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Study: cohesive social networks can hinder women’s careers

Posted April 20, 2015

It is often argued that character of a social network in which individuals are embedded is a very important determinant of the success in a labor market. One of the most prominent ideas in this field research is that social capital also exerts gender-specific effects. Unfortunately, there is the absence of rigorous empirical tests.

Hollywood by Shinya Suzuki / Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Hollywood by Shinya Suzuki / Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Max Lutter working at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies attempted to fix this shortcoming by analyzing large dataset containing information about entire careers of nearly one hundred thousand film actors. “Findings reveal that female actors have a higher risk of career failure than do their male colleagues when affiliated in cohesive networks, but women have better survival chances when embedded in open, diverse structures, ” German research says.

Lutter conjectured that women should face more gender-based discrimination when the social network is cohesive. But, how can cohesive networks inhibit careers of the females?

It is well known that people build their network of contacts according to the so called principle of homophily. Homophily is the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others. Consequently men have a tendency to interact with other men and women with other women. However, it is also established that males usually possess higher social status than females. This is strongly visible in the film industry in which most decision makers are men.

“Women’s gender-homophilous networks (i.e., their identity networks to other women) tend to be negatively associated with positional power, whereas men’s homophilous networks are positively associated to power and authority and are larger in absolute numbers,” the sociologist explained.

Lutter thought that this gender segregation should be also reflected in the structure of workgroups. In order to improve their career chances, women often need help from persons having high social capital.

However, it is often pretty difficult to realize this goal. “Most women have difficulty finding sponsors, have generally fewer sponsors than men, or receive less support from their (mostly male) sponsors,” author of the study published in the American Journal of Sociology says.

German sociologist tested these insights by analyzing information which can be found in the IMDB database. “I explore a unique dataset covering a labor market in its entirety, including almost all products that have ever been produced in that market, all actors who have ever been involved in making these products, and their complete collaboration networks,” he says.

Results showed that risk of dropout increases for women when they grow in highly cohesive teams. In contrast, when female actors do careers in less cohesive networks, they reduce risk of dropping out of the movie business.

Article: Lutter, M. (2015). Do Women Suffer from Network Closure? The Moderating Effect of Social Capital on Gender Inequality in a Project-Based Labor Market, 1929 to 2010. American Sociological Review 80, 2, 329-358. Source link.

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