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Class, Gender, and Social Dynamics

Women’s Accounts of Navigating the Risk of Party Rape in Greek Life at an Elite College

The risk of being sexually assaulted is a pervasive problem for women in historically White Greek life, yet research before 2010 shows women rarely held institutions responsible for these incidents and instead engaged in victim-blaming. In Sociology of Education, IPR sociologist Simone Ispa-Landa and Northwestern postdoctoral student Sara Thomas investigate how women at an elite college think about sexual assault at fraternity parities and solutions to sexual violence. Between 2017 and 2019, the researchers conducted 121 interviews with 68 college-aged women in historically White sororities. The interviews revealed that these women were highly invested in maintaining the historically white Greek party scene. Unlike women from past studies, they did not blame women who were assaulted; instead, they blamed institutions for failing to keep them safe from sexual assault and creating reporting mechanisms that retraumatized survivors. The women also talked about trying to protect themselves and other women at parties by designating someone as a “sober sister” to monitor behavior or share the names of men who had or might perpetrate sexual assault. Future research on women’s responses to sexual assault in Greek life could look at less selective institutions, include observations of women’s behavior at parties, and look at non-cisgender perspectives on prevention strategies.

Gender-Diverse Teams Produce More Novel and Higher-Impact Research

Over the last several decades, the number of women conducting medical research has increased significantly, female scientists which have created new opportunities for different research team dynamics instead of traditional all-male teams. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, IPR associates Brian Uzzi, Benjamin Jones, and their colleagues investigate the changing gender demographics of science teams and how they affect research performance. The researchers conducted an analysis of 6.6 million academic studies published since 2000 across 15,000 different medical journals worldwide. The studies were from 45 medical sub-fields and 18 additional scientific disciplines. They find that mixed-gender teams of medical scientists published studies that are up to 9% more novel and 14.6% more likely to be high-impact papers than those published by same-gender teams, a relationship that grows even stronger the more gender balance on the team. They also discover that while the number of studies by mixed-gender teams has grown, they are underrepresented in academic research. A second analysis of all other fields in science, which included an additional 19 million papers since 2000, showed that relationships between mixed gender teams and impact generalized to other scientific fields.  The evidence suggests that gender-diverse teams have untapped potential to produce innovative research, but further study is necessary to understand why mixed-gender teams outperform same-gender teams. The findings also highlight new ways to improve research performance through team dynamics, and they can inform diversity, equity, and inclusion interventions. Uzzi is the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change. Jones is the Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship. 

Using Master Narratives to Analyze Gender

In Child Development, IPR developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers investigates how children’s gender identity narratives reinforce or disrupt hierarchy around gender and if age and gender matters to these narratives. Rogers interviewed 233 children from diverse racial backgrounds aged 7–12 from three schools in the Pacific Northwest. She asked students about their social relationships, academic experiences, and the importance of gender. She divided student responses into four different narratives or “shared cultural stories” that reinforce structural inequality by organizing how individuals formulate their own identity about gender. The majority of children, 61%, recounted a difference narrative in which they spoke about gender in ways that emphasized the differences between boys and girls. Only 3% told genderblind stories, which consider gender as inconsequential. The gender stories seemed to express conflict and tension in incongruent narratives for 22% of the children. They voiced discrepancies embedded in gender hierarchy, such as “I like being a girl,” but “I don’t like being treated badly.” The remaining 13% constructed a counternarrative, acknowledging that boys and girls are not treated equally and protesting gender injustices. Overall, age and gender mattered in the narrative children told about gender. Older students, fifth and sixth graders, were more likely to tell narratives that disrupted the status quo than younger students, second, third, and fourth graders, and girls told more of these narratives than boys. This work underscores that children are able to and will question injustices related to social groups. Rogers writes that future work should explore whether these attitudes are specific to this age of development and the role race plays in children’s attitudes about gender.

Husband's Dominance in Decision-Making About Women's Health

Women’s ability to make decisions about their own health is critical for their well-being, but many women around the world do not have autonomy over these decisions. In Demography, IPR sociologist Julia Behrman and her colleagues investigate how husbands’ dominance over the health decisions of their wives in sub-Saharan Africa varies geographically and over time. Using survey data from 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa between 2001–2005 and 2010–2014, the researchers created maps comparing husbands’ dominance in the health decisions of their wives between the two time periods within and between countries. The surveys asked women between the ages of 15–49 about reproductive health, well-being, education, and geographic location. Women reporting that their husbands were the main decision-maker decreased from 55% in the 2000s to 47% in the 2010s. They made more joint decisions with their partners, which increased from 20% in the 2000s to 36% in the 2010s. Western African countries had a higher prevalence of husbands’ decision-making dominance during both periods compared to Eastern and Southern countries, but it decreased overall in most countries. This decline was not the same within countries—husband’s decision-making dominance decreased in some areas between the 2000s and 2010s, while it increased in other areas, highlighting the importance of looking at the changes in countries from a spatial perspective. The researchers find education and living in an urban area were associated with greater decision-making power for women—likely because these are places where people are exposed to new ideas and gender norms. These results can help policymakers target interventions to areas where women’s participation in health decision-making is low and provide insights about what interventions could be most effective.

