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Gender Stratification

Gendered Institutions

Patriarchy and Social Institutions

Patriarchy affects social institutions, often with disadvantageous consequences for women.

Patriarchy is a hierarchical social system that places men in control of economic, cultural, and political structures. This system creates and supports male dominance because the positions of power are held by or promised mainly to men. In a patriarchy, value is given to all things masculine or exhibiting masculine traits. Men receive the privileges and are the main focus of the social institutions within the society. These institutions include religion, politics, family, education, the media, the job market, and the scientific community.

Patriarchy encourages the prevalence of sexism—prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against women because of their sex. Also called gender discrimination, sexism results in disadvantages for women and girls. The social institutions of a patriarchal society create and reinforce gender inequality in the society. This means that the basic structure of the society functions to keep women in a subordinate position. Disadvantages women experience in a patriarchal society can include many things:

  • fewer opportunities to advance their education
  • being considered incapable in certain fields
  • fewer job opportunities
  • lower pay than men in the same position
  • less overall wealth accumulated
  • greater pressure to do unpaid labor connected to the home and family
  • fewer women in high positions of power
  • fewer women holding positions in political office
  • less media coverage for women, women's concerns, and women's achievements
  • unfair judgement and being held to different standards than men
  • fewer rights for women and girls
Social institutions shaped by patriarchy tend to devalue women, girls, and femininity. This is true even when patriarchal societies change their understandings of women's roles and expand opportunities for women and girls. One example of this can be seen in the difference between women's and girls' participation in sports and the amount of airtime given to women's sports in the United States. Prior to the mid-20th century, social norms excluded girls and women from sports. Changes in social norms over the course of the 20th century opened opportunities for girls and women to participate in organized sports. In both high school and college, American girls and women participate in sports at only slightly lower rates than boys and men. There are some marked differences in the types of sports that each gender participates in. In the United States, football and baseball are almost exclusively played by boys and men. Girls and women far outnumber boys and men in gymnastics. Cheerleading, related to gymnastics, is also dominated by girls and women. However, participation by both genders is strong in many other popular sports, such as basketball, track and field, tennis, soccer, and swimming. But despite near equal participation in many sports, men's sports are given the vast majority of airtime on television and radio. Many researchers argue that this is likely related to some extent to the biases of the media institutions, which were shaped and are still influenced by men's preferences and interests. Another factor is that advertisers will pay more for advertising spots during men's sports programming, just as sponsors and teams will pay higher salaries to male athletes than to female athletes. One explanation offered by sociologists is that these tendencies all reflect the greater value placed on men and men's activities by society at large.
Media is a social institution that reflects patriarchal biases. For example, data collected by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in 2017 reflects a longstanding trend: men and boys participate in sports at only slightly higher rates than women and girls, but media coverage heavily favors men's sports.

Gender Inequality

Male biases—norms based on male perspectives—have shaped society and social institutions, affecting the lived experience of women in many areas including work, school, and the home.

Gender discrimination, also called sexism, is unjust treatment of and prejudice toward women. It can be linked to misogyny, hatred of or contempt for women. It can also be linked to male bias, the tendency to value men's perspectives and opinions, considering them to be norms or universal. Prevalence of gender discrimination leads to gender inequality. Gender inequality is the unwarranted discrepancy in treatment and opportunity between men and women, or boys and girls. It is in part a consequence of the ways that male biases have shaped education systems, workplaces, and the culture at large. The norms and expectations that underlie universities and workplaces often reflect the assumptions of a social structure that leaves men free to pursue opportunities while women bear and raise children and run households. For example, men can more easily have families and succeed in careers that require long hours when women are expected to provide childcare, housekeeping, and cooking.

Throughout much of history, in many societies, women have not been considered equal to men. Gender discrimination and gender inequality were norms in many preindustrial societies. In many societies, women's main jobs included childcare, cooking, and maintaining the home. Industrialization changed the labor force and many other social patterns. As industrialization spread rapidly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many more women began working outside the home. However, gender affected the jobs they could hold and the pay they received. Well into the 20th century, women were excluded from many professions. This began to change in the latter part of the 20th century. By the 1970s and 1980s, many more women were working outside the home and had started to enter professions that had long been dominated by men. This achievement, however, often involved women learning to take on traditionally masculine characteristics, such as more aggressive or competitive behavior, communication patterns and strategies associated with men, or willingness to work long hours instead of spending time caring for children or other family members. This continues to be rue in the 21st century. Sociologists point out how these norms can be harmful to both men and women. For example, a 2015 study confirmed the findings of multiple other studies showing gender norms can have numerous negative impacts on health for men and women. A 2010 study found that women working in professions where men are the majority can face gender bias (unequal treatment based on gender). People all along the gender spectrum are encouraged to discount work associated with home and family and to value certain behaviors over others. This creates inequality for women in many arenas, but also puts pressure on men to make particular—often limited—choices in order to conform to expectations around masculinity.

Gender and the Workplace

Sociologists studying gender note that despite women's greater access to educational and professional opportunities, gender inequality persists. In 1989 American sociologist Arlie Hochschild (b. 1940) coined the term second shift in her book of the same name. According to Hochschild, the second shift is the workload that women have waiting for them in the home after they finish their paying job. It consists of the responsibilities traditionally assigned to women including childcare, cooking, and maintaining the home. Hochschild found that the amount work women do at home upon returning from their paying jobs far exceeds the amount of work men do when they return home from their paying jobs. Her study showed that in the 1980s women were doing in excess of 40 hours of unpaid work per week, in the form of childcare and housework. Hochschild revised and updated her book in 2015, arguing that the second shift remains a reality. She notes shifting norms around men's and women's roles and work, but she also points to the ways that social structure and social beliefs about masculinity and femininity continue to pressure men and women in different ways.

