A new international study of 57 countries discovers that biased individual beliefs or sexism leads to gender inequality.
While the finding is not surprising, experts say that it is the largest study to demonstrate that individual beliefs extend to society as a whole.
“I’m interested in the consequences people’s beliefs about how the world should work and how the world does work,” said Mark Brandt of DePaul University, the author of the new study.
As a part of this investigation, Brandt used data from an international survey conducted between 2005 and 2007.
The survey included two statements to measure sexism: “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” and “On the whole, men make better business executives than women do.”
Brandt found that sexism was directly associated with increases in gender inequality over time.
“You could get the impression that having sexist beliefs, or prejudiced beliefs more generally, is just an individual thing—‘my beliefs don’t impact you,’” Brandt says.
But this study shows that isn’t true. If individual people in a society are sexist, men and women in that society become less equal.
“Gender inequality is such a tough beast to crack because there are so many contributing factors,” Brandt says. Policies can contribute to inequality—and some countries have insured some measure of equality by mandating that some number of seats in the legislature be reserved for women.
“But this study suggests that if the goal is increased equality, individual attitudes have to change.”