How Sexism Follows Women From the Cradle to the Workplace

The census data on the labor market show a persistent gap in what white men and women earn and how much they participate in the labor force, though that gap has narrowed over time. But that gender gap varies by states — and it’s that variation that helped the researchers isolate the effects of sexism, by place.

The researchers looked at men and women who were born in the same state and then moved to the same state, like North Carolinians who moved to New York, or Texans who moved to Colorado. They found that the gap in wages and employment between men and women in those groups was bigger for those who were born in states with higher levels of sexism.

They also find that, compared with women around them who were born elsewhere, the women born in more “sexist” places marry and have their first child “at appreciably younger ages.” Another recent paper, in which Ms. Pan was also one of the writers, found a sharp decline in employment for women after their first child is born, and also that women’s attitudes toward gender roles grow more traditional after a birth.

Mr. Charles, Mr. Guryan and Ms. Pan found that the results held even when controlling for age, education and migration patterns, which is to say, Americans historically tend to move to states close to their state of birth as adults, if they move at all.

The research cannot say for certain why those differences persist. The economists say that women appear to internalize social norms when they are young on issues like when to have children, what tasks are appropriate for women in the work force or even how much society values the work of women.

Those traits could, in turn, affect a woman’s willingness to bargain for higher wages. “We know that whatever it is, must be something of a product of where they’re from, and continues to affect them now,” Mr. Charles said. “A notable example here might be the willingness to ask for raises, or the willingness to confront a manager over a raise that was too small. A woman imbued with her value in the marketplace is likely to reject an insufficient raise.”

Those internalized norms appear to have affected a young woman named Nicole, who grew up in Indiana, earned a business degree and a master’s in information systems, and left her home state to build a career. Nicole, who asked that her last name and current employer not be identified, said she has struggled with the assertiveness needed to ask for a raise or a higher starting salary.