Participants were shown identical labels with only the name changed. That was often enough to sway opinions.
If the concept of craft beer was to be anthropomorphized into a person, it would probably be a guy with a beard. Yes, this is a stereotype, but it’s one based on experience: Even when Conan O’Brien visited the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston, he couldn’t help but comment on how many bearded guys he saw. Of course, it’s one thing to make the observation that more men work in craft breweries than women do. It’s another thing entirely to jump to the assumption that a man can inherently make a beer better than a woman can. And yet, according to a recent study from Stanford University, many people tend to make that logical leap whether they realize it or not.
In their paper “Gender Inequality in Product Markets: When and How Status Beliefs Transfer to Products,” a team of Stanford researchers ended up honing in on craft beer as a product with potentially high gender bias. They got there after surveying 150 people about the perceived gender of hundreds of products. Craft beer was rated as particularly masculine, and for their study, the researchers compared it to a product that was seen as equally feminine: cupcakes.
“After establishing that craft beer is typically viewed as masculine, we wanted to test people’s assumptions about beer that had hypothetically been brewed by either a woman or a man,” co-author Shelley J. Correll told Insights by Stanford Business. “And the same for cupcakes, which are rated as more feminine. Would people see a cupcake made by a man as inferior to one made by a woman?”
For their assessment, over 200 volunteers were shown identical labels with only the name of the brewer or the baker changed. As may have unfortunately been expected, a beer label with a woman’s name performed worse than the same one with a man’s name; participants said they would pay less for it and had lower expectations about its quality and taste. However, cupcakes showed no significant difference between the male and female labels.
“What we’re seeing here is that woman-made goods for sale in male-typed markets are being penalized for no reason other than the fact they are made by women,” explained co-author Sarah A. Soule. “Imagine that these goods are being graded on a scale of A to F. What you find is that an equivalent product, when made by a woman rather than a man, is knocked down to an A- or a B+ while a man’s product consistently gets an A. The same isn’t true for man-made products that target women. So the result is that across the board, identical products are cumulatively disadvantaged purely because they are woman-made.”
Interestingly, however, the researchers pointed to two specific qualities that helped eliminate this bias: If the beer was labeled as having won an award at the Great American Beer Festival or if the participant had a level of expertise in beer, the factors leveled the playing field. “We find that individuals who have some degree of expertise or who really know about a product tend to focus on its features and don’t care whether it’s manufactured by men or women,” Soule stated. This isn’t to say that becoming a beer expert could make you less sexist, but it can make you less sexist about beer — which is a small step in the right direction.