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Women in countries with great gender inequality are more likely than men to support authoritarian values, according to a new study of 54 countries. The shift away from beliefs in independence and freedom is the result, social psychologists say, of authoritarianism helping such women cope with a threatening environment.
"If a person is authoritarian, they are more likely to follow what group leaders ask them to do, and to follow the crowd more generally," says Mark Brandt of DePaul University in Chicago, a co-author of the paper just published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Prior research has found that adopting authoritarian beliefs gives people a sense of connection to others and protection against threats. "It might be one way to compensate for the social devaluing that is associated with being a member of a disadvantaged group."
Brandt and his co-author P.J. Henry thus predicted that the greater thegender inequality in a country, the greater the endorsement of authoritarianism by women compared to men. They investigated this relationship by analyzing survey data from 54 countries, from Argentina to Vietnam. They used the publicly available World Values Survey, which asks participants about their beliefs in authoritarian (e.g. "good manners" and "obedience") values versus autonomous ("independence" and "imagination") ones. They gathered gender inequality data from the United Nations Human Development Report, which has tracked gender inequality around the world for more than 10 years.
As predicted, they found a link between high gender inequality and a support of authoritarian values among women. "I think many people will be surprised to find out that women can be more authoritarian than men," Brandt says. Most past research on authoritarianism has failed to showgender differences, perhaps, Brandt says, because these data were collected in the United States and other developed nations with lower levels of gender inequality. "Step outside that cultural zone to locations of greater gender inequality, and you will find greater gender differences."