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Does Gender-Fair Language Pay Off? The Social Perception of Professions from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective

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In many languages, masculine forms (e.g., German Lehrer, ‘teachers, masc.’) have traditionally been used to refer to both women and men, although feminine forms are available, too. Feminine-masculine word pairs (e.g., German Lehrerinnen und Lehrer, ‘teachers, fem. and teachers, masc.’) are recommended as gender-fair alternatives. A large body of empirical research documents that the use of gender-fair forms instead of masculine forms has a substantial impact on mental representations. Masculine forms activate more male representations even when used in a generic sense, whereas word pairs (e.g., German Lehrerinnen und Lehrer, ‘teachers, fem. and teachers, masc.’) lead to a higher cognitive inclusion of women (i.e., visibility of women). Some recent studies, however, have also shown that in a professional context word pairs may be associated with lesser status. The present research is the first to investigate both effects within a single paradigm. A cross-linguistic (Italian and German) study with 391 participants shows that word pairs help to avoid a male bias in the gender-typing of professions and increase women’s visibility; at the same time, they decrease the estimated salaries of typically feminine professions (but do not affect perceived social status or competence). This potential payoff has implications for language policies aiming at gender-fairness.
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH
published: 21 January 2016
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02018
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 1January 2016 | Volume 6 | Article 2018
Edited by:
Bernhard Hommel,
Leiden University, Netherlands
Reviewed by:
Michiel M. Spapé,
Aalto University, Finland
Charlotte Tate,
San Francisco State University, USA
*Correspondence:
Lisa K. Horvath
lisa.horvath@tum.de
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Cognition,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 15 June 2015
Accepted: 17 December 2015
Published: 21 January 2016
Citation:
Horvath LK, Merkel EF, Maass A and
Sczesny S (2016) Does Gender-Fair
Language Pay Off? The Social
Perception of Professions from a
Cross-Linguistic Perspective.
Front. Psychol. 6:2018.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02018
Does Gender-Fair Language Pay Off?
The Social Perception of Professions
from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective
Lisa K. Horvath 1, 2*, Elisa F. Merkel1,3 , Anne Maass 3and Sabine Sczesny 1
1Psychology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland, 2TUM School of Management, Technical University of Munich, Munich,
Germany, 3Psychology, University of Padua, Padua, Italy
In many languages, masculine forms (e.g., German Lehrer, “teachers, masc.”) have
traditionally been used to refer to both women and men, although feminine forms are
available, too. Feminine-masculine word pairs (e.g., German Lehrerinnen und Lehrer,
“teachers, fem. and teachers, masc.”) are recommended as gender-fair alternatives. A
large body of empirical research documents that the use of gender-fair forms instead of
masculine forms has a substantial impact on mental representations. Masculine forms
activate more male representations even when used in a generic sense, whereas word
pairs (e.g., German Lehrerinnen und Lehrer, “teachers, fem. and teachers, masc.”) lead
to a higher cognitive inclusion of women (i.e., visibility of women). Some recent studies,
however, have also shown that in a professional context word pairs may be associated
with lesser status. The present research is the first to investigate both effects within
a single paradigm. A cross-linguistic (Italian and German) study with 391 participants
shows that word pairs help to avoid a male bias in the gender-typing of professions and
increase women’s visibility; at the same time, they decrease the estimated salaries of
typically feminine professions (but do not affect perceived social status or competence).
This potential payoff has implications for language policies aiming at gender-fairness.
Keywords: social perception, gender-fair language, grammatical gender, gender stereotypes, professional groups,
status
INTRODUCTION
Although women have increasingly entered paid employment in the twentieth century and are
making their way up the hierarchical ladders (Eagly and Karau, 2002), there are still considerable
gender inequalities in the labor market, as documented by many different indices (e.g., the Gender
Gap Index of the World Economic Forum, the Gender Inequality Index of the UNDP, or the
Social Institutions and Gender Index of the OECD; for an overview, see European Institute for
Gender Equality, 2013). Also, different linguistic forms have been found to contribute to gender-
(in)equality: Masculine forms used as generics referring to both women and men lead to a male
bias in mental representations. In contrast, feminine-masculine word pairs, which are generally
considered gender-fair, increase women’s visibility (for an overview, see Stahlberg et al., 2007).
This seems to suggest that word pairs promote gender equality. However, recent findings also
document detrimental effects of gender-fair language in the professional context, especially on
status-related measures (e.g., Formanowicz et al., 2013; Vervecken et al., 2015). These contradictory
ndings concerning effects of gender-fair language (vs. masculine generics) on gender equality were
Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
obtained in different studies under different conditions. The
present study is the first to investigate the complex and
potentially paradox effects of gender-fair language on the social
perception of professional groups within a single paradigm.
The Social Perception of Professions
Occupational gender-stereotyping follows the proportion of
women and men holding the respective professions and
translates into the classification of professions as typically
feminine and typically masculine (Krefting et al., 1978; Glick,
1991; Glick et al., 1995). The social role theory (Eagly,
1987; Eagly et al., 2000; Koenig and Eagly, 2014) provides
a theoretical explanation: Social perceivers’ views about social
(e.g., occupational) groups and the related stereotypes (e.g.,
occupational stereotypes) follow from perceivers’ experiences
and observations of the different distributions of women and
men in the respective groups. For instance, when men are
observed to occupy the majority of leadership roles, perceivers
assume that men possess the traits required for successful
leadership, such as decisiveness or dominance (think-manager—
think-male,Schein, 1973, 2001). On the other hand, individuals
occupying certain social roles (e.g., homemaker vs. employee)
are described with traits that are stereotypical for these roles
(Eagly and Steffen, 1984). Experimental research has confirmed
these assumptions. In line with social role theory, occupational
stereotyping not only goes back to the observation of typical
members of the respective occupational groups, but it actually
reflects social reality; additionally, occupational stereotypes can
change according to fictitious and varied future job holders
despite current stereotypes (Koenig and Eagly, 2014).
A highly relevant variable when dealing with gender in the
work place is status. A gender hierarchy (Ridgeway and Correll,
2001) continues to be widely prevalent, with men and masculinity
being ascribed a higher status than women or femininity. This
is mirrored by the following facts: Men are ascribed more
competence and worthiness (Ridgeway, 2001), men possess more
power, men are more likely to be in leadership positions than
women (European Commission, 2011), and men have more
access to resources than women (Eagly et al., 2000). Moreover,
men receive higher salaries for the same work than women
(Global Gender Gap,Hausmann et al., 2010). When it comes to
the social perception of professions, male-dominated professions
are accordingly attributed higher prestige (e.g., Glick et al., 1995).
Vice versa, people working in male-dominated professions are
assumed to have higher salaries than people working in female-
dominated professions, which is indeed the case (Cejka and
Eagly, 1999; Alksnis et al., 2008). These gender-status beliefs are
consistent with the Stereotype Content Model (Fiske et al., 2002):
High-status groups (e.g., men) are ascribed higher competence
than low-status groups (e.g., women) (Cuddy et al., 2007).
Although gender and status are associated in general, the
gender-typing of a profession and professional status/prestige are
unrelated dimensions in occupational stereotyping (Gottfredson,
1981, 1996). For instance, the distribution of women and men
across professions does not predict estimates of occupational
prestige (Glick, 1991). Furthermore, these two dimensions were
empirically found to form two independent dimensions in
occupational stereotyping (Glick et al., 1995). This is supported
by social psychological experiments: Variations in the status
of jobs was not reflected in the gender stereotypes ascribed
to the job holder (Eagly and Steffen, 1984). This raises the
question whether gender-fair language might affect occupational
stereotyping concerning both with respect to gender and status.
Language and Gender
Language and cognition are intertwined, with language
impacting cognition and vice versa. For instance, color labels
and color distinctions that were available in a given language
affected native speakers’ color perception (Lucy and Shweder,
1979; Winawer et al., 2007) and the order of adjectives and
nouns impacts categorization of groups (Percy et al., 2009).
