White women from parts of the U.S. where sexist attitudes are prevalent go on to make less money and work less than women from areas with less sexist attitudes, according to new research from the University of Chicago's Becker Friedman Institute.
The study finds that the levels of sexism in a woman's birthplace, as well as sexism in the geographic area where she resides, affect her wages and labor force participation. They also influence at what age the woman gets married and has children.
The research, compiled by three economists, finds that while white women have made significant improvements in the labor force overall in the past 50 years, there is significant heterogeneity in women's economic power by state. They found sexist attitudes prevail most prominently in the southeast and can be found at the lowest levels on the West Coast.
The researchers focused solely on white women to ensure they were assessing gender, as opposed to racial, discrimination, The New York Times reported.
Economists Kerwin Kofi Charles, Jonathan Guryan and Jessica Pan assessed the level of "sexism" in each U.S. state by tracking responses to eight questions about the role of women in society. When respondents expressed attitudes that were hostile to women participating in the workplace or political system, the researchers marked down an area as more "sexist."
"Sexism affects women through two channels: one is their own preferences that are shaped by where they grow up, and the other is the sexism they experience in the place they choose to live as adults," the paper's research brief concludes.
Though the researchers cannot conclude there is a one-to-one relationship between prevalent sexism and women's workforce participation, they hypothesize that women from a young age internalize the beliefs espoused by those around them. If they are discouraged from working as a child, it is likely that they will carry these beliefs with them, according to the researchers.
While the level of women's workforce participation and wages have gone up across the board, the researchers also found that "the gap between men and women that existed in a particular state 50 years ago is largely the same size today."
"In other words, if a state exhibited less gender discrimination 50 years ago, it retains that narrower gap today; a state that exhibited more discrimination in 1970 has a similarly wide gap today," the research brief states.
Women were paid the least, worked at the lowest levels and got married the youngest in states where residents expressed beliefs that women are less capable than men, that families were hurt when women go to work, and that men and women should adhere to strict gender roles, according to the paper.
In order to reach their conclusions, the researchers used statistics from the Census Bureau and the General Social Survey.