resumes with an LGBT activity. I used two different methods to estimate how many men in the study engaged in this form of discrimination. Both methods show that the majority of male participants were biased. This pattern of findings suggests that male decision makers are biased in ways that harm LGBT men, LGBT women, and heterosexual women in the labor market.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

I am a new scholar myself, so will simply repeat good advice I was given: be persistent. Papers and grants will be rejected – it doesn’t mean the paper or the project is bad. Don’t let a rejected paper sit in a drawer. Submit it somewhere else! Most papers you see published were rejected from multiple other journals.

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Gender Photo attributed to Free-Photos  (CC)