With regard to gender, there are differences in how gender is
represented in languages (for a detailed overview, see Stahlberg
et al., 2007). In genderless languages such as Finnish, Turkish,
or Chinese gender is mainly expressed through lexical elements
of the type “woman,” “man,” “brother,” or “sister.” Otherwise,
nouns and pronouns lack gender markings. In natural gender
languages such as English, Danish, and Swedish as well personal
nouns are mostly unmarked for gender, but personal pronouns
are gendered. In so-called grammatical gender languages like
French, Italian or German, additionally to gendered pronouns,
all nouns have grammatical gender and many other parts of
speech (articles, adjectives, or pronouns that depend on the
noun) show grammatical agreement; that means, they signal
the gender of the noun. Nouns in these languages are either
masculine or feminine, in some languages also neuter (e.g.,
German). For instance, a table in German is masculine (der
Tisch, the table, masculine), but feminine in French (la table,
the table, feminine). Interestingly, the grammatical gender
of objects affects the way these objects are perceived: people
ascribe more typically masculine (vs. feminine) characteristics
to objects that are designated with a grammatically masculine
(vs. feminine) noun in their native language (Boroditsky et al.,
2003). Thus, gender is in general a highly salient feature in
these languages. This also applies to the social perception of
professions, where grammatical gender is highly relevant. In
languages with grammatical gender, masculine and feminine job
titles are available to describe professionals (e.g., German der
Lehrer, the teacher, masculine/male; die Lehrerin, the teacher,
feminine/female). Masculine forms, however, are also used as
generics (“masculine generics”) to refer to both women and
men, to mixed-gender groups or persons whose gender is
unknown or irrelevant in a given context (Braun et al., 2005).
This traditional use of masculine generics is not considered
gender-fair and alternative forms such as feminine-masculine
word pairs (German die Lehrerinnen und Lehrer, the teachers,
fem. and the teachers, masc.) are recommended as replacements
(Stahlberg et al., 2007).
Some authors have argued that the existence of grammatical
gender in a language is associated with gender (in)equality on a
societal level: Gender inequality or gender gaps tend to be bigger
in countries with grammatical gender languages (i.e., where
masculine forms are used as generics although feminine forms
are available) than in countries with natural gender languages or
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Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
genderless languages. This effect even persists when controlling
for religion and political system (Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2012).
Reflecting the latter, there is now ample evidence that the
conventional use of masculine forms as generics causes a
male bias in mental representations. This effect was replicated
and confirmed with different methods in investigations from
various disciplines such as social psychology, psycholinguistics
or cognitive psychology (see Stahlberg et al., 2007, for an
overview). Thus, speakers of German, for instance, associate
and retrieve predominantly male exemplars when answering
a question with a masculine generic (such as “Wer ist Ihr
Lieblingsmusiker?” “Who is your favorite musician, masc.?”).
In contrast, significantly more female exemplars are mentioned
when gender-fair forms are used, such as feminine-masculine
word pairs (e.g., Lieblingsmusikerin/-musiker, favorite musician,
fem./musician, masc.) (Stahlberg et al., 2001; see also Braun et al.,
2005).
However, psychological studies on the question whether
gender-fair language indeed helps to promote gender equality
(masculine generics vs. gender-fair forms) have revealed a
complex pattern of effects. Some studies show beneficial effects
of gender-fair forms (such as an increased visibility of women),
while others describe detrimental effects (such as status loss),
as will be discussed below. The present research is the first to
investigate this mixed outcome that was observed across different
studies within a single paradigm using a multidimensional
approach. This is done in order to get a broader picture of
occupational stereotyping following gender-fair language and not
only a focused view on specific outcomes (Glick et al., 1995).
We argue that—for the time being—gender-fair word pairs can
simultaneously facilitate and hamper gender equality.
Linguistic Forms and the Social Perception
of Professions
Interestingly, language may override widespread stereotypes. For
example, according to occupational stereotypes the professions
of truck driver or physicist are perceived to be typically
masculine; social worker or kindergarten teacher are perceived
to be typically feminine professions (Kennison and Trofe, 2003;
Irmen, 2007). Even these powerful stereotypes are under the
influence of linguistic forms (Irmen and Roßberg, 2004; Braun
et al., 2005). In German and French—both grammatical gender
languages—but not in English—a natural gender language,
where no feminine professional nouns are available—masculine
generics caused a male bias in mental associations of professions.
Participants assumed more men than women to be in a
professional group, even for typically feminine professions.
However, the male bias was reduced when respondents were
presented with masculine and feminine forms of the respective
job titles (Gabriel et al., 2008). Furthermore, a set of studies
by Braun and colleagues (2005) showed that various gender-
fair forms can help to increase women’s visibility in general:
word pairs (e.g., German Musikerinnen und Musiker, musicians,
fem. and musicians, masc.), the capital-I form (MusikerInnen,
musicians with a capital letter marking the feminine ending
as generic and including both women and men), or gender-
neutral formulations. But the magnitude of the impact depended
on the gender-typicality of professions: When word pairs (vs.
masculine forms) were used to refer to a typically masculine
profession (geophysicist), more women were assumed to attend a
scientific meeting of geophysicists, but this less so for a typically
feminine profession (nutritionists). These findings show that
linguistic forms have a powerful effect on the social perception
of professions and can increase women’s visibility.
Linguistic forms also have a tangible impact on behavior
in professional contexts. Early research on American English
(Bem and Bem, 1973) demonstrated that women and men are
more eager to apply for a counter-stereotypical position when
the job advertisement refers to both women and men with a
gender-neutral form (e.g., lineworker) compared to linguistic
forms addressing the stereotypical gender. However, use of such
gender-specific forms (e.g., lineman, linewoman) which were
investigated in this study from the 1970s is not permitted any
more (UNESCO, 1999). Nevertheless, masculine pronouns (e.g.,
he, his, him) are still used as generics instead of gender-fair
forms (e.g., he/she, her/his, they). Masculine pronouns—used in
reference to an ideal applicant for a vacant position—were found
to decrease women’s sense of belonging to a professional context,
their motivation to pursue the respective position as well as
their expected identification with the job compared to gender-
neutral forms (they, the employee) or word pairs (he/she, his/her)
(Stout and Dasgupta, 2011). Linguistic forms not only affect
potential applicants but also those who make hiring decisions. In
a hiring-simulation study on German, decision makers preferred
male over female applicants for a high-status leadership position
(but not for a middle-management position) when the position
was advertised in the masculine (Geschäftsführer, CEO, masc.).
When word pairs were used (Geschäftsführerin/Geschäftsführer,
CEO, fem./CEO, masc.), however, women and men were rated as
equally suitable for the job (Horvath and Sczesny, 2015).
A number of studies show that children’s and adolescents’
perceptions of professions and their vocational interests are
strongly affected by linguistic forms. For instance, when
professions were presented to French adolescents in the
masculine, women were perceived to be more successful in
typically feminine and men in typically masculine jobs. With
word pairs, however, perceptions of success were more balanced:
Female and male professionals were perceived as equally likely
to succeed in both typically feminine and masculine professions.
While linguistic forms did not affect perceived competence,
they had an impact on perceived warmth: When professions
were presented with masculine forms, holders of typically
masculine jobs were perceived as less warm and holders of
typically feminine jobs were perceived as warmer compared
to the presentation with word pairs. The authors concluded
that word pairs shifted perceptions of warmth toward the
mid-point and somehow balanced these perceptions, whereas
masculine forms tended to evoke gender-stereotypic perceptions
of warmth. It should be noted, though, that this was the very
first study measuring competence and warmth perceptions of
professions (Vervecken et al., 2015). Another study with Belgian
and German children showed similar effects for perceptions
of success: when professions were presented with word pairs,
children estimated female job holders in typically masculine
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Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
professions as more successful. Furthermore, girls were more
interested in these typically masculine professions (Vervecken
et al., 2013). However, beneficial as well as detrimental effects
of German gender-fair forms have also been observed in
children’s perception of professions. While word pairs reduced
the perceived difficulty of typically masculine professions, and
thus increased vocational self-efficacy, they also reduced the
estimated salaries (Vervecken and Hannover, 2015).
