When male unemployment rates rise, so do sexual harassment claims

    By: Clair Fuller on Sep 05, 2017

    Dan Cassino writes, "Despite all the mandatory trainings on sexual harassment that have taken place in American workplaces over the last two decades, the problem seems to be getting worse. Sex discrimination claims made to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are up about 10% in the last 20 years. Some of that is surely due to increased reporting, but some is also the result of changing gender dynamics in society. Women’s progress towards economic parity may present a threat to the way that men understand their own roles in their workplaces and in society in general, and sex discrimination is one way for them to assert their dominance. To test this theory, I analyzed EEOC and Bureau of Labor Statistics data and found that sex discrimination spikes when men fall behind women in the workforce.

    The basic idea that threatened masculinity increases the likelihood of sex discrimination — and especially its most common form, sexual harassment — isn’t new, and past studies in the lab have seemed to support the idea. Most notably, a 2003 study from researchers at the University of Padova threatened some men’s gender roles, and then gave them the opportunity to engage in sexual harassment. The men were told that they were part of a study on visual memory with two others, a man and a woman (neither of whom actually existed), who they would only meet in person at the end of the study. The task was to exchange images via a computer program; participants were told that they would later be asked to recognize which images had been sent... Men who had been told that women were better at this task – threatening their gender role — were more likely to send pornographic images, despite the objections of the fake woman upon receiving them. When the woman had previously identified herself as a feminist, both groups of men were more likely to send the pornographic images.

    So long as these studies stay in the lab, it’s easy to dismiss them: the key question is whether such findings hold up in the real world, with professionals, who are supposed to know better. While this is made difficult by the fact that many allegations of sexual harassment are never reported (70% in a 2013 YouGov poll of Americans), we can look at patterns in the roughly 29,000 allegations that are reported to the EEOC each year.

    If men are engaging in sexual harassment in response to a threat to their gender dominance, sex discrimination complaints should increase when men — especially married men, who have been shown to be especially sensitive to economic threat — lose their jobs, but women don’t. Based on EEOC data on sex discrimination claims in each state and the District of Columbia between 2009 and 2016, as well as official government unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the same, my analysis shows that increases in men’s unemployment — but not women’s — leads to more sex discrimination claims in that state."


    Released: September 5, 2017, 9:48 am
    Keywords: NAWL News

    National Association of Women Lawyers®

    American Bar Center MS 17.1, 321 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654
    T: 312.988.6186   F: 312.932.6450