, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp 637-641

Does this “he or she” business really make a difference? The effect of masculine pronouns as generics on job attitudes

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Sixty-six female and 66 male undergraduates read six job descriptions referring to the jobholder(s) either as “he,” “he or she,” or “they.” Following each description subjects indicated their interest both in the job and a related job category, and estimated how difficult the job would be to get for a (1) Black person, (2) Mexican-American person, (3) woman, (4) person over age 60, (5) handicapped person, and (6) man. There were no main effects for pronoun condition, but several sex of subject × pronoun interactions. Significant effects for females generally supported the notion that use of masculine pronouns to refer to people in general narrows the reader's attitudes toward the topic in question, while corresponding results for males did not.

The author is grateful to J. Michael Menke, Erma L. Lantis, and Edward Silver for research assistance, and also to Lawrence A. Kurdek for technical assistance and a critical reading of this manuscript.