Cornell University

December 10 2012

Gender Counts

Married women judged less suitable for employment, research reveals

Female or male, married or single – worker marital status can have an impact on perceptions of employees.

Research published this fall by ILR Assistant Professor Emily Zitek and Dartmouth College colleague Alex Jordan found that people:

  • Rated a married female job applicant less suitable for employment than a single counterpart with identical qualifications. The married woman was seen as less willing to work long hours, less committed to advancing in the company, more distracted by social responsibilities and outside work, and less likely to succeed on the job.
  • Perceived a male applicant more favorably when he was married than when he was single – the opposite of what was found for women.
  • Predicted a recently married woman's job performance and dedication would decline over time, but a recently married man's dedication would rise. This difference made people more willing to lay off the woman than the man.

These findings might help explain why women receive fewer promotions as they move along in their careers and ultimately make up only six percent of the highest-ranking executive positions in the United States, researchers write in a fall issue of Basic and Applied Social Psychology.

Perceptions that are based on people’s marital status might affect who is hired and who is laid off, according to "Marital Status Bias in Perceptions of Employees."

Although it is illegal to ask prospective employees about marital status, interviewers may make inferences – correct or incorrect – based on an individual’s decision to wear or not to wear a wedding ring, the authors note.

Moreover, research has found that people regard discrimination based on marital status as more morally acceptable than discrimination based on race, age or other factors.

Zitek and Jordan's research was based on three experiments involving 278 young adults. Men and women did not differ in their biases.