Gender Inequality, Stress Exposure, and Well-Being among Academic Faculty

Marta Elliott, Sarah J. Blithe


Gender inequalities in salary, rank and access to leadership positions characterize institutions of higher education and disadvantage women faculty. Differential exposure to noxious working conditions and restricted access to social resources may underlie these inequalities by detracting from women faculty’s well-being, thereby perpetuating the status quo. This study applies stress process theory to analyze this inequitable state of affairs, treating gender as a social status in higher education that predicts differential exposure to stressors and access to resources. Stressors and resources, in turn, predict faculty well-being. Stressors include micro-aggressions and work-life conflict, and resources include collegiality with peers and support from administrators. Survey data were collected from academic faculty at a mid-sized Western university in the U.S. Results indicate that women faculty experience micro-aggressions and work-life conflict more often than men, and report less supportive relationships with their deans. Moreover, micro-aggressions and work-life conflict are positively associated with psychological distress and job dissatisfaction, while dean support has the opposite associations. Open-ended responses supplement the quantitative findings with vivid examples of how these phenomena play out in individual faculty members’ lives. Implications for how institutions of higher education might introduce change to address these findings are discussed.

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Copyright (c) 2020 Marta Elliott, Sarah J. Blithe

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International Journal of Higher Education
ISSN 1927-6044 (Print) ISSN 1927-6052 (Online) Email:

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