Paryavi, Maliheh, Iris Bohnet, and Alexandra van Geen. "Descriptive Norms and Gender Diversity: Reactance from Men." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP19-007, 2019.
Descriptive norms provide social information on others’ typical behaviors and have been shown to lead to prescriptive outcomes by “nudging” individuals towards norm compliance in numerous settings. This paper examines whether descriptive norms lead to prescriptive outcomes in the gender domain. We examine whether such social information can influence the gender distribution of candidates selected by employers in a hiring context. We conduct a series of laboratory experiments where ‘employers’ decide how many male and female ‘employees’ they want to hire for male- and female-typed tasks and examine whether employers are more likely to hire more of one gender when informed that others have done so as well. In this set-up descriptive norms do not have prescriptive effects. In fact, descriptive norms do not affect female employers’ hiring decisions at all and lead to norm reactance and backlash from male employers when informed that others have hired more women.