The separate spheres model of gendered inequality

Andrea L. Miller, Eugene Borgida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research on role congruity theory and descriptive and prescriptive stereotypes has established that when men and women violate gender stereotypes by crossing spheres, with women pursuing career success and men contributing to domestic labor, they face backlash and economic penalties. Less is known, however, about the types of individuals who are most likely to engage in these forms of discrimination and the types of situations in which this is most likely to occur. We propose that psychological research will benefit from supplementing existing research approaches with an individual differences model of support for separate spheres for men and women. This model allows psychologists to examine individual differences in support for separate spheres as they interact with situational and contextual forces. The separate spheres ideology (SSI) has existed as a cultural idea for many years but has not been operationalized or modeled in social psychology. The Separate Spheres Model presents the SSI as a new psychological construct characterized by individual differences and a motivated system-justifying function, operationalizes the ideology with a new scale measure, and models the ideology as a predictor of some important gendered outcomes in society. As a first step toward developing the Separate Spheres Model, we develop a new measure of individuals' endorsement of the SSI and demonstrate its reliability, convergent validity, and incremental predictive validity.We provide support for the novel hypotheses that the SSI predicts attitudes regarding workplace flexibility accommodations, income distribution within families between male and female partners, distribution of labor between work and family spheres, and discriminatory workplace behaviors. Finally, we provide experimental support for the hypothesis that the SSI is a motivated, system-justifying ideology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0147315
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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