In a similar vein, use of feminine titles to introduce female
professionals in Italian (e.g., professoressa, teacher or professor,
fem.) instead of masculine titles (e.g., professore, teacher or
professor, masc.) made these professionals appear less persuasive
(Mucchi-Faina, 2005). It has to be noted, though, that this effect
may be caused specifically by the feminine suffix -essa, as female
professionals described with titles ending in -essa (corresponding
to the suffix -ess in English, e.g., hostess, authoress) were perceived
as having a lower social status than female professionals described
with a title ending in -a(e.g., professora, teacher or professor,
fem.), which is a more modern feminine suffix, or with a
masculine form (Merkel et al., 2012). Similar disadvantages of
linguistic feminization have been described for Polish: Women
applying for a gender-neutral job were perceived as less suitable
when referring to themselves with a feminine (vs. masculine)
professional title (Formanowicz et al., 2013). However, reactions
to linguistic forms may change over time, especially as a function
of habituation. Thus, when female proponents of social initiatives
were introduced with feminine (vs. masculine) forms in Polish,
where gender-fair language is relatively new and uncommon,
these initiatives were devalued and were not supported. In
German, however, where feminine job titles are common,
speakers tended to support the initiatives less when female
proponents were introduced in the masculine (Formanowicz
et al., 2015). Similarly, in Sweden, negative attitudes toward
the newly invented gender-neutral personal pronoun hen
additionally to the masculine han and the feminine hon—have
been found to diminish over time (Gustafsson Senden et al.,
2015). Thus, a feminization of job titles may be detrimental for
women when the implementation of gender-fair language starts,
but may become integral part of everyday language once speakers
have become accustomed to these (initially unfamiliar) forms.
Taken together, past research on the effects of gender-fair
language yields a complex pattern: On the one hand, the
visibility of women as a group increases when word pairs are
used instead of masculine generics (e.g., Braun et al., 2005;
Irmen, 2007; Gabriel et al., 2008). On the other hand, a
decrease in status-related measures (e.g., social status, salary)
is observed when female professionals are introduced with
gender-fair (feminine) job titles compared to masculine forms.
However, the different studies are based on a wide range of
methods and study designs (between- vs. within-participants),
which renders a direct comparison difficult. Some studies, for
instance, tested one profession only (e.g., Formanowicz et al.,
2013), while others included a larger number of professions (e.g.,
Vervecken et al., 2015). Also, different participant populations
(i.e., children, adolescents, students, adults) have been used.
Moreover, the effects of gender-fair language have been studied in
different languages (e.g., French, Dutch, German, Italian, Polish,
English), which have their own structural characteristics. Certain
effects may therefore be restricted to the respective language,
for instance, negative effects of specific feminine job titles in
Italian (e.g., Mucchi-Faina, 2005; Merkel et al., 2012) or Polish
(Formanowicz et al., 2013). In some cases, opposing reactions
to gender-fair language were found in different languages (e.g.,
support of social initiatives in German, but rejection in Polish;
Formanowicz et al., 2015). Also, some studies focused on the
individual level (perception of one person, e.g., Formanowicz
et al., 2013), others on the group level (perception of professions,
Vervecken et al., 2015). Thus, it is unknown whether gender-
fair forms decrease adults’ perceptions of professional status on a
group level, as is true for children (e.g., Vervecken and Hannover,
2015), and on the individual level (e.g., Mucchi-Faina, 2005;
Formanowicz et al., 2013). Most importantly, no study so far has
tested whether gender-fair language can simultaneously lead to a
decrease in perceived status and an increase in visibility. Our aim
was, therefore, to test these seemingly contradictory effects within
a single paradigm with adult participants.
Aim and Hypotheses
The purpose of the present research was to examine whether
gender-fair language pays off by increasing women’s visibility or
whether it also lowers the perceived status of professions. To
answer these questions, we used a repeated measures design in
a multidimensional approach and tested the effects of linguistic
forms on the perception of professional groups. To increase the
generalizability of our findings we investigated two grammatical
gender languages, namely Italian and German.
Although gender and status are generally associated
(Ridgeway, 2001), gender-typicality and social status might
constitute independent and orthogonal dimensions when
investigating social perceptions of professions (Glick, 1991; Glick
et al., 1995; Gottfredson, 1996). On this basis, we assumed that
gender- and status-related measures can indeed simultaneously
reveal women’s visibility and profession’s status loss, even when
assessed within a single study.
In our study adults evaluated a list of professions with respect
to (a) status-related measures (dimensions that tend to suffer
when gender-fair language is used) and (b) women’s visibility
(a dimension that tend to show greater mental inclusion of
women when word pairs are used). The question was whether
participants exposed to professions designated with word pairs
(e.g., German Mechanikerinnen und Mechaniker, mechanics,
fem. and mechanics, masc.) would form different perceptions
of the respective professional group than those exposed to
masculine forms (e.g., German Mechaniker, mechanics, masc.).
The languages under study were Austrian German and Italian,
two grammatical gender languages with structural similarities.
Most importantly, professional titles are gender-marked in both
languages (e.g., German Fleischerinnen und Fleischer; Italian
macellaie e macellai, butchers, fem. and butchers, masc.), so
that we expected comparable findings for the two languages.
Moreover, to make results comparable with the most relevant and
directly related prior studies (e.g., Braun et al., 2005), we adopted
methods and dependent variables from these studies wherever
possible. Our hypotheses read as follows:
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Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
Hypothesis 1: Professional groups are perceived to have a
lower social status when designated with word pairs than with
masculine forms.
Hypothesis 2: Professional groups are perceived to have lower
salaries when designated with word pairs than with masculine
forms.
Hypothesis 3: Professional groups designated with word pairs
render women more visible than with masculine forms.
In addition, we examined whether the perceived competence and
warmth of the professional groups was also affected. But as there
was only one published study with French-speaking children
(Vervecken et al., 2015), which had produced rather unexpected
findings for warmth, we were reluctant to formulate specific
hypotheses. Therefore, perceptions of warmth and competence
were investigated in an exploratory way.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Participants
The sample consisted of 391 participants: 195 Austrians (123
women, 72 men; average age 36.03 years, SD =10.53) and
196 Italians (130 women, 66 men; average age 28.55 years,
SD =7.42). We recruited participants via snowball sampling and
included only individuals over 18 years of age.
Materials
Professions
Pretest and selection of target professions
We selected 27 professions (see Appendix A) based on prior
research on professional groups (Kennison and Trofe, 2003;
Gabriel et al., 2008). Professional titles were selected only when
masculine and feminine plural forms were available in both
languages, German (e.g., Dolmetscherinnen und Dolmetscher,
interpreters, fem. and interpreters, masc.) and Italian (e.g.,
traduttrici e traduttori). The web-based pretest on these
professions was run with 100 participants (41 Austrians: 26
women, 15 men; 59 Italians: 36 women, 23 men). The dependent
variable was gender-typicality of professions (“Are the following
professions more typical of women or men?”). As in earlier
research (Gabriel et al., 2008), answers for each profession were
provided on 7-point bipolar scales with the feminine form
(e.g., Dolmetscherinnen/traduttrici, interpreters, fem.) as one pole
(coded as 1) and the masculine form (e.g., Dolmetscher/traduttori,
interpreters, masc.) as the other pole (coded as 7). Pole labels
were counterbalanced across participants: either the feminine
or the masculine label appeared on the left end of the scale.
Furthermore, we presented the professions in a random order for
each participant. Participants filled out the questionnaire in their
native language (German or Italian).
Based on these ratings, professions were categorized as
typically feminine (<3.5), gender-neutral (3.5–4.5) or typically
masculine (>4.5). In the pretest both Austrian and Italian
participants rated seven professions as typically feminine, 13
professions as typically masculine, and three as gender-neutral;
judgments of the two national groups were incongruent for
four professions (for more details, see Appendix A). For
the main study we selected professions on the basis of the
following criteria. First, we aimed at including a broad sample
of professions, of different gender-typicality but with matching
occupational prestige, in order to avoid a prestige-biased
sample of professions (as in Glick et al., 1995). Second, we
aimed at selecting a comparable number of typically feminine
and masculine professions to avoid a statistical bias in the
analyses (Tabachnick and Fidell, 2001). Third, we aimed to
avoid making the gender-typicality of professions salient. We
therefore decided to present not only strongly stereotyped jobs
but also additional, more ambiguous professions (seven slightly
masculine, three gender-neutral, and four incongruent ones) as
fillers in the main study. In order to reduce the questionnaire
to a reasonable length, we split the professions into three lists.
