Do Women Prefer Male Bosses?

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Yes, according to new research—which is something to keep in mind when Hillary Clinton asks you to be in her cabinet.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

The potential election of the first female president inevitably raises a big question: How comfortable are Americans with females in leadership positions?

While the evidence is far from definitive, a new study suggests some ambivalence from an unexpected demographic. It finds women are less satisfied with their jobs when they have a female boss.

“Male job satisfaction, in contrast, is unaffected” by the gender of their supervisor, Benjamin Artz and Sarinda Taengnoi of the University of Wisconsin–Oshkoh write in the journal Labour Economics. Surprisingly, their study appears to be the first to measure the impact of supervisor gender on job satisfaction.

The researchers utilized two distinct data sets: the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, which has tracked about 12,000 Americans since 1979, and the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce.

The first study, which periodically surveyed participants over the years, allowed the researchers “to measure how a change in supervisor gender affects well-being among the same individuals in the same job.”

“The proportion of women reporting the highest level of job satisfaction declines by 3.7 to 6.9 percentage points when supervised by a woman.”

The second featured a one-time-only questionnaire, but it “does contain information on workers’ perceived quality of their supervisors,” they note. For example, participants were asked the degree to which they agreed with such statements as “My supervisor or manager recognizes when I do a good job.”

Participants in both studies were asked to indicate their overall satisfaction with their job on a scale of one (very dissatisfied) to four (very satisfied).

In both data sets, “We find a persistent and negative relationship between women’s job satisfaction and having female supervisors,” Artz and Taengnoi report. “The proportion of women reporting the highest level of job satisfaction declines by 3.7 to 6.9 percentage points when supervised by a woman.”

That decrease is “roughly equivalent to the negative well-being effects of not being paid by performance, or working in a big company vs. a small company,” they add.

The researchers cannot find any obvious explanation for this, or for why it is restricted to female employees. “We find no evidence,” they write, “that the effect can be attributed to occupational segregation, lack of advancement opportunities, or stereotypical perceptions of gender roles.”

More research will be needed to tease out “complex issues of causality,” they conclude. But their data suggests the increasingly common dynamic of women supervising women can produce a certain amount of unique friction.