Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Many working women will experience sexual harassment at some point in their careers. While some report this harassment, many leave their jobs to escape the harassing environment. Using in-depth interviews and longitudinal survey data from the Youth Development Study, we examine the effect of sexual harassment for women in the early career.
Feminist scholars argue that sexual harassment causes considerable harm to women as a group MacKinnon At the individual level, however, targets who pursue legal action must demonstrate that employers or harassers caused measurable harm. studies document the psychological harm of sexual harassment Fitzgerald et al.
Quantitative studies, though predominantly cross-sectional, establish ificant associations between harassment and several work outcomes, such as job satisfaction and turnover. Careers are often messy, however, with workers holding multiple jobs simultaneously or experiencing rapid job turnover on a monthly or weekly basis. Although harassment occurs in a variety of institutional contexts, including housing Tester and educational settings Hand and Sanchez ; Kalof et al. Using survey data from the Youth Development Study YDSwe examine whether sexual harassment is associated with immediate financial stress and longer-term economic attainment through the mid- to late thirties.
Sexual harassment can have deleterious consequences for mental and physical health McDonald ; Willness, Steel, and Lee Houle and colleaguesfor example, point to the longevity of these effects, as targets of harassment continue to report depressive symptoms nearly a decade later. Given these serious health effects, it is not surprising that sexual harassment affects immediate work outcomes, such as reduced job satisfaction Chan et al.
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Organizational commitment may also wane if employers fail to adequately address harassers or protect targets Willness et al. In light of evidence that sexual harassment is often an ongoing occurrence Uggen and Blackstoneoccurring alongside other forms of workplace abuse Lim and Cortinatargets may hold employers responsible for enabling a toxic organizational culture. Beyond these work outcomes, sexual harassment costs the federal government millions. Insexual harassment charges filed with the U. Such estimates dramatically understate the total costs to employers, as most harassment goes unreported.
Despite these attempts to monetize the organizational costs of harassment, few researchers have attempted to estimate the economic and career costs for individual targets. Occupational segregation, the concentration of men and women into different types of jobs, is a strong contributor to this earnings inequality Gauchat, Kelly, and Wallace ; Ranson and Reeves Some women prefer such work.
Others are pushed out of masculine fields by discriminatory policies and practices that disadvantage women Ecklund, Lincoln, and Tansey ; Prokos and Padavic Such gendered norms and practices are embedded within institutions, reifying existing status hierarchies Acker ; Lopez, Hodson, and Roscigno ; Roscigno Sexual harassment is well-documented across many fields but women who work in men-dominated occupations and industries experience higher rates Fitzgerald et al.
The likelihood of harassment also increases with exposure to a wider range of employees Chamberlain et al. Because sexual harassment forces some women out of jobs, it likely influences their career attainment Blackstone, Uggen, and McLaughlin ; Lopez et al. Numerous studies link voluntary and involuntary career interruptions to ificant earnings losses Brand ; Couch and Placzek ; Theunissen et al. Hijzen and colleagues estimate income losses in the United Kingdom ranging from 18 to 35 percent following job displacement associated with firm closure, and losses of 14 to 25 percent among those who suffer mass layoff.
By severing ties with employers, workers also relinquish firm-specific human capital, which is closely linked to earnings Kletzer Further, harassment targets may have trouble obtaining references from managers and co-workers. Those who find a new job may discover lack of seniority limits earnings growth and increases vulnerability to layoffs and career instability. Career interruption may be especially costly in the early career.
Most young adults settle into work and family roles in their thirties Arnett While sexual banter, crude jokes, and flirting are commonplace in adolescent jobs, they become more disruptive as workers gain experience Blackstone, Houle, and Uggen By their early thirties, many who once viewed sexualized workplace interactions as acceptable or even pleasurable expect to be treated professionally, and are more likely to view harassment as a serious workplace problem Blackstone et al.
If sexual harassment forces women to leave their jobs, it may derail their long-term career opportunities. We expect that job disruption s for a ificant portion of these effects. We analyze survey and interview data from the Youth Development Study YDSa prospective, longitudinal cohort study that began inwhen participants were 9 th graders in the St. Paul, Minnesota public school system. A total of 1, parents and children consented to take part in the study, and 1, responded to in-school surveys during the first year. The initial panel was representative of the total population of St.
