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Why Talented Single Women Are Less Likely To Be Promoted Than Married Ones

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Apr 13, 2022

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good intellect must be in want of a husband. At least that’s the case at workplaces, where according to a new study, analyticallytalented single women are less likely to be promoted than their married counterparts.

This is because of pervasive gender stereotypes that single out unmarried women as not suitably conforming to any one gendered ideal: neither masculine, nor feminine — in terms of a communal, relational style of working.

The study, published earlier this month in Organization Studies, noted that “for women, singlehood is deemed incongruent with role expectations of leadership… We predict this incongruity to be most penalizing for analytically-talented, single professional women who are seen as gender incongruent for their masculine skills and for prioritizing their careers.”

In a set of studies, researchers found that these women were less likely to be considered for leadership roles than single men with the exact same profile — or even married women. They used the fictional personas of Ann and Tim in four scenarios: Ann liked travelling with her friends, Ann liked travelling with her husband and children, Tim liked travelling with his friends, and Tim liked travelling with his wife and children. Participants were less likely to promote the Ann who travelled with friends than anyone else — with no corresponding difference between the two versions of Tim.


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Another study in the same research looked at on-ground data, particularly with the early-career promotions of MBA graduates. The findings showed that single, analytically-talented women once again received the short end of the stick compared to other genders, talent groupings, and marital statuses. Notably, men and women viewed single women through similar lenses.

“The combined studies unveil a novel penalty directed at young, single, analytically-talented women professionals in their early careers for their perceived incongruity with gendered expectations of masculine and feminine leadership,” the research concludes.

“To see it just come out that both men and women were doing this — it wasn’t just men that were analyzing women and penalizing them, everyone was doing it — that was surprising and not surprising at the same time,” said Jennifer Merluzzi, from George Washington University and one of the authors of the research.

The results of the study are particularly bleak, considering that married women face their own set of hurdles imposed by family obligations and cultural expectations. “You’re being penalized early on because you don’t fit this communal image of a woman and you’re not a man, and then later you’re penalized because you have these other commitment pieces,” Merluzzi added. When both sides of the marriage boundary look dismal, perhaps it’s time to change the way we think of and do work itself.

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Written By Rohitha Naraharisetty

Rohitha Naraharisetty is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. Previously, she was a freelance writer and independent researcher working in the intersection of gender, social movements, and international relations. She can be found on Instagram at @rohitha_97 or on Twitter at @romimacaronii.

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