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It is official: Majority of Americans think women are just as competent as men, if not more so

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

Good news, ladies: Americans now think women are just as smart and just as competent as men.

And it gets better: Among the 25% of respondents who did perceive a gender difference in the smart category, most said that women were more intelligent and competent than men.

So says a scientific study published Thursday in the journal American Psychologist that examines Americans' perceptions of women over the past 70 years.

"It's a pretty dramatic shift," said Alice Eagly, a social psychologist at Northwestern University in Illinois who led the work. "If you think women are still seen as less capable than men, then forget it. That is not the case."

Eagly and her co-authors analyzed 16 public opinion polls spanning from 1946 to 2018 to see how gender stereotypes have evolved over time. Specifically, they looked at three clusters of personality traits that they define as competence, communion and agency.

Competence traits include being organized, intelligent and capable.

 

The communion cluster includes traits generally associated with good social skills -- warmth, compassion, expressiveness, generosity and altruistic impulses.

Agency traits are more self-oriented and include assertiveness, decisiveness and even aggression.

The polling data, collected by different groups over seven decades, were not uniform and took a fair amount of finessing to get in usable order, Eagly said.

For example, one poll might ask a respondent who he or she thought was more likely to be compassionate:

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