‘Stubborn’ or ‘Dependent’? How stereotypes affect gender pay gaps


VSClosing the gender pay gap may prove more difficult than previously thought. A new study shows that characteristics developed in childhood can cause some young women to be paid less than men for comparable work.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2021 report found that the pay gap has widened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, extending by an entire generation the likely wait time for women to reach retirement age. parity: from 99.5 years in 2020 to 135.6 years in 2021.

And research from the universities of Chicago and Northwestern in the US suggests girls portrayed as argumentative or disobedient may be at a particular disadvantage when it comes to achieving equal pay as young women. Whereas boys who are characterized as clingy or demanding are likely to end up being paid less than their young adult male peers.

A young woman considered stubborn as a child will earn $2,431 less per year than a comparable man, the researchers found. This equates to 40% of the average gender pay gap in the United States.

The gender pay gap for young men considered dependent in childhood – although lower than that of stubborn women – was still significant, with earnings $1,632 lower than a comparable male considered less dependent.

Read also: What the coronavirus pandemic reveals about the pay gap between frontline workers

childhood trends

The team used data from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) which followed 10,000 people born in the United States in 1979. They then analyzed the incomes of young adults (24 to 30 years old) of those who had behavior problems during the ages of four to 12.

In the NLSY, children are described as stubborn if they argue too much, have a strong temper, are disobedient, stubborn, moody, or irritable. Dependent children are those who demand a lot of attention, cling to adults and cry too much.

Research on the gender pay gap has found ‘large and substantial income penalties’ for women who exhibited stubborn behavior and for men who exhibited dependent behavior as children . But the reverse was not true. Stubborn men and dependent women suffered no wage disadvantage.

Although the team says that other childhood behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, antisocial behavior and peer conflict have been associated with lower income, there is no significant difference in the impact of these behaviors between the sexes.

“The gender pay gap differences in stubborn and dependent behaviors are not explained by education, marriage, depression, self-esteem, health, or adult personality traits,” explain Researchers.

Expectations about gender behavior from childhood could be the root of the problem. “A potential explanation is that these gender differences are a consequence of deviations from gender norms and stereotypes in the workplace,” the economists add.

Unanswered questions about the gender pay gap

The team says more research is needed to explain why some childhood behaviors influence adult sex earnings and others do not. They speculate that certain negative behaviors have less impact on earnings because they do not affect adults’ social interactions.

Another question about the gender pay gap that needs to be answered, according to the authors, is whether pay differences are simply due to negative perceptions of colleagues and bosses, or whether people who posted negative behaviors in childhood are actually less productive in adulthood.

“Women are penalized for being stubborn compared to men, but they’re also penalized for being stubborn compared to less stubborn women,” University of Chicago professor Robert Kaestner told CNBC. “Men are penalized for being dependent where women are not,” he added.


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