Men More OK with Discrimination Than Women Are

Pedestrians crowd fifth avenue as the holiday weekend approaches and temperatures reach the mid 40's in the metropolitan area Friday, Dec. 22, 2006 in New York. (Image credit: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Men are more tolerant of discrimination than women are, but both tend to accept prejudice against some immigrants and Arab-Americans, according to a new study.

The results come from telephone and online surveys of more than 3,300 people conducted in 2002 by University of Southern California researchers. Each of the questions dealt with a form of discrimination that targets a distinct class of people.

Here are some details of the overall findings:

- A larger percentage of men than of women accept discrimination, in general. For example, men on the phone were 7.6 percent more likely than women to tolerate discrimination against the obese and 8.9 percent more likely to accept racial profiling of African-American motorists.

- The “sex gap” – that is, the difference between the percentages of men and women accepting discrimination, as a percentage of their average – was smallest when it came to discriminating against Arab-American airplane passengers and greatest in regard to African-American motorists, among those surveyed by phone.

- The highest percentage of people in both the phone and Web surveys accepted discrimination against “poorly educated immigrants” (27.7 percent and 32.3 percent, respectively), followed by acceptance of discrimination against Arab-Americans (26.4 percent of phone respondents, 17.8 percent of online respondents).

- Respondents were least likely to accept discrimination against the genetically disadvantaged, or people who are revealed via genetic testing to be at high risk for diseases that require expensive medical care (6.7 percent of phone respondents, 3.2 percent of online respondents).

- Men were 19.6 percent more likely than women to tolerate discrimination against the obese and 17.4 percent more likely to accept racial profiling.

Edward J. McCaffery, a USC law professor, who co-authored the study with Timur Kuran of Duke University, said that an individual who sees nothing wrong with certain kinds of biases will often find others objectionable.

“Many political struggles of our time, in the United States as elsewhere, amount to clashes over the appropriate boundary between permissible and impermissible forms of discrimination,” McCaffery said. “We have found that, while discrimination in its traditional forms – based on race and gender – may be receding somewhat, discrimination in other domains, as based on appearance, persists.

Study design and results

Respondents to the telephone and online surveys were presented with five scenarios, each of which dealt with a form of discrimination targeting a distinct class of individuals: Arab-American airplane travelers, seriously overweight people, the genetically disadvantaged, poorly educated immigrants and African-American motorists.

All questions used the same format, first explaining a controversy and then providing a statement in favor of discrimination followed by a consideration of justice. An overwhelming percentage of the respondents chose the equality position in every category.

“As a matter of practice, people morally opposed to discriminatory policies based on reviled forms of prejudice do not insist on equal treatment for everyone, in every context,” McCaffery said. “The surveys reported in this article validate this poorly appreciated fact in reference to several matters of political importance. In addition, they show that expressed attitudes toward discrimination vary by sex as well as context.”

The results will be detailed in the June issue of the journal Political Research Quarterly. The research was funded by the USC-Caltech Center for the Study of Law & Politics.

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