Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 5–6, pp 347–361 | Cite as

Better off Alone? Ambivalent Sexism Moderates the Association Between Relationship Status and Life Satisfaction Among Heterosexual Women and Men

  • Nina WaddellEmail author
  • Chris G. Sibley
  • Danny Osborne
Original Article


Although being in a romantic relationship confers numerous benefits to well-being, research has yet to examine the possibility that ambivalent sexism moderates this association. Because benevolent sexism enforces the view that people are incomplete without a romantic partner, we hypothesised that benevolent sexism would enhance the well-being benefits associated with being in a serious relationship. Conversely, hostile sexism views women with suspicion and should therefore attenuate the benefits one derives from being in a serious relationship. We tested these hypotheses using a national sample of heterosexual women (n = 7980) and men (n = 4968) from New Zealand. As hypothesised, the benefits of being in a serious romantic relationship on life satisfaction were accentuated for those higher (versus lower) on benevolent sexism, but attenuated for those higher (versus lower) on hostile sexism. These data are the first known to show that ambivalent sexism moderates the positive effects of relationship status on well-being, thereby demonstrating the utility of integrating ambivalent sexism theory with the relationship literature for heterosexual women and men.


Ambivalent sexism Relationships Life satisfaction Well-being Benevolent sexism Hostile sexism 



This manuscript is based on Nina Waddell’s research thesis supervised by Danny Osborne. Preparation of this manuscript was supported by a University of Auckland FRDF grant (3709123) awarded to the third author, as well as PBRF grants jointly awarded to the second and third authors.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The NZAVS is reviewed every three years by the University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee. Our most recent ethics approval statement is as follows: The New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study was approved by The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee on 03-June-2015 until 03-June-2018. Reference Number: 014889. Our previous ethics approval statement for the 2009–2015 period is: The New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study was approved by The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee on 09-September-2009 until 09-September-2012, and renewed on 17-February-2012 until 09-September-2015. Reference Number: 6171.

For ethical concerns about the project, please contact: The Chair, The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland. Phone 09–373-7599, extn. 83711. Email:


