Academic journal article The Great Plains Sociologist

"It's Just a Girl Thing"; the Feminization of Work Groups and the Effect of Numerical Composition on Group Hierarchy

Academic journal article The Great Plains Sociologist

"It's Just a Girl Thing"; the Feminization of Work Groups and the Effect of Numerical Composition on Group Hierarchy

Article excerpt

Recent research finds that women are outperforming men on a variety of educational measures, particularly in the realm of higher education. According to a study from the American Council of Education, 57% of students enrolled on college and university campuses are women (Aud, Hussar, Johnson, Kena, Roth, Manning, and Zhang 2012). This dramatic reversal of the representation of men and women in higher education invites important questions regarding how this change will ultimately affect inequality in larger society. Will this numerical dominance ultimately undo the historical legacy of gender inequality in educational and occupational arenas, or will we continue to see men guided towards higher status and higher paying careers and women tracked into lower paying, lower status occupational settings?

Research on the predominance of women on college campuses and hypotheses for these trends are available; however, the theoretical basis of this work has not been sufficient to understand the mechanisms at work motivating this trend. Furthermore, there have been no indepth qualitative studies done on this trend on college campuses to see how real men and women are interacting and negotiating status and hierarchy in group settings. By exploring how the composition of men and women in a group shapes the processes of stratification, this study addresses a critical need in the fields of gender and education to better understand how the dominance of women in higher education may ultimately shape opportunities in the social world.

Due to this surprising reversal in the gender gap in higher education, it is imperative to begin by exploring how the gender composition of a group shapes the process of stratification in a group. This study uses a grounded theory approach to systematically observe and analyze 50 videotapes and code 28 videotapes from an experiment conducted with undergraduates from the University of Iowa. The central research question is this: Will numerical dominance or traditional male privilege be the motivating factor in the development of status hierarchies into task groups? In other words, if women numerically dominate in college settings, will they also dominate in interaction, or will men continue to maintain high status positions in interaction despite being in the numerical minority? Some research has suggested that differences in behavior are simply a result of an individual's assigned sex category of male or female. In order to move away from some of the theories that rely on such essentialist notions of gender difference, this research suggests that, rather than gender difference, it is social structure and, more specifically, group composition that motivates individuals' behavior in groups. To better understand how the numerical dominance of a particular social group will shape the process of stratification within groups, existing research on majorities and minorities is explored in the next section. Following that are details about the study's data and methodology, a report of the results, a discussion of the results, and, finally, conclusions and suggestions for future research.


Research on majority and minority influence investigates how numerical majorities and minorities obtain influence in groups (Dovidio, Gaertner, John, Halabi, Saguy, Pearson, and Riek 2008). Previous research has identified different ways that influence within groups occurs.

One way to gain influence in a group is through the maintenance of social control and group norms. The majority in a group can often determine social control and group norms through the process of conformity, which is "the process through which an individual accepts or complies with the groups view" (Martin and Flewstone 2003:586). The research on numerical majority influence typically utilizes judgment tasks like the Asch line-judgment paradigm to demonstrate that participants faced with a decision by the majority will consistently agree with the majority even when the answer is obviously wrong (Bond & Smith, 1996). …

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