Maternal Attitudes Impact Girls’ Math Scores

The math gender gap has costly implications for girls as it may impact their future outcomes, including pursuing a career in STEM and potential earnings, but what drives the gap? In the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, IPR education economist David Figlio, finance professor and IPR associate Paola Sapienza, and their colleagues study whether a family’s attitude toward gender impacts a girl’s math score with two analyses. First, the researchers match Florida public school data with about 1.6 million birth certificates to examine whether a family’s preference for a son affects a girl’s math performance. Families were defined as “boy biased” if they had more children after firstborn girls than families with firstborn boys did. The findings indicate that girls in boy-biased families score three percentage points lower than those in other families. However, the researchers note the limitations of fertility patterns, including that they may be random. The researchers expand their analysis with data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and compare 4,934 mothers’ gender attitudes and their child’s gender attitudes and math performance. The results show that a mother’s conservative attitude toward gender roles correlates with lower math scores for girls, but they find no correlation with boys’ math performance. Additionally, maternal attitudes correlate with children’s attitudes, suggesting that parental beliefs transfer across families. This research helps explain one potential reason behind the math gender gap by demonstrating the connection between family attitudes and girls’ math scores. Figlio is the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and Dean of the School of Education and Social Policy. Sapienza is the Donald C. Clark/HSBC Chair in Consumer Finance.

Black Girls' Identities and Resistance to Colorism

Colorism, or prejudice against individuals with dark skin or physical features associated with Black people such as broader noses, is pervasive in the U.S., yet is understudied in adolescent research. In the Journal of Adolescent Research, IPR developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers and her colleagues investigate how colorism shows up in the ways Black girls make sense of their own identities and wellbeing. During the 2017­–18 school year, the researchers asked 59 Black girls, who were on average 16-years-old and enrolled in a predominantly Black all-girls school, to complete a survey about their identity and wellbeing. They interviewed the girls later that academic year about school, their racial and gender identity, and intersectionality. They find that the girls were acutely aware of colorism, and those who resisted notions of White beauty standards had higher self-esteem. Of the girls interviewed, 44, or 75%, mentioned colorism without being prompted in relation to their skin color, hair, attractiveness, and body type, but nearly 75% of those conversations mentioned resistance to colorism. These results show that Black girls were able to engage with and resist colorism, specifically in a school where they were represented among the administration and in the majority of the student body. The researchers suggest colorism should be integrated into the study of racial identity among Black girls in research that is centered on their voices and experiences. 

Exploring Black Girl Space

The development of Black girls and Black girl space, or a space designed for Black girls, has been understudied in academic research. In the Journal of Research on Adolescence, IPR developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers and her co-author examine the meaning and potential of spaces that intentionally serve Black girls in an effort to counter the racist and sexist cultural norms that threaten Black girls’ identities and sense of wellbeing. The researchers used data from a larger longitudinal study of Black girls attending a predominantly Black all-girls school, a Black girl space, that offers workshops and mentorships from Black women and programming directed toward Black girls. They analyzed open-ended interviews conducted in 2018 with 17 Black high school girls to understand how they made sense of their school. The researchers asked the girls whether they liked school, the relationship between students and teachers, and the importance of having a school like theirs exist. In the interviews, the girls discussed relational challenges they experienced at school but also how they felt known in their school by being surrounded by so many other Black girls and women. They also talked about their frustration with a school policy banning cell phones when their school’s technology didn’t always work and problems with the structure of the school and general lack of funding. The findings show how Black girls were able to see the school as a place of resistance to tell counternarratives about being a Black girl, but they also recognized how the physical space posed barriers and reinforced inequalities, such as few extracurriculars and academic resources. The researchers argue that when cultivating Black girl space, experiencing connection with other Black girls matters, but so do the physical space, policies, and funding structures that regulate it. Listening to the voices of Black girls is crucial for developmental science research to value and learn from their experiences.