The 20th century saw major changes in understandings of men's and women's roles, However, sociologists argue that bias toward men in the workplace, discrimination against women, and gender inequality are widespread and deeply embedded in social structure. One indication of this is the pay gap, the relative difference between men's wages and women's wages within an economy. In 2016 the pay gap in the United States was about 80 percent. This means that on average, women earned 80 percent of what men earned. This does not necessarily mean that women were being paid 80 percent of what men were earning when doing the same job in the same company. While pay discrimination is widespread, the gulf in earnings between men and women is also due in large part to occupational segregation. The types of jobs that women tend to be clustered in are in fields that pay less than the types of jobs where men are overrepresented.

The pay gap between men and women has narrowed since the 1980s. At that time women made, on average, 60 percent of what men earned. Changes in the 1980s and 1990s brought the pay gap to about 80 percent by the early 21st century. It is important to note that while the pay gap affects women from all backgrounds, the gap is greater for women of certain racial backgrounds. For example, the pay gap between white men and Hispanic women is 54 percent, meaning that average earnings for Hispanic women are 54 percent of average earnings for white men. The pay gap between white men and black women is 63 percent. These numbers reflect the ways that gender and race intersect to impact women in different ways. The persistence of the pay gap between men and women—particularly between white men and women of all races—indicates the significance of gender in overall social stratification.

Other issues of gender inequality in the workplace include sexual harassment and obstacles preventing women from advancing to higher levels of responsibility, authority, and salary. In a 2017 survey of American workers, 27 percent of women reported having experienced sexual harassment at work, compared to 10 percent of men. A 2018 report noted that in the United States women earn more bachelor's and master's degrees than men and that women make up 47 percent of the labor force. Many more women occupy management positions than they did throughout the 20th century. However, in large corporations, while women make up 45 percent of all employees, they hold far fewer positions further up the corporate ladder. With every step in the corporate hierarchy, there are progressively fewer women. Only 11 percent of top corporate earners are women, and only 5 percent of CEOs are women. This reflects the concept of the glass ceiling, a metaphorical, unofficial barrier that prevents women from advancing past a certain point in their professions despite having qualifications and achievements. This term came into use in the 1980s to describe the way that conscious or unconscious male bias functions to deny women opportunities for promotion to the most senior and highest-paying positions.

Gender and Education

Gender inequality is also seen in education. Researchers in various fields seek to understand how and why girls and boys do better or worse in certain subjects. In the United States there has been a concerted effort to keep girls engaged with science and math. This was in response to multiple studies suggesting that girls tended to cease pursuing or achieving in those subjects around the onset of adolescence because these subjects have traditionally been socially defined as more appropriate for boys. Changing expectations for girls and women may have helped to break this pattern. In the 21st century, studies show that girls and boys perform equally in science and math in the United States, with some studies showing girls outperforming boys in these areas. Girls tend to do better at reading than boys. This may be because of social expectations for boys, which have not changed as much as those for girls. Factors such as class and race also play a role. A 2018 analysis of U.S. school districts found that, on average, girls did better than boys in language arts. The study found no overall gender gap for performance in math, but it did find a math gap in economically advantaged school districts. In these districts, which are mostly suburban districts with mostly white students, boys outperformed girls in math. The researchers suggest that localized gender norms—norms around gender that exist on the community level—contribute to this pattern.

Gender role socialization also influences teachers. Intentionally or unintentionally, teachers may make choices based on their ideas and expectations about the interests and abilities of students of different genders. For example, studies of teacher behavior in the 1990s found that teachers called on boys at higher rates than they called on girls. A 2015 study found that teachers' biases have a positive effect on boys' achievement and a negative effect on girls' achievement in primary school. The researchers found that this impacts whether or not girls and boys choose to take advanced math and science classes in middle and high school.

Most studies done in the 21st century show that girls' educational achievement is now equal to or greater than that of boys. However, this does not translate into equality in all professions. There is greater gender equality in educational attainment at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels, but gender continues to impact what women study and the professions women enter after education. One example is the rates of girls taking the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in computer science. In 2017, only 27 percent of students who took this exam were girls. A 2015 study found that only 18 percent of computer science degrees are earned by women. Sociologists continue to investigate the multiple, overlapping reasons that may contribute to the underrepresentation of women in many fields including science, math, and technology.

Various issues related to gender inequality exist in higher education. For much of history, higher education at the undergraduate and graduate levels was only accessible to men. In the 19th century, women could attend some colleges and universities, although these opportunities were generally only available to white women. As norms and expectations for women changed during the 20th century, more women entered institutions of higher education in great numbers. In the United States, women earn more bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and doctoral degrees than men do. However, differences exist within particular fields. For example, men earn more degrees in engineering, math, computer science, and physical sciences. Women in graduate school are confronted by a structure and traditions that developed around men and traditional male gender roles. This can be seen in the ways that many women graduate students are faced with a conflict between their desire to pursue their degrees and their desire to start families. Most graduate students are in their mid- to late 20s and early 30s, the prime childbearing years for women. However, graduate programs generally make no provisions for graduate students to take maternity leave. Many female graduate students find few or no childcare options available to them. Historically, male graduate students who were ready to start families were typically able to rely on wives to stay home and provide childcare. Social and educational norms have changed, bringing more women to graduate school and to the workplace. However, few graduate programs have developed policies and approaches that facilitate equal educational and professional opportunities for women.