Respect Equality

Adults who ignored traditional gender norms as children earn less money than those who did not: study

Nopphon Pattanasri/ iStock

Story at a glance

  • Adults who broke with gender roles as children earn less money than their peers who were socialized to follow them, new research has found.
  • More dependent boys had a 6 percent decline in earnings as young adults, while girls characterized as headstrong had a 10 percent decline in earnings.
  • Study participants were older millennials, who were more socialized to follow gender norms than the young adults of Generation Z.

The earning potential of adults may be affected by whether they chose to break with gender stereotypes as children, new research has found, with headstrong girls and sensitive boys earning less as adults compared to their peers.

According to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, boys who exhibited more dependent behavior as children, like clinging to their parents, had a 6 percent decline in earnings as young adults, while girls characterized as assertive growing up had a 10 percent decline in earnings.

On the flip side, dependent behavior in young girls was actually associated with a small increase in earnings as adults, as was assertiveness in boys, though the study’s authors noted that both were “economically meaningful, but statistically insignificant.”


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Breaking gender norms appears to have the largest effect on future earnings in blue-collar jobs versus while-collar jobs, according to the study, with assertive women in white-collar work, for example, experiencing less of an earnings loss than headstrong women in blue-collar occupations.

“This might be due to greater workplace prejudice to gender nonconforming behavior in blue-collar occupations than white-collar occupations, and in occupations more frequently held by less educated individuals,” Ofer Malamud, a professor at Northwestern University and one of the study’s authors, told Yahoo Finance this week

“Whether that is a result of the types of occupations that are represented in these sectors, or the types of people who are employed in these occupations, is an important question for further research,” he said.

Study participants were older millennials born between 1981 and 1990 that were observed as adults aged 24 to 30 from 2006 to 2014. Millennials, according to Malamud, are more likely than the young adults of Generation Z to have been socialized to adhere to traditional gender norms.

“I believe that educational interventions can help address gender prejudice, including that associated with gender nonconforming behaviors,” he said. “More generally, I believe that today’s society is more accepting of gender nonconforming behavior than in previous periods, and I expect this trend to continue as more women continue to enter traditionally male occupations and vice versa.”


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