  1. Abrams, D., Viki, G. T., Masser, B., & Bohner, G. (2003). Perceptions of stranger and acquaintance rape: The role of benevolent and hostile sexism in victim blame and rape proclivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(1), 111–125. Scholar
  2. Ashton, M. C., & Lee, K. (2009). The HEXACO–60: A short measure of the major dimensions of personality. Journal of Personality Assessment, 91(4), 340–345. Scholar
  3. Bagozzi, R. P., Wong, N., & Yi, Y. (1999). The role of culture and gender in the relationship between positive and negative affect. Cognition & Emotion, 13(6), 641–672. Scholar
  4. Barger, S., Donoho, C., & Wayment, H. (2009). The relative contributions of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, health, and social relationships to life satisfaction in the United States. Quality of Life Research, 18(2), 179–189. Scholar
  5. Becker, J. C., & Wright, S. C. (2011). Yet another dark side of chivalry: Benevolent sexism undermines and hostile sexism motivates collective action for social change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 62–77. Scholar
  6. Bohner, G., Ahlborn, K., & Steiner, R. (2010). How sexy are sexist men? Women’s perception of male response profiles in the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. Sex Roles, 62(7–8), 568–582. Scholar
  7. Casad, B. J., Salazar, M. M., & Macina, V. (2015). The real versus the ideal: Predicting relationship satisfaction and well-being from endorsement of marriage myths and benevolent sexism. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 119–129. Scholar
  8. Charles, S. T., Reynolds, C. A., & Gatz, M. (2001). Age-related differences and change in positive and negative affect over 23 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(1), 136–151. Scholar
  9. Chen, Z., Fiske, S., & Lee, T. (2009). Ambivalent sexism and power-related gender-role ideology in marriage. Sex Roles, 60(11–12), 765–778. Scholar
  10. Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 155–159. Scholar
  11. Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59(8), 676–684. Scholar
  12. Cohen, S., & Wills, T. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98(2), 310–357. Scholar
  13. Cohen, S., Kaplan, J., Cunnick, J., Manuck, S., & Rabin, B. (1992). Chronic social stress, affiliation, and cellular immune response in nonhuman primates. Psychological Science, 3(5), 301–305. Scholar
  14. Connelly, K., & Heesacker, M. (2012). Why is benevolent sexism appealing? Associations with system justification and life satisfaction. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36(4), 432–443. Scholar
  15. Costa Jr., P. T., Terracciano, A., & McCrae, R. R. (2001). Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: Robust and surprising findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(2), 322–331. Scholar
  16. Cross, E. J., Overall, N. C., & Hammond, M. D. (2016). Perceiving partners to endorse benevolent sexism attenuates highly anxious women’s negative reactions to conflict. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(7), 923–940. Scholar
  17. Cross, E. J., Overall, N. C., Hammond, M. D., & Fletcher, G. J. (2017). When does men’s hostile sexism predict relationship aggression? The moderating role of partner commitment. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8(3), 331–340. Scholar
  18. Dardenne, B., Dumont, M., & Bollier, T. (2007). Insidious dangers of benevolent sexism: Consequences for women's performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(5), 764–779. Scholar
  19. de Lemus, S., Moya, M., & Glick, P. (2010). When contact correlates with prejudice: Adolescents’ romantic relationship experience predicts greater benevolent sexism in boys and hostile sexism in girls. Sex Roles, 63(3–4), 214–225. Scholar
  20. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13(1), 81–84. Scholar
  21. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(1), 1–31. Scholar
  22. Diener, E., Emmons, R., Larsen, R., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71–75. Scholar
  23. Fischer, A. R., & Good, G. E. (2004). Women's feminist consciousness, anger, and psychological distress. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 51(4), 437–446. Scholar
  24. Girme, Y. U., Overall, N. C., Faingataa, S., & Sibley, C. G. (2016). Happily single: The link between relationship status and well-being depends on avoidance and approach social goals. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(2), 122–130. Scholar
  25. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. (1996). The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(3), 491–512. Scholar
  26. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56(2), 109–118. Scholar
  27. Glick, P., Fiske, S., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J., Abrams, D., Masser, B., …Lopez, W.L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 763–775.
  28. Hamamura, T. (2012). Power distance predicts gender differences in math performance across societies. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(5), 545–548. Scholar
  29. Hammond, M. D. (2015). Sexism in intimate relationships: The interpersonal sources and consequences of ambivalent sexism (Unpublished doctoral thesis). University of Auckland, New Zealand.Google Scholar
  30. Hammond, M. D., & Overall, N. (2013a). Men’s hostile sexism and biased perceptions of intimate partners: Fostering dissatisfaction and negative behavior in close relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(12), 1585–1599. Scholar
  31. Hammond, M. D., & Overall, N. C. (2013b). When relationships do not live up to benevolent ideals: Women's benevolent sexism and sensitivity to relationship problems. European Journal of Social Psychology, 43(3), 212–223. Scholar
  32. Hammond, M. D., & Overall, N. C. (2014). Endorsing benevolent sexism magnifies willingness to dissolve relationships when facing partner-ideal discrepancies. Personal Relationships, 21(2), 272–287. Scholar
  33. Hammond, M. D., & Overall, N. C. (2016). Sexism in intimate contexts: How romantic relationships help explain the origins, functions, and consequences of sexist attitudes. In C. G. Sibley & F. K. Barlow (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of the psychology of prejudice (pp. 321–343). UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Hammond, M. D., & Sibley, C. G. (2011). Why are benevolent sexists happier? Sex Roles, 65(5–6), 332–343. Scholar
  35. Hammond, M., Overall, N., & Cross, E. (2016). Internalizing sexism within close relationships: Perceptions of intimate partners’ benevolent sexism promote women’s endorsement of benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(2), 214–238. Scholar
