Being ruler of the roost may have its downsides, at least for women. Being in charge at home may decrease interest in climbing the ladder at work, new research suggests.
The findings, presented today (Jan. 18) at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans, may reveal another reason why women typically don't rise in the workplace ranks as quickly as men.
"It appears that being in charge of household decisions may bring a semblance of power to women's traditional role, to the point where women may have less desire to push against the obstacles to achieving additional power outside the home," said study co-author Serena Chen, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, in a statement.
In 2010, women in the United States earned 77 cents for every dollar men made and held proportionately fewer positions of power at the office. Social scientists have proposed several explanations for this wage gap. Though discrimination plays a large role, Chen and her colleagues wanted to see how attitudes about home life could also affect women's advancement.
The research team asked 136 men and women ages 18 to 30 whether being in control at home was desirable and empowering. Everyone said being the boss at home was desirable and empowering.
Next, the team asked 166 women to imagine one of two situations: one in which she was parenting a child with her husband and also made most household decisions, and the other in which she and her husband shared those duties.
Those who imagined being the household boss rated high salaries as less desirable than those who shared household decision-making.
Finally, the team asked 644 male and female participants to choose between two different scenarios: one in which they had a child and still controlled household decision-making, and one in which they did most of the housework but didn't have control over the domestic realm.
Women who had household power rated workplace power as less important than those who didn't rule the roost. Meanwhile, men had the same interest in climbing the ladder whether or not they were in charge at home.
The researchers also found doing the drudgery at home without having the power didn't reduce women's interest in workplace clout.
The findings suggest that being the household decision-maker could thwart interest in getting the corner office at work.
"To realize true gender equality in both the private and public spheres, our results suggest that women may need to at least partially abdicate their role of ultimate household deciders, and men must agree to share such decision-making," Chen said in a statement.
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Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.