We selected six of the seven professions judged as typically
feminine professions, balanced for occupational prestige as
indicated by average salaries (published by Public Employment
Service Austria, Arbeitsmarktservice Österreich, 2015). Six of
the most typically masculine professions were matched with
the feminine professions for occupational prestige. The six
typically feminine professions selected were tailors, hairdressers,
dancers, interpreters, nutritionists, pharmacists, and psychologists,
the last three being rather high in occupational prestige. The six
masculine professions selected were: truck drivers, electricians,
mechanics, computer scientists, physicists, and engineers with the
last three being rather high in occupational prestige. These 12
final professions were assigned to three lists, whereby each list
contained two typically feminine and two typically masculine
professions (matched for occupational prestige). Please find a
table of the 12 target professions, distributed over the three
experimental lists in Appendix B. The filler professions were
randomly distributed across the lists and were not included in
the main analyses.
Linguistic Forms
A web-based online questionnaire was used for the main study.
Here, all target professions appeared in one of two linguistic
versions, namely either in the masculine (e.g., German Schneider,
Italian sarti, tailors, masc.) or in the form of a word pair
(e.g., German Schneiderinnen und Schneider, Italian sarte e
sarti, tailors, fem. and tailors, masc.). Each participant was
randomly assigned either to the masculine or the word pair
condition. If every participant were to rate all professions the
questionnaire would have been too long. Therefore, participants
were randomly assigned to one of the three lists. In the
questionnaire, each profession was followed by a series of items.
These items were presented on three separate pages of the online
questionnaire. To strengthen the linguistic manipulation, the
professions reappeared (in the respective linguistic form) in the
heading of each page.
Dependent Variables
We measured the following dependent variables: perceived social
status, estimated salary, women’s visibility, competence, and
warmth, which are described in more detail below. For every
dependent variable we aggregated answers for typically feminine
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Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
and masculine professions separately. Reliabilities for both types
of professions are reported below.
Perceived Social Status
The perceived social status of professions was measured with
three items developed by Binggeli et al. (2014): (a) “How much
prestige do [professional group] have in our society?” (b) “How
economically successful have [professional group] been?” (c) “How
is the educational level of [professional group]?” Answers were
provided on 7-point bipolar scales (1 =very low; 7 =very high)
and item order was randomized. Reliabilities were satisfying
for both masculine professions (α=0.78) and for feminine
professions (α=0.71).
Estimated Salary
The estimated salary was measured by a single item adopted from
Becker et al. (2011): “Please estimate how much [professional
group] earn compared to the average Italian / Austrian salary.”
Participants indicated their responses on an 11-point rating
scale ranging from 50% (fifty percent below national average)
to +50% (fifty percent above national average), in 10%
increments. The midpoint represented the national average
salary.
Women’s Visibility
Women’s visibility was measured with two items which had been
used in earlier studies to assess gender typicality: (a) “How many
women and men pursue the profession [professional group]?
(similar to Braun et al., 2005; Gabriel et al., 2008). Answers
were provided on an 11-point bipolar scale, ranging from 100%
women to 100% men, with 10% increments (90% women, 80%
women, 70% women, . . . ); the midpoint was 50% women-50%
men; (b) “For whom is the profession [professional group] more
typical?” Answers were provided on a 7-point bipolar scale
(ranging from 1 =women to 7 =men, or vice versa). Both items
were recoded, so that higher values indicated higher visibility of
women. Due to different answering formats we z-standardized
the items and merged them. Reliabilities were satisfying for both
masculine professions (α= 0.75) and for feminine professions
(α=0.81)
Ascriptions of Competence and Warmth
Ascriptions of competence and warmth were assessed with
five items each, adopted from Cuddy et al. (2004) and Cuddy
et al. (2009). Participants were asked: “How would you evaluate
[professional group] on the following traits? To which degree
are they [competence traits: able, competent, confident, efficient,
skillful; warmth traits: warm-hearted, likeable, friendly, altruistic,
cordial]?” Answers were provided on 7-point bipolar scales
(1 =very little; 7 =very much). The order of the items was
randomized. Items for warmth and competence were averaged
and reliabilities were satisfying: competence for masculine
professions (α=0.89) and for feminine professions (α=0.91),
warmth for masculine professions (α=0.91) and for feminine
professions (α=0.93).
An overview of intercorrelations of all dependent variables is
provided in Tables 1 and 2, for German and Italian, respectively.
TABLE 1 | Intercorrelations of dependent variables perceived social
status, estimated salary, women’s visibility, ascriptions of competence
and warmth for feminine and masculine professions in German.
1 2 3 4 5
1. Social status 0.33*** 0.04 0.64*** 0.42***
2. Salary 0.45*** 0.14 0.15* 0.00
3. Women’s visibility 0.17* 0.22** 0.12 0.17*
4. Competence 0.60*** 0.37*** 0.28*** 0.68***
5. Warmth 0.40*** 0.13 0.06 0.48***
Intercorrelations for feminine professions are reported above the diagonal,
intercorrelations for masculine professions are reported below the diagonal; *p<
0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.001.
TABLE 2 | Intercorrelations of dependent variables perceived social
status, estimated salary, women’s visibility, ascriptions of competence,
and warmth for feminine and masculine professions in Italian.
1 2 3 4 5
1. Social status 0.46*** 0.13 0.46*** 0.31***
2. Salary 0.40*** 0.08 0.22** 0.16*
3. Women’s visibility 0.03 0.07 0.09 0.09
4. Competence 0.37*** 0.01 0.04 0.65***
5. Warmth 0.26*** 0.00 0.07 0.48***
Intercorrelations for feminine professions are reported above the diagonal,
intercorrelations for masculine professions are reported below the diagonal; *p<
0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.001.
Procedure
Upon entering the web-based questionnaire, participants were
informed that the purpose of the study was to investigate social
perceptions of various professional groups. In line with APA
guidelines (American Psychological Association, 2010), the main
instructions at the beginning of the survey included further
information, for instance, on expected duration, procedures,
and confidentiality. Participants were then presented with nine
professional groups. At the end of the questionnaire, they were
debriefed and invited to participate in a lottery for gift vouchers,
which had been announced at the beginning1. The project was
approved by the Ethical Committee of the University of Padova
in 2010.
RESULTS
Perceived social status, estimated salary and women’s visibility,
as well as ascriptions of competence and warmth of typically
masculine and feminine professions were analyzed with a
2 (Stereotypicality of Professions: masculine vs. feminine)
×2 (Linguistic Form: masculine forms vs. word pairs) ×
2 (Language: German vs. Italian) ×2 (Participant gender:
female vs. male) ×3 (List of professions) multivariate analysis
1After measuring the dependent variables we also assessed participants’ attitudes
toward gender-fair language (Sczesny et al., 2015) and sexism (with the Ambivalent
Sexism Inventory; Glick and Fiske, 1996). Since both attitude scales were correlated
with the dependent as well as the independent variables, we could not use them as
moderators, as had been intended, and thus do not report them here.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 6January 2016 | Volume 6 | Article 2018
Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
of variance (MANOVA) with repeated measures on the first
factor. The MANOVA was followed by ANOVAs with pairwise
comparisons (with Bonferroni correction) for each dependent
variable. Results with p-values of 0.05 or less are considered
significant. As we were mainly interested in effects of linguistic
forms (masculine forms vs. word pairs) and also to enhance
readability, we report only those effects that concern our
hypotheses: main effects of stereotypicality of professions and
effects involving our core factor, linguistic form. All other effects
are reported in Appendix C.
