Sex Roles: A Journal of Research

Gender role conflict: the interaction of gender, gender role, and occupation.

The present study investigated the general notion that expectations associated with being in a particular situation (either a predominantly male or female occupation) interact with particular individual traits (either a predominantly masculine or feminine gender role) to produce differences in the degree of gender role conflict experienced by an individual. Specifically, the study tested the hypothesis that individuals whose gender role and occupation did not coincide (i.e., those with primarily feminine gender roles in predominantly male occupations or primarily masculine gender roles in predominantly female occupations) would experience more gender role conflict than individuals whose gender role and occupation coincided.

During the 1970's, the development of measures of gender role identity such as the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI, Bem, 1974), enabled researchers to demonstrate that men or women could have either a predominantly masculine gender role (i.e., identify primarily with masculine traits), a feminine gender role (i.e., identify primarily with feminine traits), an androgynous gender role (i.e., identify strongly with both masculine and feminine traits), or an undifferentiated gender role (i.e., identify strongly with neither masculine nor feminine traits). Being male or female does not necessarily predict gender role (i.e., being masculine or feminine).

However, being male or female does predict type of employment. Women have remained concentrated in predominantly female occupations, i.e., "clerical, sales, and service occupations, ...while men enjoy a much more heterogeneous occupational structure; no major occupational category (being) dominant" (Abella, 1984, p. 62). In addition to the narrower range of occupational choices women believe they can access (Neimeyer, Metzler & Bowman, 1988), several recent studies have shown that a woman's gender role also plays a part in the occupation she chooses (Baker, 1987; Fassinger, 1990; Jones & Lamke, 1985; Strange & Rae, 1983; Sztaba & Colwill, 1988). Gender role, on the other hand, does not appear to play a part in the occupational choices of men (Strange & Rae, 1983).

Being male or female is also strongly related to the degree of conflict one experiences. Women experience greater role conflict (Kramer & Melchior, 1990), particularly with regard to occupational and domestic demands (Barnett & Baruch, 1985; Chusmir, 1986; Gray, 1983; Zappert & Weinstein, 1985) and greater gender role conflict (gender related expectations that are inconsistent with their self-concept) than men (Chusmir & Koberg, 1988, 1989; Koberg & Chusmir, 1989).

However, the degree of conflict individuals experience may be mediated by the relationship between their gender role and whether or not their occupation is predominantly male or female. The results of several studies indicate that individuals whose gender role and situation match experience less gender role conflict than individuals whose gender role and situation do not match. For example, in a survey of working class women with dependent children, Parry (1987) found that employed mothers with traditional gender role beliefs (a mismatch) and non-employed mothers with liberal gender role beliefs (also a mismatch) reported higher anxiety than other mothers (whose gender role beliefs and employment status matched). In addition, Bem and Lenney (1976) found that gender-typed individuals (males with a masculine gender role and females with a feminine gender role) were uncomfortable with and avoided situations requiring cross-gender behaviors significantly more than either androgynous or gender-reversed subjects (males with a feminine gender role and females with a masculine gender role). Koberg and Chusmir (1989) found that women in management positions, i.e., occupations which are predominantly male, reported higher gender role conflict than women in non-management positions. In a subsequent study, however, Koberg and Chusmir (1991) found that employment in an occupation dominated by the opposite sex was not related to gender role conflict for either males or females. They suggested that these individuals may have rejected stereotyped gender roles, which is consistent with the hypothesis that the relationship between gender role and occupation may mediate the degree of conflict experienced.

In the present study men and women with at least one dependent child living at home were asked to complete the BSRI and the Sex Role Conflict Scale (SRCS, Chusmir & Koberg, 1986). It was predicted that men and women with high masculinity scores employed in predominantly male occupations or with high femininity scores employed in predominantly female occupations would report less gender role conflict than men and women whose gender role and occupation did not match. …

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