sealPurdue News

March 2001

Gender stereotypes encompass change

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Women's roles are changing, and according to a recent university study, gender stereotypes may include beliefs about such change.

Purdue social psychology professor Amanda Diekman and colleague Alice Eagly of Northwestern University surveyed more than 800 adults on the personality characteristics of men and women of the past, present and future – from 1950 to 2050. Their findings, which were published last fall in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, showed a consistent belief that women are increasingly exhibiting personality traits typically associated with men.

"Women are perceived as having become much more assertive, independent and competitive over the years," Diekman says. "And our respondents – whether they were old enough to have witnessed it or not – recognized the role change that occurred when women began working outside the home in large numbers and the necessity of adopting characteristics that equip them to be breadwinners."

Conversely, the study showed that men are not perceived to be developing more of the personality characteristics typically associated with women, although the responses tended to differ a bit depending on the participant's age.

"Some of the college students did indicate that they thought men were becoming warmer and more kind, but the older adults did not see that at all," Diekman says. "This is likely because men's roles have not changed as significantly since the 1950s – most are still working full time to support themselves or as the primary wage earner for a family."

Diekman is now compiling data from a similar survey of people in Brazil and Chile, and preliminary results show that women in those countries also are perceived as taking on more masculine characteristics due to changing roles. But there also are new perceptions about men.

"These surveys indicate that respondents there also see men as becoming more masculine," Diekman explained. "Granted it's a much smaller change compared to women, but that's not present at all in our U.S. data."

Diekman suggests that one of the major social changes in Latin American countries over the past 50 years has involved the shift to a more democratic form of government.

"In a democracy, people might feel required to be more independent," she explains."And if a country is moving toward a more capitalistic economy, its citizens could be compelled to be more competitive. That would explain why people are perceiving more of those traits in both sexes."

Diekman says this method of looking at gender stereotyping suggests that rather than being rigid or confining, stereotypes also can change. But she emphasizes that her research did not measure whether respondents thought the changes were good or bad.

"We know that there has been a change in women's roles, and people perceive a great deal of change in women's characteristics – both are real, interactive forces," she says. "If new perceptions can open doors for people of both sexes to do what they really want to do with their lives – whether it's to fully engage as a parent or climb the corporate ladder to the CEO's office – that's what's important."

Source: Amanda Diekman, (765) 494-2591,

Writer: Writer: Sharon A. Bowker, (765) 494-9723,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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