The MANOVA revealed a main effect of linguistic form,
F(5,354) =4.57, p<0.001, η2
p=0.06, indicating that overall
masculine forms and word pairs produced different perceptions
of professions. No interaction effect involving linguistic form
was significant. For all other multivariate effects not involving
linguistic form, please see Appendix C.
Perceived Social Status
The ANOVA for perceived social status revealed a significant
interaction between stereotypicality of profession and linguistic
form, F(1,363) =4.95, p=0.027, η2
p=0.01. Pairwise
comparisons showed that typically feminine professions were
perceived as having lower status than masculine professions,
both when presented with masculine forms (p=0.021,
η2=0.02) and with word pairs (p0.001, η2=
0.07). It is noteworthy that the difference between typically
masculine and feminine professions was stronger when word
pairs were used. In fact, when word pairs were used, the perceived
status of feminine professions declined slightly compared
to masculine forms, whereas that of masculine professions
increased slightly. These differences are displayed in Figure 1.
All means and standard deviations are reported in Table 3.
For all other effects not involving linguistic form, please
see Appendix C.
FIGURE 1 | Perceived social status of typically feminine and masculine
professions. Note that answers were provided on a 7-point scale. Higher
numbers indicate higher perceptions of social status.
Estimated Salary
The main effect for linguistic form, F(1,359) =5.85, p=0.016,
η2
p=0.02, indicated that professions presented with masculine
forms were believed to earn higher salaries than professions
presented with word pairs (as predicted in Hypotheses 2). In
addition, the interaction between stereotypicality of professions
and linguistic form was significant, F(1,359) =4.36, p=
0.037, η2
p=0.01. Pairwise comparisons showed that feminine
professions were estimated to have lower salaries than masculine
professions in both linguistic conditions (masculine form: p<
0.001, η2
p=0.09; word pairs: p<0.001, η2
p=0.09);
however, salaries of feminine professions were estimated higher
when designated with masculine forms than with word pairs
(p=0.003, η2=0.03). The salary ratings for masculine
professions did not differ according to linguistic form (p=0.416,
η2=0.002). All means and standard deviations are reported in
Table 4. These differences are displayed in Figure 2. For all other
effects not involving linguistic form, please see Appendix C.
TABLE 3 | Means and standard deviations for perceived social status by
stereotypicality of professions, linguistic form, list, and participant gender.
Language Stereotypicality Linguistic List Participant
of professions form gender
Female Male
M SD M SD
German Feminine
professions
Masculine 1 3.97 0.74 3.97 0.84
2 4.44 0.71 3.98 0.45
3 4.03 0.84 3.60 0.53
Word pairs 1 3.98 0.73 3.98 0.63
2 4.06 1.06 3.88 1.02
3 3.78 0.87 4.03 0.84
Masculine
professions
Masculine 1 4.58 0.69 4.30 0.66
2 4.57 0.65 4.28 0.58
3 4.07 0.84 3.67 0.69
Word pairs 1 4.68 0.62 4.77 0.78
2 4.43 1.03 4.53 1.28
3 4.02 0.76 4.17 0.83
Italian Feminine
professions
Masculine 1 3.82 0.62 4.20 0.70
2 4.10 0.83 4.14 0.76
3 3.99 0.78 3.98 0.61
Word pairs 1 4.05 0.54 3.83 0.46
2 3.79 0.48 3.83 0.83
3 4.03 0.88 3.83 1.29
Masculine
professions
Masculine 1 3.96 0.71 3.89 0.53
2 4.25 0.72 4.30 0.62
3 3.84 0.62 4.18 0.64
Word pairs 1 4.12 0.61 4.30 0.43
2 4.07 0.48 4.15 0.64
3 4.07 0.62 3.85 0.91
Ratings were given on a 7-point scale with higher scores indicating ascriptions of higher
social status.
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Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
TABLE 4 | Means and standard deviations for estimated salary by
stereotypicality of professions, linguistic form, and participant gender.
Language Stereotypicality Linguistic List Participant
of professions form gender
Female Male
M SD M SD
German Feminine
Professions
Masculine 1 6.20 0.87 6.10 1.20
2 6.34 1.11 5.75 0.92
3 6.47 1.63 6.50 0.41
Word pairs 1 5.69 0.71 5.86 0.98
2 5.87 1.09 5.81 1.31
3 5.85 0.98 5.75 0.88
Masculine
Professions
Masculine 1 7.06 0.77 6.86 0.71
2 7.34 0.68 7.25 0.82
3 7.41 0.95 6.93 0.84
Word pairs 1 7.05 0.87 6.73 1.01
2 6.97 1.09 7.47 1.22
3 6.85 0.72 6.88 1.24
Italian Feminine
Professions
Masculine 1 6.53 1.41 6.27 1.27
2 6.31 0.95 6.29 1.42
3 6.63 0.68 6.31 1.14
Word pairs 1 5.97 1.54 6.50 0.94
2 5.72 0.71 6.15 0.78
3 6.37 0.87 5.78 1.37
Masculine
Professions
Masculine 1 6.41 1.11 6.36 1.60
2 6.81 0.94 7.04 0.81
3 6.96 0.82 6.88 0.99
Word pairs 1 6.47 1.34 7.20 0.76
2 6.61 0.80 6.70 0.63
3 6.98 0.95 6.33 1.25
Ratings were given on a 11-point scale with the midpoint (6) representing the national
average salary. Higher scores indicate ascriptions of higher salary.
Women’s Visibility
A main effect of linguistic form, F(1,361) =15.10, p<0.001,
η2
p=0.04, indicated that women’s visibility was higher with word
pairs than with masculine forms. This is in line with Hypothesis
3. Furthermore, the interaction of linguistic form and list was
significant, F(2,361) =3.40, p=0.034, η2
p=0.02. Word
pairs (vs. masculine forms) increased the visibility of women for
List 2 (p=0.028) and List 3 (p0.001), but not for List
1. All means and standard deviations are reported in Table 5.
For all other effects not involving linguistic form, please see
Appendix C.
Ascribed Competence
The ANOVA on competence revealed no significant effects
involving linguistic form. All means and standard deviations are
reported in Table 6. For all other effects not involving linguistic
form, please see Appendix C.
FIGURE 2 | Salary estimates for typically feminine and masculine
professions. Note that answers were given on a 11-point scale. Higher
numbers indicate higher estimates of salary.
Ascribed Warmth
The ANOVA on ascribed warmth revealed a significant
interaction between linguistic form and language, F(1,363) =
6.07, p=0.014, η2
p=0.02. This was qualified, however, by the
three-way interaction of linguistic form, language and participant
gender, F(1,363) =6.64, p=0.010, η2
p=0.02. Pairwise
comparisons within languages revealed the following for Italian:
men perceived professions to be warmer when presented with
masculine forms in comparison to women (p=0.047, η2
p=
0.01) and in comparison to word pairs (p=0.012, η2
p=0.017).
All means and standard deviations are reported in Table 7. For all
other effects not involving linguistic form, please see Appendix C.
DISCUSSION
The present research was designed to examine whether gender-
fair language increases women’s visibility and at the same time
lowers status perceptions and salary estimates. We tested these
effects in two languages with grammatical gender, Italian and
German, within a single paradigm. Results mainly confirmed our
hypotheses.
First of all, women’s visibility increased for most professions
when word pairs were used instead of masculine forms (see
Hypothesis 3). This confirms the well-documented male bias
in mental representation that is caused by masculine generics
(e.g., Braun et al., 2005; Gabriel et al., 2008; Vervecken et al.,
2013). With regard to the perceived social status of professions,
typically feminine professions were ascribed significantly lower
status than masculine professions, independent of linguistic
form, which reflects the existing gender hierarchy (Eagly et al.,
2000; Ridgeway and Correll, 2001). However, contrary to our
expectations (see Hypothesis 1), professions did not lose in
status when presented with word pairs compared to masculine
forms. Instead, the difference in perceived social status between
typically masculine and feminine professions increased when
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Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
TABLE 5 | Means and standard deviations for women’s visibility by
stereotypicality of professions, linguistic form, list, and participant gender.
