New Study Shows Women Are Now Seen as Being as Competent as Men

But other gender stereotypes have only gotten stronger.

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A lot has changed for women in the last 70 years. With the rise of feminism, the societal pressure to get married and have kids has subsided and now, women feel free to date widely or stay single and take on fulfilling careers. In fact, women comprise almost half of the U.S. labor force, up from only 34 percent in 1950. And, as the times have changed, so have certain gender stereotypes.

According to a new meta-analysis published in American Psychologist, 86 percent of U.S. adults now believe men and women are equally intelligent, versus only 35 percent in the 1940s. And those who thought men and women had different levels of intelligence back in the day also believed men to be more competent, so the researchers believe that this shift indicates that women are now being taken more seriously in the workplace than they were in decades past.

The researchers looked at 16 nationally representative public opinion polls involving more than 30,000 U.S. adults from 1946 to 2018 to determine their findings. Their analysis also found there are some things that haven't changed. Men are still viewed as having more "agency," meaning they are perceived to be more aggressive and ambitious than their female counterparts. And the belief that women are more sensitive and emotional than men has actually grown stronger over time.

"These current stereotypes should favor women's employment because competence is, of course, a job requirement for virtually all positions," Alice Eagly, a social psychology professor at Northwestern University and the lead author of this study, said in a press release. "Also, jobs increasingly reward social skills, making women's greater communion an additional advantage. On a less positive note, most leadership roles require more agency than communion. Therefore, the lesser agency ascribed to women than men is a disadvantage in relation to leadership positions."

Change doesn't happen overnight, but it's nice to know that at least some progress has been made. And for more on how far we've come, check out 20 Things Women Weren't Allowed to Do in the 20th Century.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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