  36. Hayes, N., & Joseph, S. (2003). Big 5 correlates of three measures of subjective well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 34(4), 723–727. Scholar
  37. Henry, K., Thornberry, T., & Lee, R. (2015). The protective effects of intimate partner relationships on depressive symptomatology among adult parents maltreated as children. Journal of Adolescent Health, 57(2), 150–156. Scholar
  38. Holt-Lunstad, J., & Smith, T. (2012). Social relationships and mortality. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(1), 41–53. Scholar
  39. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T., & Layton, J. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine, 7(7), e1000316. Scholar
  40. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227–237. Scholar
  41. House, J., Landis, K., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 241(4865), 540–545. Scholar
  42. Huang, Y., Osborne, D., Sibley, C. G., & Davies, P. G. (2014). The precious vessel: Ambivalent sexism and opposition to elective and traumatic abortion. Sex Roles, 71(11–12), 436–449. Scholar
  43. Huang, Y., Davies, P. G., Sibley, C. G., & Osborne, D. (2016). Benevolent sexism, attitudes toward motherhood, and reproductive rights: A multi-study longitudinal examination of abortion attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(7), 970–984. Scholar
  44. Huang, Y., Osborne, D., & Sibley, C. G. (2018). The gradual move toward gender equality: A 7-year latent growth model of ambivalent sexism. Social Psychological and Personality Science. Advance online publication.
  45. Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. (2001). Social ties and mental health. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 78(3), 458–467. Scholar
  46. Kunzmann, U., Little, T. D., & Smith, J. (2000). Is age-related stability of subjective well-being a paradox? Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from the Berlin Aging Study. Psychology and Aging, 15(3), 511–526. Scholar
  47. Lee, T., Fiske, S., Glick, P., & Chen, Z. (2010). Ambivalent sexism in close relationships: (Hostile) power and (Benevolent) romance shape relationship ideals. Sex Roles, 62(7–8), 583–601. Scholar
  48. Milojev, P., Osborne, D., Greaves, L., Barlow, F. K., & Sibley, C. G. (2013). The mini-IPIP6: Tiny but highly stable markers of Big Six personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 47(6), 936–944. Scholar
  49. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998-2017). Mplus user's guide (8th ed.). Los Angeles: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  50. Napier, J. L., Thorisdottir, H., & Jost, J. T. (2010). The joy of sexism? A multinational investigation of hostile and benevolent justifications for gender inequality and their relations to subjective well-being. Sex Roles, 62(7–8), 405–419. Scholar
  51. Osborne, D., & Davies, P. G. (2009). Social dominance orientation, ambivalent sexism, and abortion: Explaining pro-choice and pro-life attitudes. In L. B. Palcroft & M. V. Lopez (Eds.), Personality assessment: New research (pp. 309–320). New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc..Google Scholar
  52. Osborne, D., & Davies, P. G. (2012). When benevolence backfires: Benevolent sexists' opposition to elective and traumatic abortion. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(2), 291–307. Scholar
  53. Osborne, D., Milojev, P., & Sibley, C. G. (2016). Examining the indirect effects of religious orientations on well-being through personal locus of control. European Journal of Social Psychology, 46(4), 492–505. Scholar
  54. Overall, N. C., Sibley, C. G., & Tan, R. (2011). The costs and benefits of sexism: Resistance to influence during relationship conflict. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 271–290. Scholar
  55. Pavot, W., Diener, E. D., Colvin, C. R., & Sandvik, E. (1991). Further validation of the Satisfaction with Life Scale: Evidence for the cross-method convergence of well-being measures. Journal of Personality Assessment, 57(1), 149–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rosengren, A., Orth-Gomér, K., & Wilhelmsen, L. (1998). Socioeconomic differences in health indices, social networks and mortality among Swedish men: A study of men born in 1933. Scandinavian Journal of Social Medicine, 26(4), 272–280. Scholar
  57. Sibley, C. G. (2014). Comparison of demographics in the NZAVS and New Zealand Census [NZAVS Technical Documents]. NZAVS Technical Documents, e22.Google Scholar
  58. Sibley, C. G., Luyten, N., Purnomo, M., Mobberley, A., Wootton, L. W., Hammond, M. D., ... McLellan, L. (2011). The Mini-IPIP6: Validation and extension of a short measure of the Big-Six factors of personality in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 40(3), 142–159.Google Scholar
  59. Sibley, C. G., Robertson, A., Osborne, D., Huang, Y., Milojev, P., Greaves, L. M., … Barlow, F. K. (2017). Bias and tracking accuracy in voting projections using the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study. Political Science, 69(1), 16–34.
  60. Stronge, S., Sengupta, N. K., Barlow, F. K., Osborne, D., Houkamau, C. A., & Sibley, C. G. (2016). Perceived discrimination predicts increased support for political rights and life satisfaction mediated by ethnic identity: A longitudinal analysis. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 22(3), 359–368. Scholar
  61. Travaglia, L., Overall, N., & Sibley, C. (2009). Benevolent and hostile sexism and preferences for romantic partners. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(6), 599–604. Scholar
  62. Umberson, D., Chen, M., House, J., Hopkins, K., & Slaten, E. (1996). The effect of social relationships on psychological well-being: Are men and women really so different? American Sociological Review, 61(5), 837–857. Scholar
  63. Viki, G. T., & Abrams, D. (2002). But she was unfaithful: Benevolent sexism and reactions to rape victims who violate traditional gender role expectations. Sex Roles, 47(5), 289–293. Scholar
  64. World Economic Forum. (2015). The global gender gap report 2015. Switzerland: World Economic Forum.Google Scholar
  65. Yakushko, O. (2005). Ambivalent sexism and relationship patterns among women and men in Ukraine. Sex Roles, 52(9), 589–596. Scholar
  66. Yamawaki, N. (2007). Rape perception and the function of ambivalent sexism and gender-role traditionality. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(4), 406–423. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations