Karen vs. Kevin: The Persistence of Pro-Male Gender Bias

A glance at five academic studies

Pitting a male name against a female one, as in Deborah Jordan Brooks’s study of how voters respond to a politician’s sex (cited in Molly Ball's story about why both political parties are now seeking out female candidates), is a recurring trick in gender-bias research. Except Karen doesn’t usually come out ahead:

  • In an oft-cited experiment from 2006, students in two New York University classes read case studies about a tech entrepreneur who in some versions was named Heidi and in others, Howard. The students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent, but liked Heidi less and didn’t want to work with her.
  • Another study, from 1999, asked psychologists to evaluate CVs that were identical save for the name. Male candidates were deemed more qualified, while females were four times as likely to receive comments such as “Would need to see evidence that she had gotten these grants and publications on her own.” A study last year identified a similar dynamic among research scientists. In both cases, men and women were equally biased.
  • This bias, it turns out, is platform-agnostic. A 2000 study found that female musicians advanced 50 percent more often in orchestra auditions when their gender was masked.
  • It also sets in early. A study from 1998 found that when college students read anonymous essays written by sixth-graders in stereotypically male or female handwriting, they gave the “boys” higher grades.
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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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