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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02286

Obituaries for Female and Male Leaders from 1974 to 2016 Suggest Change in Descriptive but Stability of Prescriptive Gender Stereotypes

  • 1Universität Wien, Austria

We analyzed 1415 newspaper obituaries of female and male leaders from 1974 to 2016, covering a time-span of 42 years, to investigate change in descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotypes. The obituaries’ content was condensed to four categories: agency, competence, and communion were used to investigate changes in descriptive stereotypes. The category likability was used to infer changes in prescriptive stereotypes. Consistent with theories claiming changeability of stereotypes, our results indicate changes in descriptive stereotypes. Female leaders were described as increasingly agentic over time, but not as increasingly competent. Descriptions regarding communion remained unchanged. Simultaneously, our results support theories suggesting stability of stereotypes over time indicating unchanged prescriptive stereotypes. Accordingly, increases in female leaders’ agency were associated with decreases in likability. Overall, our results reconcile divided theories regarding the changeability of gender stereotypes. Furthermore, our results emphasize that research and praxis need to enhance attention on prescriptive stereotypes to facilitate female leadership.

Keywords: gender, descriptive stereotypes, Prescriptive stereotypes, leaders, obituaries, change

Received: 09 Aug 2018; Accepted: 02 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Kath Woodward, The Open University, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Nicole Farris, University of West Alabama, United States
David S. Smith, Robert Gordon University, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Zehnter, Olsen and Kirchler. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mrs. Miriam K. Zehnter, Universität Wien, Vienna, Austria,