In some U.S. states, women pay steeper price for sexism

Sexism can be found across the U.S., but its economic toll on women is greater in some parts of the country than in others, new research shows. And the impact can last a lifetime. 

Women in states like Alabama and Arkansas, where sexist views tend to be more prevalent, pay a higher price from gender bias, according to economists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the National University of Singapore. That includes lower wages, diminished participation in the labor force and other effects that can stunt economic opportunity.

"Sexism is in the water where you are born, it's in your blood," said Jodi Kantor, a New York Times investigative journalist who has covered the #MeToo movement, on CBS This Morning. "Where you are born isn't something you can control -- it's something you inherit."

In general, the researchers found that residents in Southern states hold more sexist views than people in the Northeast or West. To assess where bias is most visible, they tapped years of data collected by the Census Bureau and the General Social Survey, with the latter asking Americans a series of questions that gauge their views about gender roles. A typical question: Do you agree with the statement, "Women should take care of running their home and leave running the country up to men"? 

The study focused on the impact of sexist attitudes toward white women because of the concern that adding women of color would inevitably measure the effects of racist views, which wasn't the focus of the researchers analysis. 

Hard to overcome

A key finding is that the impact of sexism can follow women throughout their lives, even if they move from a state where such views are more common to more egalitarian parts of the U.S. That's evidence of the adverse effects of what the researchers call "background sexism," which some women may internalize and which influence her social and economic choices. 

For instance, women who hail from more sexist states tend to marry and have children at a younger age, which can impact their entry into the job market and depress her lifelong earnings, the study found.

The study shows that sexism is "very hard to permanently overcome," Kantor said. 

The findings buttress research "concerning how important that exposure to others beliefs about the role that they should play in society or within the family can affect women over their entire lives by potentially altering their own preferences," wrote the University of Chicago's Kerwin Kofi Charles, Jonathan Guryan of Northwestern University and Jessica Pan of the National University of Singapore. 

While sexism in the U.S. has declined overall since the 1970s, they found that the disparities in gender views among states has remained constant. For instance, for decades sexism has remained more evident in the South compared with New England states. 

Regional gender disparities are emerging when women decide to become mothers, an event that can have economic repercussions throughout a woman's life. Women in the South, the Midwest and rural areas are now having their first children at younger ages than women in large cities and on the coasts, a Middlebury College economics professor found

That's leading to disparities in family mobility and income in these regions, with older mothers having the financial wherewithal to invest in their children's education and provide the type of benefits that can help their kids get ahead in life.

Sexism shapes self-identity 

When a woman starts a family has a significant impact on her lifelong income and career prospects. Women who have their first child before they turn 28 consistently earn less than women without children, while those who hold off until their 30s earn consistently more, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found in 2016. 

But the new research indicates that shaking off the sexist beliefs that tend to prevail in woman's home state might not be so easy. A woman who grew up agreeing with the statement, "It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and women takes care of the home and family," may not see herself in a professional role, and may opt out of college and into marriage at a younger age, the researchers conclude. 

They noted, "Prevailing sexist beliefs may be an important driver of women's outcomes in the U.S."