Research / BFI Working PaperMar 20, 2023

How Are Gender Norms Perceived?

Leonardo Bursztyn, Alexander W. Cappelen, Bertil Tungodden, Alessandra Voena, David Yanagizawa-Drott

Actual and perceived gender norms are key to understanding gender inequality in society. In this paper, using newly collected nationally representative datasets from 60 countries that cover over 80% of the world population, we study gender norms on two distinct policy issues: 1) basic rights, allowing women to work outside of the home, and 2) affirmative action, prioritizing women when hiring for leadership positions. We establish that misperceptions of gender norms are pervasive across the world. The nature of the misperception, however, is context-dependent. In less gender- equal countries, people underestimate support for both policies, particularly support among men; in more gender-equal countries, people overestimate support for affirmative action, particularly support among women, and underestimate support for basic rights. We provide evidence of gender stereotyping and overweighting of the minority view as potential drivers of the global patterns of misperceptions. Together, our findings indicate how misperceptions of gender norms may obstruct progress toward gender equality, but also may contribute to sustaining gender policies that are not necessarily favored by women themselves.

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