Why women have to be likeable but men don't

Francesca SpecterYahoo Style UK deputy editor
Yahoo Style UK
Do women have to be more likeable? Apparently, yes. [Photo: Getty]
Do women have to be more likeable? Apparently, yes. [Photo: Getty]

It’s often said that there’s a social impetus upon women to be “likeable” – while men don’t have the same pressure.

“Our society teaches young girls [...] that likeability is an essential part of you, of the space you occupy in the world, that you're supposed to twist yourself into shapes to make yourself likeable,” wrote feminist author Chimanda Ngozi Adichie.

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When senator Elizabeth Warren announced her intention to run for US presidential candidate, the US media questioned her likeableness – yet the same question has never been asked of Donald Trump.

But is that really fair to make this distinction? According to the results of a new study, yes.

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The research, published in The Economic Journal, found likeability benefits women in their interactions with both other women and with men.

Subjects participated in a series of experiments where they rated the likeability of other participants based on photographs. They were then divided into pairs, shown a photograph of their partner and told what likeability rating they had been given.

In a series of games, the subjects were then given a sum of €6 towards a joint investment.

During the first, men donated an average of €4.05, whereas women contributed on average €3.92.

In same-sex teams, men did not vary in how much they contributed, but in same-sex teams of women they contributed on average 30% more when there was high mutual likeability compared to when there was low likeability.

In mixed-sex teams, men contributed 50% less and women contributed 37% less if the mutual likeability scores were low.

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The second game produced similar results. For all-female and mixed sex teams, mutual likeability meant high scores. But in all-male teams, the mutual likeability had little effects on how much was contributed.

"Women always face this potential [likability] hurdle, men don't," the study's authors wrote.

"Our results hint at the existence of a likeability factor that offers a novel perspective on gender differences in labour market outcomes," said Leonie Gerhards, the paper's lead author. "While likeability matters for women in every one of their interactions, it matters for men only if they interact with the opposite sex."

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