Theses Doctoral

Men’s Support for Gender Equality in the Era of the Stalled Revolution

Khanna, Katharine

Despite considerable improvements in women’s social and material conditions, progress has stagnated since the 1990s. Women remain disadvantaged compared to men across a range of domains, including political representation, division of labor, and workplace hiring and promotion. Although scholars have studied attitudes toward women more generally, understanding men’s attitudes toward women is especially important for advancing gender equality since men are often in positions of power with the resources and influence necessary to effect large-scale change. Previous research has measured demographic correlates of men’s gender attitudes, but scholars have yet to examine how gender attitudes are dynamic across contexts, shaped not only by the social characteristics of actors themselves but also by the context in which—and the women about whom—men express these attitudes.

This dissertation draws on theories of status processes and social identity to examine how and under what conditions men support equality with women. Employing three complementary studies, this research takes an innovative, mixed-methods approach that combines in-depth interviews with experimental design. Specifically, it examines how men’s gender attitudes are shaped by 1) their audience 2) the target of their attitudes, i.e., the women in question and 3) men’s own life experiences. Together, these studies contribute a deeper understanding of the processes underlying men’s support for gender equality, suggesting actionable paths forward for addressing persistent gender inequities.

Chapter 1 develops a synthesis of scholarship on gender attitudes and inequality with research on group processes and intergroup relations. I argue that relational, group-level theories of status, social identity, and symbolic boundaries can enrich our understanding of the persistence of gender inequality.

In Chapter 2, I argue that expressing support for gender equality earns men social rewards. Results from an original survey experiment reveal that men who espouse egalitarian attitudes toward women are attributed greater status, considerateness, and authenticity. These findings provide the first causal evidence of the measurable social and symbolic rewards that men accrue by espousing egalitarian gender ideals. They also demonstrate a novel and paradoxical mechanism of status enhancement—egalitarian attitudes earn men status over other men at the same time that these men repudiate the legitimacy of their group advantage over women.

Chapter 3 examines what impediments to addressing gender equality men anticipate. Drawing on 49 in-depth interviews, I find that men’s conversion of gender-egalitarian attitudes into actions that address gender inequality in daily life is contingent on perceived risks (social and material) and barriers (interpersonal and structural). The findings reveal how individual, relational, and institutional mechanisms impact men’s support for gender equality.

Chapter 4 shifts the focus to the target of men’s gender attitudes, i.e., women. I employ an original experimental design to test how men’s levels of support for gender equality depend on the race and class identities of the women who stand to benefit. Results reveal previously obscured heterogeneity that helps explain persistent gender inequality despite men’s seemingly widespread support for egalitarian gender attitudes.

Chapter 5 concludes with a discussion of implications and potential directions for future research.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Abascal, Maria
Khan, Shamus
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 26, 2023