Social Roles We Ch oose and Don
t Choos e:
Impression s of Em ployed and Unemployed
Jan et Mor gan Riggs
G ettysburg College
The cu rrent experim en t was designed to exam ine im pression s of persons wh o
wou ld be paren ts in the near future an d who would be in a breadwinn ing or
exclusively caregiving role. Participan ts, who were studen ts from a private
college with a prim arily white student body, read a brief description of a target
person expecting the arrival of a child. The target person an ticipated either
being employed or staying at hom e to care for the baby. Future em ploymen t
status was described as bein g eith er freely chosen or not freely chosen .
Impressions were consistent with Eagly
s (1987) social role theory of gen der
differences in social behavior and with research demonstrating the fundamental
attribution error (Ross, 1977). Participants rated persons wh o expected to stay
at hom e with their child as bein g more com munal and less agen tic than
persons who expected to be em ployed, even when em ploymen t status was not
freely chosen. Male participan ts gave higher approval ratings to fem ales wh o
expected to stay at hom e with their children, an d female participants gave
higher approval ratings to m ales who expected to stay at hom e with their
There is no doubt that the social role s we play influe nce our be havior, and
that diffe re nt social role s elicit diffe re nt type s of behavior. Alice Eagly
(1987) has propose d that the diffe re ntial re pre sentation of women and men
in particular social role s produce s ge nde r diffe rences in social behavior.
Sex Roles, Vol. 39, No s. 5/6, 1998
1998 Plenum Publishing Corporation
This re search was supported by a Ge ttysburg College Rese arch and Professional De velopme nt
Grant. I wish to thank Ange la Misluk for he r able assistance in collecting the data and two
anonymous re viewe rs for their he lpful comments.
To whom corre spondence should be addre ssed at Departm ent of Psychology, Gettysburg Col-
lege , Gettysburg, PA 17325; e mail: riggs@ gettysburg.e du.