Paul ninth graders who attended public schools Mortimer Participants were surveyed in schools for the first four years —and by mail 15 more times through Because women are more likely than men to be targeted Uggen and Blackstone ; Welshto perceive sexualized behaviors as offensive Padavic and Orcutt ; Quinnand to label their experiences as sexual harassment Marshall ; McLaughlin et al. The response rate for women in the YDS panel was 74 percent inwhen we measure the effects of harassment on financial stress.
We find no evidence of differential attrition between women who experienced sexual harassment and those who did not.
Thus, we urge caution in generalizing to other cohorts of women in other contexts. Our analysis here includes data from the 19 interviews with women. Of those invited, 30 women expressed interest by sharing their telephone via return postcard.
We called all 30 for interviews.
Some did not respond, others declined to participate, some provided non-working s, and others did not show up for interviews. There were no other ificant differences between interview participants and those who were invited but did not participate, except that interviewees were somewhat more likely to be exposed to offensive materials at work.
We asked participants questions about their careers, including relationships with co-workers, explanations for career transitions, and harassing experiences. Given the sensitive nature of our questions, we shared a list of local and national sexual violence resources during the informed consent process at the outset of each interview.
We also reminded participants that they could skip any question they preferred not to answer or end the interview at any time.
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Interviews were conducted in —, when participants were 28 to 30 years old. All 19 women interviewed identified as straight, and all but two identified as white. InYDS respondents reported whether they had experienced workplace sexual harassment during the past year. With this definition, we can be reasonably confident that behaviors meet legal definitions of hostile work environment sexual harassment and that financial stress can be tied to specific work experiences.
Using these criteria, 11 percent of working women were harassed in We lag this measure to ensure that sexual harassment occurs prior to starting a new job. As shown in Table 156 percent of women began a new job in the two years after reporting on harassment.
Note: Descriptive statistics reported for analytic sample the women who responded to workplace sexual harassment questions in We control for six additional job characteristics linked to earnings and harassment. Supervisory authority is a dichotomous measure of whether participants supervise others 27 percent. Census estimates U. Department of Labor On average, women worked in gender-balanced industries 57 percent womenthough industry composition ranged from 9 to 96 percent women. Twelve percent of women were temporary workerswhose positions were contracted through a temporary agency, seasonal, or limited by term or contract.
The economic and career effects of sexual harassment on working women
Because workers whose jobs do not align with their long-term career goals may quit for reasons unrelated to the harassment, our models adjust for whether women expected their primary job to continue as a long-term career 48 percent. We also consider individual and family characteristics affecting financial stress and earnings.
Race is an important control in this analysis, as it is associated with both sexual harassment Texeira ; Welsh et al. Race is measured dichotomously, as whites comprise 79 percent of our analytic sample. We also adjust for whether women are married or cohabiting yes coded as 1 and whether they are mothers yes coded as 1 inat age 29— In70 percent of the working women were married or cohabiting and 61 percent had children. The recent birth of can lead to job exit, financial stress, and reduced attainment Even Thus, we control for having a new child including birth, adopted, stepchildren, and other children born —, in addition to having prior to Experiencing incarceration, divorce, and other negative life events 3 may also increase financial stress.
The impact of sexual harassment on depressive symptoms during the early occupational career
Twenty-six percent of women had born — and 45 percent of women reported at least one negative life event during this period. We first use OLS regression to model financial stress. We include four-step formal mediation analyses Baron and Kenny to test whether job change mediates the relationship between sexual harassment and financial stress.
We next present qualitative findings from our interviews with 19 women participants. We used NVivo software to organize, manage, interpret, and analyze the interview transcripts, which ranged from 20 to 60 s. Our qualitative analysis proceeded in several stages. We first identified passages that helped contextualize our quantitative findings. We then re-examined each transcript to code for tangible and intangible outcomes associated with harassing experiences. In addition, we coded all passages referring to earnings, economic concerns, and finances more generally e. To ensure that findings resembled patterns we would find using inductive techniques, we brought in the third author, who had not participated in the first rounds of coding.
In this phase, every quote addressing outcomes of harassment was coded.
The economic and career effects of sexual harassment on working women
This process yielded patterns similar to those we had identified in our initial rounds of coding. Many interviewees described harassing experiences and job transitions that had occurred several years prior. To validate retrospective s, we verified the timing of job transitions and wages using employment history calendars in our survey data.
These additional details are integrated throughout discussion of the qualitative data. To protect confidentiality, we use pseudonyms for individuals and employers.