Language Stereotypicality Linguistic List Participant
of professions form gender
Female Male
M SD M SD
German Feminine
professions
Masculine 1 2.13 0.71 1.93 0.67
22.38 0.79 1.98 1.18
31.80 0.79 1.96 0.71
Word pairs 1 2.53 0.65 2.23 0.68
22.17 0.57 2.22 1.02
32.40 0.66 2.05 0.87
Masculine
professions
Masculine 1 1.84 0.77 1.75 0.83
22.20 0.56 2.18 0.64
32.39 0.47 2.54 0.49
Word pairs 1 1.95 0.69 1.75 0.96
22.16 0.73 1.93 1.37
32.10 0.68 2.17 0.72
Italian Feminine
professions
Masculine 1 1.99 0.88 2.27 0.79
21.86 0.95 1.65 1.13
31.45 0.77 1.16 0.82
Word pairs 1 2.37 0.84 1.40 0.78
22.06 0.89 2.13 0.94
31.95 0.76 1.75 0.87
Masculine
professions
Masculine 1 1.97 0.59 2.09 0.53
22.44 0.58 2.44 0.68
32.05 0.68 2.09 0.69
Word pairs 1 1.99 0.77 1.85 0.74
22.15 0.69 2.18 1.29
31.87 0.38 1.64 0.52
The standardized scale for feminine and masculine professions was calculated by using
z-scores of a 11-point and a 7-point scale. Higher values indicate higher visibility of
women.
word pairs were used, as feminine professions slightly lost and
masculine professions slightly gained in social status. This finding
has to be treated with caution, however, because the differences
between masculine forms and word pairs were not significant
when typically feminine and typically masculine professions were
treated separately. Salary estimates for feminine professions were
also generally lower than for masculine professions. For typically
feminine professions salary estimates were even lower when word
pairs where used rather than masculine forms (see Hypothesis 2).
In contrast, masculine professions were not affected by linguistic
form. This pattern confirms Hypothesis 2 at least partially. Taken
together, we can only partly confirm the detrimental effects of
gender-fair word pairs on status-related measures (perceived
social status and salary-estimates; e.g., Vervecken et al., 2013;
Vervecken and Hannover, 2015).
Our exploration of ascribed competence and
warmth showed that—in line with first results of
TABLE 6 | Means and standard deviations for ascribed competence by
stereotypicality of professions, linguistic form, list, and participant gender.
Language Stereotypicality Linguistic List Participant
of professions form gender
Female Male
M SD M SD
German Feminine
professions
Masculine 1 4.70 0.95 4.34 0.86
2 5.37 0.91 4.87 0.73
3 5.23 1.06 4.54 0.71
Word pairs 1 5.03 0.96 4.55 0.55
2 5.01 1.20 4.92 1.38
3 5.07 1.04 5.08 0.71
Masculine
professions
Masculine 1 4.89 0.74 4.65 0.53
2 5.21 0.84 4.83 0.70
3 5.33 0.63 4.97 0.66
Word pairs 1 5.34 0.70 5.36 0.85
2 4.91 1.15 4.85 1.35
3 4.92 0.95 5.29 0.90
Italian Feminine
professions
Masculine 1 4.57 0.99 4.89 1.11
2 5.23 0.89 5.42 0.77
3 4.74 0.87 4.71 0.68
Word pairs 1 4.75 0.78 4.46 0.54
2 4.58 0.92 5.03 1.16
3 4.67 0.75 4.21 1.53
Masculine
professions
Masculine 1 5.02 0.78 5.61 0.85
2 4.82 1.06 5.17 1.08
3 4.55 0.75 4.99 0.56
Word pairs 1 5.34 0.85 4.94 0.67
2 4.79 0.86 5.10 0.82
3 4.47 0.86 4.73 1.10
Ratings were given on a 7-point scale with higher scores indicating ascriptions of higher
competence.
Vervecken et al. (2015)—competence was not affected by
linguistic form. This is an important finding in view of the fact
that competence is highly relevant in professional contexts. For
warmth, we observed an unexpected secondary effect, in that
only male Italian participants were affected by linguistic form.
They generally ascribed more warmth to professions designated
in the masculine and less warmth to professions referred to with
word pairs. In view of the means and of an effect on ascribed
warmth reported by Vervecken et al. (2015), we would agree
with the authors in the guess that word pairs shifted perceptions
of warmth toward the midpoint of the scale and thus balanced
warmth perceptions. We have no theoretical explanation for this
result except for the fact that some studies found men to be more
sensitive to linguistic forms than women in certain contexts
(Braun et al., 2005). More research would have to be conducted
to clarify this issue.
Results from correlational analyses revealed that
status-related measures, though correlated with each other,
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 9January 2016 | Volume 6 | Article 2018
Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
TABLE 7 | Means and standard deviations for ascribed warmth by
stereotypicality of professions, linguistic form, list, and participant gender.
Language Stereotypicality Linguistic List Participant
of professions form gender
Female Male
M SD M SD
German Feminine
professions
Masculine 1 4.93 0.98 4.54 0.61
2 4.53 0.58 4.47 0.31
3 4.70 1.37 4.69 0.76
Word pairs 1 5.23 0.90 5.04 0.60
2 4.34 1.00 4.76 1.44
3 4.57 1.26 4.87 0.63
Masculine
professions
Masculine 1 3.68 0.79 3.56 0.66
2 4.12 0.56 3.70 0.67
3 3.51 0.69 3.73 1.03
Word pairs 1 3.87 0.88 4.11 0.63
2 3.83 0.99 3.79 1.36
3 3.86 1.05 4.16 1.03
Italian Feminine
professions
Masculine 1 4.27 1.14 5.01 1.07
2 4.27 0.97 4.52 0.69
3 4.13 0.69 4.38 0.51
Word pairs 1 4.68 0.83 4.44 1.45
2 4.08 0.49 4.11 0.54
3 3.98 0.77 3.79 1.21
Masculine
professions
Masculine 1 3.50 0.99 4.11 1.28
2 3.80 0.93 3.92 0.75
3 3.55 0.83 3.44 0.89
Word pairs 1 3.88 0.76 2.90 1.02
2 3.64 0.64 3.76 0.67
3 3.60 1.04 3.28 0.63
Ratings were given on a 7-point scale with higher scores indicating ascriptions of higher
warmth.
are largely unrelated with ratings of women’s visibility (i.e.,
gender-typicality). Thus, the two dimensions of status and
gender-typicality appear to be independent of each other. This
is in line with research by Glick et al. (1995) and Gottfredson
(1996), which suggests that with respect to images of occupations
status/prestige and gender-typicality are two orthogonal
dimensions.
The present findings contribute to social role theory (Eagly,
1987; Eagly et al., 2000) in the following ways: Word pairs
increase the inclusion of women in comparison to masculine
forms and thus alter the perceived distribution of women
and men across professional groups. In this way they affect
occupational gender stereotyping. Our results are in accord with
findings showing that the social status of professions does not
readily translate into gender stereotypes ascribed to professions
(Eagly and Steffen, 1984). Furthermore, given that fictitious
and experimentally varied distributions of women and men in
future professions can change ascribed gender stereotypes despite
currently existing stereotypes (Koenig and Eagly, 2014), the use of
word pairs might change occupational gender stereotyping on the
long run, too. Further evidence for this idea comes from recent
research which shows that linguistic forms in job advertisements
for a typically masculine, high-status leadership position changed
hiring decisions: Women and men were hired equally when
word pairs (vs. masculine forms) were used in the respective
job advertisement (Horvath and Sczesny, 2015). Moreover, girls’
interest in typically masculine professions was found to be higher
when these professions were presented with word pairs instead of
masculine forms (Vervecken et al., 2015).
Our findings extend prior research by investigating, for the
first time, whether beneficial and detrimental effects of gender-
fair language on the social perception of professional groups
emerge simultaneously: While previous studies focused mainly
on individual professions (e.g., Braun et al., 2005; Gabriel et al.,
2008) or individual targets (Merkel et al., 2012; Formanowicz
et al., 2013), the current study sheds light on the social perception
of a range of typically feminine and masculine professions.
