Sex Roles [sers] PP1011-sers-474427 November 3, 2003 18:28 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 49, Nos. 11/12, December 2003 (
Agency and Virtue: Dimensions Underlying
Subgroups of Women
T. William Altermatt,
C. Nathan DeWall,
and Emily Leskinen
Previous research indicates that the stereotype of women can be considered to have 3 sub-
groups: housewife, career woman, and sex object. In 2 samples (N = 19 and 35), we found
evidence that these subgroups can be reliably distinguished in terms of 2 dimensions: agency
and virtue. Participants sorted 27 feminine traits and then rated these traits in terms of their
agency and virtue. Cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling with property ﬁtting were
used to identify subgroups, to ﬁt virtue and agency dimensions to the subgroups, and to test for
differences among the subgroups in terms of virtue and agency. Across both samples, agency
and virtue ﬁt the subgroups well (average R
= .75), produced many signiﬁcant differences
among the subgroups, and are consistent with a system-justiﬁcation perspective of sexism
(Glick & Fiske, 2001) in which a belief in women’s virtue and lack of agency reﬂects and
maintains status differences between men and women.
KEY WORDS: gender role attitudes; role expectations; social perception and cognition; cluster analysis.
A growing body of research indicates that
the stereotype of women is organized in terms of
subgroups such as “career women” and “house-
wives” rather than the single superordinate category
“women.” Research on subgroups of the stereotype
of women has consistently identiﬁed three subgroups:
housewife, sex object, and career woman (Deaux,
Winton, Crowley, & Lewis, 1985; Eckes, 1994a, 1994b;
Noseworthy & Lott, 1984; Six & Eckes, 1991). Al-
though researchers occasionally identify additional
subgroups such as “female athlete” and “feminist,”
the three subgroups housewife, sex object, and career
Portions of the results from this paper were presented in posters
at the 2001 meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association,
Chicago, IL and the 2002 meeting of the Society for Personality
and Social Psychology, Savannah, GA.
Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.
St. Olaf College, Northﬁeld, Minnesota.
Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee,
Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago,
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Psychology, Hanover College, P.O. Box 890, Hanover, Indiana
47243; e-mail: email@example.com.
woman have been shown to form a stable core found
in almost all studies of female subgroups. In this re-
port, we present evidence that virtue and agency rep-
resent two dimensions that can be used to distinguish
among these subgroups.
Research on subgroups began with attempts
to describe the variability within the stereotype of
women by identifying “types” of women (e.g., Clifton,
McGrath, & Wick, 1976). More recently, it has fo-
cused on how subgroups are used as cognitive cat-
egories in processing information about women.
Among the results of this research are the ﬁnd-
ings that people use subgroups to organize femi-
nine trait information in memory (Noseworthy &
Lott, 1984), to deﬁne the boundaries of in-groups
and out-groups (Vonk & Olde-Monnikhof, 1998),
and to discriminate in favor of some subgroups and
against others (Haddock & Zanna, 1994). Subgroups
may also play a role at the level of social processes.
Jost & Banaji’s system justiﬁcation theory (Jost &
Banaji, 1994) suggests that one function of stereo-
types is to reinforce and maintain existing status
differences between groups. Thus, by exploring the
ways that female subgroups are distinguished from
2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation