Hundreds of years of women’s rights activism have brought about broad and important changes in societal roles and responsibilities. Women can vote, live independently and work outside the home. But how equal are men and women in everyday life?

Two studies released this week give conflicting images of just how far society has come. University of Florida organizational psychologists Timothy Judge and Beth Livingston found that men with ‘traditional” views of gender roles in the workplace earned more than similarly employed men with egalitarian views and more than both women who agreed and women who disagreed with stereotypical roles.

However, Andrew Cherlin and the Pew Research Center announced the results of a study showing that most couples now share decision-making tasks, especially regarding finances and television watching.

Time Magazine reports that Judge and Livingston eliminated occupation, hours worked, education, IQ and region as possible reasons for the income discrepancies between the four groups. The implication is that the wage gap is due to perceptions of gender roles. Judge suggests several explanations.

First, women particularly those with traditional views tend to be less aggressive in salary negotiations. Similarly, men who believe they are obligated to support their families will be more aggressive in demanding and earning compensation.

Judge also believes that employers’ subconscious biases against women who agree with traditional gender roles, as evidenced by hairstyles and clothing, might also play a role. The study emphasizes that cultural views of gender roles continue to negatively affect women’s earning power.

Somewhat conversely, the Washington Post argues that there is a more positive trend toward gender equality, but in a different facet of life. A Pew Research Center survey found that household TV sets were equally likely to be controlled by women, men or by both adults evenly.

The same study showed that women made decisions relating to activities, finances and large purchases more frequently than men or both partners together did.

Cherlin states that the most important implication of the study is the changes in familial dynamics since the 1950s and ’60s: many women have moved from being unaware of their husbands’ financial decisions to making the decisions themselves.

If we believe these studies, women’s social roles have changed more rapidly than their professional roles; men and women are more likely to be equal in the home than in the workplace.

Considering that it is much easier to choose a partner than a boss and group of co-workers, it’s not surprising that egalitarian-minded people would tend to marry each other more frequently than they would work together. It is probably also easier to convince one’s husband to hand over the remote than to persuade one’s boss for a raise.

The implication is that women need to become more assertive and better negotiators to achieve equality at work. This takes practice; it is a skill like anything else. But it also requires a willingness to break our subconscious barriers: the image that women who fight for what they want are too aggressive, too mean or too masculine.

Both women and men are guilty of perpetuating this image, but we all must understand and then reject it.

In addition, individual women should become less self-conscious about standing up for themselves, as many have already done, especially in their personal lives. A combined effort by every type of jobholder is the best way to achieve equality in the workplace.

Polanski is a member of the class of 2011.

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