More importantly, our study was designed to capture both
beneficial and detrimental effects of linguistic forms within a
single paradigm. Earlier studies focused either on an increase in
women’s visibility (e.g., Braun et al., 2005; Gabriel et al., 2008)
or on negative side-effects of gender-fair language (Mucchi-
Faina, 2005; Merkel et al., 2012; Formanowicz et al., 2013). Our
study shows that gender-fair language can simultaneously have
positive effects (greater visibility of women) and negative effects
(polarization of male-female differences in pay). Note, however,
that the present study investigated only descriptive norms (how
much status and pay does a given profession currently enjoy?)
but not prescriptive norms (how much status and pay should
a given profession enjoy?). Thus, it remains to be seen whether
word pairs have detrimental effects on prescriptive norms as well.
One limitation of the present research is that we applied a
between-participants design and presented participants either
with masculine “generic” forms or with word pairs. Current
language policies, however, demand the use of a whole range
of gender-fair forms, including word pairs as well as other
alternatives (for an overview of German gender-fair forms see
Braun et al., 2005; Horvath, 2015). Consequently, speakers
are likely to encounter many different forms in everyday
life. Future research should therefore use a more ecologically
valid approach and expose participants to diverse linguistic
forms. In particular, future research should include gender-
neutral expressions (e.g., German Lehrkräfte, teaching staff),
which were not investigated here. In contrast to masculine
forms and word pairs, gender-neutralizing forms make neither
women nor men salient. It remains to be tested whether
such neutral forms can increase women’s visibility without
reducing estimated salaries in comparison to word pairs. The
finding that lower salaries are assumed for typically feminine
professions designated with word pairs in contrast to masculine
forms may simply reflect social reality, given that professions
with a high percentage of women tend to be connected with
lower salaries, lesser status, and lesser recognition in society.
It is therefore conceivable that feminine-masculine word pairs
designating typically feminine professions (vs. masculine forms)
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 10 January 2016 | Volume 6 | Article 2018
Horvath et al. Gender-Fair Language and Professional Groups
automatically activate knowledge about the gender wage gap or
associations of men and wealth (Williams et al., 2010), while
gender-neutral expressions do not. Such effects could be tested by
measuring unconscious associations between professional groups
(designated in the masculine, with word pairs or neutralizations)
and the gender-wage gap, for example with implicit association
tests.
Preliminary evidence has shown that in reference to
typically feminine professions, feminine-only forms (e.g.,
Kindergärtnerinnen, kindergarden teachers, fem.) are more
frequently used than masculine generics (Kindergärtner,
kindergarden teachers, masc.) or word pairs (Chiarini, 2013;
Hodel et al., 2013). Hence, future research should compare
status and salary perceptions for typically feminine professions
designated with word pairs compared to feminine forms. In this
case, word pairs might actually cause an increase in estimated
salaries and status perceptions, because masculine forms are here
added to the feminine forms already in use. If this assumption
should hold, it would again speak for a consistent use of
gender-fair language, which in this case would mean replacing
feminine-only forms with word pairs.
Now what are the practical implications of our results?
Should word pairs be used to make language gender-fair and
to support gender equality? The present findings indicate that,
in German and Italian, language reform—and hence use of
word pairs—is promising as they are likely to increase women’s
professional visibility on the one hand. On the other hand,
word pairs in comparison to masculine forms may also lower
estimated salaries of typically feminine professions. These effects
appear to be inevitable for the time being. However, negative
consequences of gender-fair language may diminish over time
(Formanowicz et al., 2015; Gustafsson Senden et al., 2015).
Furthermore, masculine generics are semantically ambiguous
and thus problematic: they can refer to men only or to a group
of women and men (Stahlberg et al., 2007). Therefore, we would
recommend the use of gender-fair forms, such as word pairs or
neutralizations in response to the question whether one should
use gender-fair forms or masculine generics.
Taken together, our results on the social perception of
professions indicate an increase of women’s visibility with
gender-fair language, but also a decrease in salary estimates of
typically feminine professions. Although the latter effect is not
negligible, social perceptions of status and competence do not
suffer when word pairs are used.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The present research was conducted within the Marie Curie
Initial Training Network: Language, Cognition, and Gender, ITN
LCG, funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework
Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n237907.
Additionally, this work was supported by the German Research
Foundation (DFG) and the Technical University of Munich
within the funding programme Open Access Publishing.
SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL
The Supplementary Material for this article can be found
online at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.
2015.02018
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Conflict of Interest Statement: The authors declare that the research was
conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could
be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
Copyright © 2016 Horvath, Merkel, Maass and Sczesny. Thisis an open-access article
distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).
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original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this
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Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 12 January 2016 | Volume 6 | Article 2018

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... Among actions to fight linguistic sexism, the focus is placed on those mechanisms that directly address speakers' habits. Some consist of the creation of morphological procedures for the feminine form or the modification of terms relating to prestigious professions or occupations, which normally appear in the masculine form (Budziszewska, Hansen, and Bilewicz 2014;Formanowicz et al. 2013;Gabriel et al. 2008;Horvath et al. 2015). Mercedes Bengoechea's work (2011) provided a comprehensive analysis of the difficulties of incorporating those alternatives into the use of the generic masculine in educated speakers' language, despite the profusion of rules and laws on the topic in Spain, as well as the publication of guidelines, style books and GFL manuals (Guerrero Salazar 2013). ...
... Studies undertaken into the English, French and German languages have associated the use of the generic masculine with negative attitudes towards women (Parks and Roberton 2004;Sarrasin, Gabriel, and Gygax 2012;Swim, Mallett, and Stangor 2004). One example is the relationship between the grammatical gender of occupations and their social perception (Budziszewska, Hansen, and Bilewicz 2014;Formanowicz et al. 2013;Gabriel et al. 2008;Horvath et al. 2015). Sczesny, Formanowicz, and Moser (2016) concluded that when the masculine is used, women are considered to be a less prototypical exemplar, and less adequate or less preferred for the job. ...
... In what can be regarded as a possible attempt to undo standardised linguistic categories, the present study has demonstrated that preservice Spanish teachers favour the use of GFL expressions which make the presence of women explicit, especially when referring to prestigious professions or occupations such as juez or maestro. This corroborates findings of previous studies regarding the importance of using feminine nouns for prestigious professions in such a way that a woman can be considered a prototypical member of that profession (Sczesny, Formanowicz, and Moser 2016;Budziszewska, Hansen, and Bilewicz 2014;Formanowicz et al. 2013;Horvath et al. 2015). Unexpectedly, there are some exceptions such as médico, in which no sexist bias is perceived when using the masculine form to address women, even if those exceptions are incorrect from a Spanish grammatical perspective. ...
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This article examines preservice Spanish teachers’ perceptions of linguistic sexism, norm, and use in Spanish. Analysis of 723 participants’ answers showed that sexism and linguistic non-adequacy were associated. Results proved that the exclusion of women from the generic masculine in Spanish was considered sexist, and that participants used some Gender Fair Language (GFL) mechanisms to make women visible when deemed necessary, especially with professions. Also, regardless of its adherence to norm, linguistic sexism was perceived as grammatically wrong. Thus, GFL criteria were finding their way into use even if contrary to norm. Therefore, policies based on direct intervention in the training of preservice teachers Spanish as a first language would produce a more egalitarian use of language.
... Feminine personal nouns in Slavic languages have recently become the focus of attention of linguists from various perspectives: word formation models [7], [10], [21], [29], [50], semantic and pragmatic features [13], [20], [24], gender-fair language [38], [39], political correctness [29], [49], language policy [25], and others. The social perception of these lexical items has been studied by psychologists [11]. In the field of lexicography, dictionaries of feminine terms in Polish [22] and Russian [34] have been published, and a number of studied are devoted to different lexicographic traditions for codifying these lexical items [16], [17], [21], [23]. ...
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... This result is an indication of the inconsistencies in the existing literature on gender and language. However, the main effect of gender on GNL is similar to the observation of Horvath, et al. (2016) who reported that women's visibility increased for most professions when GNL was used instead of the masculine forms. Hansen, Littwitz, and Sczesny (2016) also revealed that GNL resulted in more gender-balanced mental representations of the roles ascribed to men and women. ...
