Yet sexism is pervasive in American culture. About 40% of American women say they have lived gender discrimination at work. Women’s work is often undervalued and underpaid. And candidates for a position are frequently subject to additional examination during the hiring process and are less likely to land the job they deserve.
Research shows that sexism takes a big toll toll on women’s health, but women hold a variety of jobs where schedules, expectations and cultures vary widely. While Weinstein’s verdict may recognize the injustice of criminal sex acts – and by extension, recognize the entire #MeToo movement – holding it accountable has required the efforts of more than 80 women, several investigative journalists and significant resources to pay attorney fees. For women who do not have such resources, successfully tackling sexism can be much more difficult.
Education level makes the difference
Our recently published study used 12 years of data from the General social survey, or GSS, to examine discrimination in the workplace in the United States – and equally critically, how this discrimination affects the health and well-being of women.
Specifically, we wanted to know whether the educational level of women influenced whether they were discriminated against on the basis of sex at work. In the 1980s, the number of women obtaining university degrees exceeded men. Since then, women have obtained higher degrees at record rates. We asked ourselves whether women’s academic performance affected their chances of being confronted with sexism at work. And because higher education usually opens the door to more financial and social resources, we wanted to know if more education helps women cope with the negative consequences of discrimination.
In the GSS, around 10% of women reported gender discrimination in their current job. Consistent with other research, more educated women reported higher rates of discrimination. Among those with a master’s or doctorate, it is almost 13%; for women who have not completed secondary school, it is 7%.
Why the difference? The most powerful explanation: Highly educated women in high paying professional jobs are more likely to work alongside more men. And women in these contexts are more likely to be targets of gender-based violence. discrimination and bullying.
Another reason: less educated women tend to hold less prestigious jobs, which offer less opportunity for a raise or promotion. Trapped on the “sticky groundLow-wage services or retail work, these women may not even have the opportunity to run up against the glass ceiling. And they might recognize sexism less often simply because traditionally feminine traits – caring for others or relying on others, for example – are sometimes required of work, expected, or even taken for granted.
Equally critical: GSS data shows that gender discrimination is a source of stress and illness. We have found that women who perceive discrimination experience lower levels of happiness, job satisfaction, sleep, mental health, and overall health.
Less educated women may report less discrimination, but that doesn’t mean all is well with them. On the contrary, we have found that women in less valued jobs actually suffer from some of the greatest damage to health due to discrimination.
On some level, this makes sense. Those who are more educated generally have greater resources to deal with stress. These resources include higher incomes, greater social support and better health insurance coverage. In addition, the data do not distinguish between degrees of discrimination. Less educated women may face more severe or hostile forms of sexism, while women in higher paying jobs may face more inequalities due to promotions or missed raises, for example.
Discrimination based on sex is unfair, illegal, bad for the economy and a public health problem. It hurts everyone, but it is much more damaging to poor and working class women. These findings should be of interest to anyone interested in advancing health, well-being and social justice. And really, shouldn’t that be all of us?
[You’re too busy to read everything. We get it. That’s why we’ve got a weekly newsletter. Sign up for good Sunday reading. ]