Prejudices against obese people and illiterate immigrants are independent of gender bias, but men appear to tolerate discrimination more than women, researchers have revealed.
According to a study of more than 3,300 people, which was conducted by the USC-Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics, both men and women are less willing to tolerate discrimination against the genetically disadvantaged.
In the study, the researchers found that tolerance levels between the sexes vary depending on whether or not their response is anonymous: men tend to understate, and women to overstate, their tolerance for discrimination when speaking to a live interviewer, as opposed to answering questions over the Internet.
Edward J. McCaffery, a USC law professor, who co-authored the study, said that an individual who sees nothing wrong with certain kinds of biases will often find others objectionable.
"Many political struggles of our time, in the United States as elsewhere, amount to clashes over the appropriate boundary between permissible and impermissible forms of discrimination," McCaffery said.
"We have found that, while discrimination in its traditional forms - based on race and gender - may be receding somewhat, discrimination in other domains, as based on appearance, persists. Here we found that people are more willing to accept discrimination against poorly educated immigrants, for example, than so-called genetic discrimination. Men are more willing to accept discrimination, but both men and women converge when we did a telephone survey and there was a live interviewer - women became more, and men less, openly tolerant of discrimination," he added.
Respondents to both a telephone and an online survey were presented with five scenarios, each of which dealt with a form of discrimination targeting a distinct class of individuals: Arab-American airplane travelers, seriously overweight people, the genetically disadvantaged, poorly educated immigrants and African-American motorists.
All questions used the same format, first explaining a controversy and then providing a utilitarian statement in favor of discrimination followed by a consideration of justice. An overwhelming percentage of the respondents chose the equality position in every category.
Of the significant minority who chose to allow discrimination, the highest percentage of people in both the phone and web survey accepted discrimination against "poorly educated immigrants" (27.7 percent and 32.3 percent, respectively), followed by acceptance of discrimination against Arab-Americans (26.4 percent of phone respondents, 17.8 percent of online respondents).
On the other end of the range, respondents were least likely to accept discrimination against the genetically disadvantaged (6.7 percent of phone respondents, 3.2 percent of online respondents). Tolerance of discrimination against African-Americans (13.7 percent phone, 13.2 percent online) was statistically insignificant from acceptance of discrimination against seriously overweight people (15 percent phone, 13 percent online).
The study also revealed that, across all categories, a larger percentage of men than of women accept discrimination. For example, men on the phone were 7.6 percent more likely than women to tolerate discrimination against the obese and 8.9 percent more likely to accept racial profiling of African-American motorists.
These results suggested that live interaction on the phone - even with an interviewer trained to withhold reaction and remain impartial - encouraged respondents to adjust their answers. Specifically, women seemed to overstate and men seemed to hide their tolerance of discrimination on the relatively public medium of the telephone, as compared to the anonymity of the Internet. The tolerance disparity between men and women narrowed in contexts where a willingness to accept discrimination might appear socially desirable.
The study is published in Political Research Quarterly.