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... Wer sprachlich nicht sichtbar ist, ist dies auch nicht in den geistigen Repräsentationen. Und das wiederum führt zu stereotypischen (Rollen-)Bildern und beeinflusst, welche Tätigkeiten wir welchen Menschen zutrauen und welche nicht (Gaucher et al., 2011;Horvath et al., 2016;Kollmayer et al., 2018;Sczesny et al., 2016). So ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass in Kulturen, in denen sich männliche Dominanz auch in der Sprache wiederfindet, sich diese Dominanz auch in der Teilhabe am Arbeitsmarkt zeigt (Gay et al., 2018). ...
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Unsere Sprache schafft unsere Realität. Insofern bietet Sprache auch die Möglichkeit, unsere Realität und unseren Blick auf die Welt zu reflektieren und bei Bedarf neu auszurichten. Der folgende Beitrag erkennt einen solchen Bedarf in der Sprache der Polizei. Bis heute befleißigt sich diese robust einer heteronormativen, und hier genauer: vorzugsweise männlichen Perspektive auf eine faktisch vielfältige Genderkultur, die gelernt hat, mindestens bis drei zu zählen. Wir argumentieren, dass das Festhalten am generischen Maskulinum innerhalb polizeilicher Sprach-und Schriftkultur nicht länger angemessen ist. Angemessen ist vielmehr eine gendersensible Sprache der Polizei, die den unterschiedlichen Formen des sozialen Geschlechts und ihren vielfältigen Begegnungskontexten begründet Rechnung trägt. In der Hinwendung zu zur Gendersensibilität sehen wir einen zentralen Gradmesser polizeilicher Professionalität.
... Aquests i d'altres experiments similars (Kidd, 1971;J. W. Schneider i Hacker, 1973;Harrison, 1975;Moulton, Robinson i Cherin, 1978;Stout i Dasgupta, 2011;Lisa K. Horvath, Merkel, Maass i Sczesny, 2016;Lindqvist, Renström i Gustafsson Sendén, 2018;Redl, Frank, Swart i Hoop, 2020), que comparen els efectes de canviar només els gèneres gramaticals emprats en la redacció dels textos, ens mostren que els usos lingüístics basats en el masculí gramatical (tot i vestir-se de genèrics i per molt que, per als propòsits d'una disciplina concreta, puga ser productiu dir-ne no marcats) marquen l'experiència, comporten i provoquen una visió desigual de les possibilitats d'homes i dones que sobreviu a les intencions personals de transgredir convencions de rol. A més, els estudis interlingüístics ens permeten veure que aquests resultats poden extrapolar-se (Gygax, Gabriel, Sarrasin, Oakhill i Garnham, 2008;Esaulova i Von Stockhausen, 2015) i s'han proposat agrupacions de llengües pel sistema de marques gramaticals de gènere per facilitar estudis, comparatives i interpretacions (Gygax et al., 2019). ...
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... There was no gender difference in the Mandarinlanguage description for the position of a senior executive. So, the effect of the feminine or masculine form of language was not considered in the experiment (Horvath et al., 2016). ...
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Today, many women work in occupational roles that had once been dominated by men (e.g., senior business executives). However, expectations on senior executives to be agentic (e.g., assertive, dominant) may conflict with prescriptive stereotypes about women to be communal (e.g., helpful, warm). According to this double-bind dilemma, female senior executives get criticized for lacking either agency or communion as both dimensions can be perceived as posing a tradeoff. We hypothesize that female senior executives report higher levels of agency and lower levels of communion than women in a more neutral role (e.g., lecturers) due to the perceived requirements of these occupational roles. In Study 1, N = 212 students rated adjectives on their desirability for men vs. women in Chinese society. They rated agentic characteristics as more desirable for men and communal characteristics as more desirable for women. Studies 2 and 3 used this material. Study 2 randomly assigned N = 207 female students to the role of a senior executive vs. lecturer. Study 3 was conducted with N = 202 female role occupants (96 senior executives, 106 lecturers). As expected, female senior executives reported higher levels of agency and lower levels of communion than female lecturers in both studies. Some women may be particularly aware of the above-mentioned double-bind dilemma and may be more worried about the potential backlash than others. They may attempt to reconcile occupational demands (i.e., higher agency, lower communion) with prescriptive gender stereotypes (i.e., lower agency, higher communion). We, therefore, explored whether fear of backlash attenuates the effect of the type of role of women (senior executives vs. lecturers) on agency and communion. Indeed, we found that senior executives who were particularly worried about backlash reported almost as much communion as lecturers did. In contrast, senior executives consistently reported higher levels of agency than lecturers regardless of their fear of backlash. The present study documents prescriptive gender stereotypes in China, how women differ as a function of their occupational roles, and how fear of backlash may motivate female senior executives to reconcile having high levels of both agency and communion.
... avvocata) was given similar social status to the generic masculine form avvocato (Merkel, Maass, & Frommelt, 2012). In a study investigating judgments of women using feminine and masculine occupational titles, using feminine occupational titles was found to lead to a decreased estimated salary (Horvath, Merkel, Maass, & Sczesny, 2016). In addition, feminine forms may not have the same meaning as the masculine form. ...
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Staller, M. S., Kronschläger, T., & Koerner, S. (2022). Auf geht’s, Polizistys! - Gendersensible Sprache in der Polizei. Die Polizei, 112(7), 280–285. Unsere Sprache schafft unsere Realität. Insofern bietet Sprache auch die Möglichkeit, unsere Realität und unseren Blick auf die Welt zu reflektieren und bei Bedarf neu auszurichten. Der folgende Beitrag erkennt einen solchen Bedarf in der Sprache der Polizei. Bis heute befleißigt sich diese robust einer heteronormativen, und hier genauer: vorzugsweise männlichen Perspektive auf eine faktisch vielfältige Genderkultur, die gelernt hat, mindestens bis drei zu zählen. Wir argumentieren, dass das Festhal-Staller / Kronschläger / Koerner: Auf geht's, Polizistys!-Gendersensible Sprache in der Polizei-Polizei 2022 Ausgabe 7-281>> ten am generischen Maskulinum innerhalb polizeilicher Sprach-und Schriftkultur nicht länger angemessen ist. Angemessen ist vielmehr eine gendersensible Sprache der Polizei, die den unterschiedlichen Formen des sozialen Geschlechts und ihren vielfältigen Begegnungskontexten begründet Rechnung trägt. In der Hinwendung zur Gendersensibilität sehen wir einen zentralen Gradmesser polizeilicher Professionalität.
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Heated societal debates in various countries concern the use of gender-fair language, meant to replace the generic use of grammatically masculine forms. Advocates and opponents of gender-fair language disagree on – among other things – the question of whether masculine forms leave women underrepresented in people's minds. We investigated the influence of linguistic form on the mental representations of gender in French. Participants read a short text about a professional gathering and estimated the percentages of men and women present at the gathering. Results showed higher estimates of the percentage of women in response to two gender-fair forms relative to the masculine form. Comparisons with normed data on people's perception of real-world gender ratios additionally showed that the gender-fair forms removed or reduced a male bias for neutral- and female-stereotyped professions, respectively, yet induced a female bias for male-stereotyped professions. Thus, gender-fair language increases the prominence of women in the mind, but has varying effects on consistency, i.e., the match with default perceptions of real-world gender ratios.
Chapter
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In many languages, masculine forms are still used as generics to address both women and men, although a variety of gender-fair forms (e.g., feminine-masculine word pairs) are available. The following chapter first gives a short introduction to the field of gender-fair language. This is followed by an overview on empirical findings revealing which chances gender-fair language provides for achieving more gender-equality in the leadership context. The ramifications can be found on several levels: For instance, when leadership positions are advertised with gender-fair forms (instead of masculine forms), both female and male individuals are more willing to apply, they are equally likely to be hired, and organizations are perceived more positively with regard to gender-equality. Moreover, implications for society are discussed and some brief recommendations how to use gender-fair language in German are provided.
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accepted for publication in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology; doi: 10.1080/1359432X.2015.1067611
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