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Gender stereotypes predicts physicians’ estimates of women patients’ ability to work

Conference contribution
Authors Emma Bäck
Stina Melander
Marie Gustafsson Sendén
Hanna Bäck
Published in WORK2017, The 3rd International Interdisciplinary Conference on Research on Work and Working Life. Turku, Finland: 16-18 August
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Subject categories Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)


Background Pain is one of the most common sources for absences from work, and more than every fifth person suffers from pain at some point during their lifetime. While both women and men suffer, women are more often prescribed sick leave due to pain and stay on leave for longer period. Different causes have been proposed, such as hormonal levels or stereotypes and biases. This study focus on biases related with gender stereotypes. The female stereotype is associated with sensitivity, household work and family orientation. In contrast, the male stereotype is associated with being a breadwinner, strong and insensitive. In regards of pain and sick listing, stereotypes can influence in two ways. Stereotypes can facilitate sick listing of women because they are associated with the home, whereas the male stereotype is associated with work. Further, the male stereotype of being strong and insensitive may function as a barrier to report pain and sickness. Studies have also shown that when men seek help, the health care system handles them more seriously. Objectives The goal of the present research is to determine if and how patient gender stereotypes affect judgments of future work ability in pain patients. Specifically, we investigated whether domestic roles and credibility of the patient differentially impact judgments of female and male patients. Materials/methods An experimental survey was administered to 134 Swedish medical students (females 44%, males 54%, no information 2%). The participants read a description of pain patient, describing the patient’s trajectory. The patient was referred to as a woman or a man in two different versions of the description, with all else identical. Participants then rated the patient’s perceived work ability, credibility, and amount domestic work performed by the patient. Results The responses were analysed by comparisons of means and regression. We found that judgments of physician students were gender biased. Women and men were perceived to have the same work ability, but men were seen as more credible in assessing their own work ability whereas women were expected to do more domestic work. Moreover, level of domestic work moderated affected perceptions of work ability, such that women who work more at home were considered as having higher work ability than women who did less work at home. This means that women who meet gender stereotypical expectations have higher potentials of going back to work, although work at home could have a negative effect in the rehabilitation process. Conclusions Gender stereotypes influence assessments of work ability in patients. The effects may have relevance for the recovery of the patient, and hence are important both on an individual and socio-economic level.

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