Research from the European Journal of Social Psychology uncovered consistent evidence that women who deny that gender discrimination is an issue report greater well-being. The researchers suggest that the denial of gender discrimination may serve as a coping mechanism that inadvertently reinforces gender inequality.
Gender discrimination negatively impacts the lives of women and girls in all parts of the world. As a group, women are disadvantaged when it comes to wages, politics, and legal rights, and are frequent victims of violence at the hands of men. Study authors Jaime L. Napier and her colleagues note the magnitude of the issue, calling gender discrimination “easily the most widespread social justice issue in the world.”
Despite evidence that gender inequality remains strong, social psychologists have begun to document a commonly held belief that gender issues are a thing of the past. Napier and colleagues wanted to explore why women, in particular, might deny gender discrimination. The researchers suggest that the denial of gender issues may serve as a coping mechanism to protect well-being.
To explore this, the researchers conducted an initial study among 793 residents of the U.S. It was found that women who denied gender discrimination (e.g., “Working women are treated poorly by their boss/supervisor compared to men in general.”) enjoyed greater life satisfaction compared to those who acknowledged such discrimination.
Interestingly, the results also showed that this effect was mediated by perceptions that the system is fair. In other words, women who denied gender discrimination, were more likely to perceive American society as fair, which in turn, was related to better life satisfaction. Among men, however, the denial of gender discrimination was unrelated to self-reported life satisfaction.
A follow-up study replicated much of the above findings among a representative sample of 5,225 Americans. Again, women who denied gender discrimination were more satisfied with their lives than women who acknowledged the issue. Interestingly, in this study, men who denied gender discrimination were less satisfied with their lives than men who acknowledged it.
Furthermore, among women who felt their lives were tied to the experiences of other women — what the researchers call a “linked fate” — the denial of gender discrimination was associated with greater life satisfaction. Among women who did not feel a linked fate with other women, denying discrimination showed a small, negative correlation with life satisfaction. The authors say these findings suggest that denying gender discrimination seems to offer consolation to women who feel that their life circumstances are tied to their identity as women.
Finally, Napier and her team conducted a similar analysis using data from 23 countries to see if the results would generalize to countries outside the U.S. Again, the researchers found that ignoring the discrimination that women face was linked to greater well-being, especially among women.
In the same study, the researchers created an index measuring each country’s level of sexist attitudes, using data from the World Values Survey. They found that, among women, the link between the denial of gender discrimination and happiness was strongest for those in countries with higher sexist attitudes. The study authors note, “Our study demonstrates that both sexism and the recognition of sexism are associated with lower subjective well-being, and suggests that recognizing discrimination in a highly unequal context may be especially painful.”
Napier and colleagues say that finding ways to discount gender discrimination appears to offer psychological benefits at the individual level. The authors caution, however, that this strategy minimizes the experiences of women who face discrimination, undermines collective action, and likely perpetuates gender discrimination.
The study, “Denial of gender discrimination is associated with better subjective well-being among women: A system justification account”, was authored by Jaime L. Napier, Alexandra Suppes, and Maria Laura Bettinsoli.