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To what extent do our romantic relationships influence our attitudes and behaviours in the workplace? The authors of this study examined this question by looking at the effect of marriage structure on attitudes and beliefs towards women in the workplace. Based on five different studies surveying nearly one thousand married, heterosexual men and women, they found that men in “traditional” marriages (in which women do unpaid work in the household on a full-time basis) have primarily negative attitudes towards women in the workplace.

Men in traditional marriages are more likely than men in non-traditional marriages to make decisions that prevent the advancement of qualified women in the workplace.


Our personal lives impact our work lives in many different ways (and vice versa). For example, parental obligations, such as school drop-offs and pick-ups, may limit the amount of time parents can spend in the office or require flexible working hours. If an employee has eldercare responsibilities, it may require them to request unanticipated personal days in order to accommodate doctor’s appointments.

In addition to the time and scheduling constraints our personal lives impose on workplace norms, the authors of this study argue that the structure of our marriages may also be influential. In particular, they examined how gender roles in traditional heterosexual marriages–where men are responsible for paid labour outside of the household, and women are responsible for the unpaid labour inside the household–affect men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women in the workplace.

The authors examined this idea through five different studies relying on a variety of data and methods:

  • Studies 1 and 2 used survey data to find that men in traditional marriages are more likely to have negative attitudes towards women in the workplace compared to men in dual-earner marriages, and men in traditional marriages perceive organizations with higher numbers of female employees to operate less smoothly.
  • Study 3 was an experiment using male undergraduate students who were married and employed full-time. It explored whether heterosexual married men respond differently to the presence of women in the workplace compared to men in dual-earner marriages. Participants were asked to evaluate a recruitment letter from a fictional company in which the gender of the recruiters and board members was altered. Some participants evaluated a letter written by female recruiters and featuring more female board members, while others evaluated a letter written by male recruiters and featuring more male board members. Aside from altering the gender of the recruiters and board members, the letters were identical. Research participants were then asked to respond to a series of questions asking whether the letter managed to make the fictional company look attractive to potential job-hunters. The study found that men from more traditional marriages were less likely to positively evaluate letters featuring female recruiters and board members.
  • Study 4 was an online experiment testing whether male managers in traditional marriages are more likely to deny qualified female employees opportunities for promotion. The research participants were asked to read the fictional résumé of a candidate seeking an MBA program scholarship that would include a prestigious promotion at their workplace. The name on the résumé was listed either as ‘David Blake’ or ‘Diane Blake.’ The résumés were otherwise identical. The study found that men from traditional marriages were more likely to evaluate ‘Diane Blake’ negatively than ‘David Blake.’
  • Study 5 used survey data that traced men’s responses to questions about gender inequality throughout their transition from being single to getting married. It explored whether becoming married to a woman who eventually works in the home full-time or works outside the home might lead to changes in men’s general attitudes towards women who work outside the home. It found that men who entered into traditional marriages were more likely to develop negative attitudes towards women participating in the workforce.

Collectively these studies provide evidence that men in traditional marriages view women in the workforce unfavourably.

These studies also show that these men perceive companies that have a higher number of female employees to operate less effectively; find organizations with higher rates of female representation to be less attractive; and are more likely to deny qualified female candidates opportunities for advancement. In addition, entering into traditional marriages sparks negative changes in attitudes toward women who work outside the home.


The attitudes that men in traditional marriages hold towards women who engage in paid work may have negative consequences for workplace environments. For instance, if these men are in managerial positions, they may be biased (either consciously or unconsciously) in favour of promoting male candidates over female candidates.

  • Implement individual performance evaluations–One way to prevent women from being disadvantaged by the biased attitudes of their traditional male peers is by ensuring that performance evaluations are based on individual performance so that credit for projects and achievements cannot be misappropriated.
  • Audit evaluations and promotion decisions—Knowing that people may exhibit bias in their decisions about career advancement, HR teams and supervisors can audit managers’ decisions to see if there is variation by gender.
  • Create sponsorship and mentorship programs–Particularly programs where women are matched with more senior personnel and given career advice. In such programs, women could gain the support and advocacy of senior managers, which may help them when applying for promotions.
  • Value care work or unpaid work at home–While men in traditional marriages are negatively biased towards their female peers who are employed outside of the home, they may value the work that their partners do inside of the home (albeit for the social contributions such work provides). As a society, we need to also recognize the economic value of unpaid household work. Thinking of unpaid work as worthy of remuneration may help them perceive the value of the work women do, regardless of where that work takes place.


The Implications of Marriage Structure for Men’s Workplace Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behaviors toward Women


Sreedhari D. Desai, Dolly Chugh, and Arthur P. Brief


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, New York University, University of Utah


Administrative Science Quarterly


March 12, 2014




Research brief prepared by

Kim de Laat