The Double Disadvantage: A Theory of Status, Stigma, and Moral Expectations
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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EmbargoRelease after 05/03/2022
AbstractThis dissertation examines how the combined effects of status characteristics and social stigmas diminish outcomes for individuals. Research in the status characteristics theoretical tradition (SCT) has produced leading explanations of how status characteristics like race and gender invoke differential performance expectations that lead to unequal outcomes in the workplace, schools, and other settings. Likewise, various studies illustrate how stigmas such as criminal history and mental illness diminish outcomes in employment, housing, and treatment. Although the processes that lead to disadvantage related to each characteristic have been well researched, there has been no systematic, integrative investigation of how status and stigma might operate in conjunction to intensify disadvantage for individuals – as has been shown to occur in a series of fragmented, case-based studies. This study develops a preliminary theoretical framework to attempt to explain the empirical patterns that suggest this status-stigma intensification effect. Although substantive research suggests that being status-disadvantaged and also stigmatized magnifies bias and discrimination, these patterns are at odds with the literatures most closely associated with status characteristics and stigmas. Drawing on each of these literatures – SCT and theories of stigma – I suggest a new, integrative theory to better link the two concepts and resolve divergences between status and stigma processes. Specifically, this research argues that the moral expectations infused in stigmas will activate low moral expectations associated with devalued states of status characteristics, resulting in the intensification effect. SCT has established that status characteristics invoke performance expectations, which influence outcomes. Moral expectations, however, have not yet been considered within the theory. I explore this relationship in two experiments designed to test the potential status-stigma interaction and the mediating effects of moral and performance expectations using participant evaluations within a mock-hiring scenario across two cases: race/criminal history and gender/mental illness. Results from the two experiments provide preliminary support for a general status-stigma interaction effect. Further, results provide support for the mediating role of moral expectations in the relationship between the status-stigma interaction and workplace outcomes. That is – for both race/criminal history and gender/mental illness – I find that having a devalued status state and a stigma results in more negative work-related evaluations and outcomes and that these evaluations are mediated by moral expectations. Contrary to my predictions and to central tenets of SCT, however, there are no status effects of either race or gender in the absence of stigma, and performance expectations do not mediate the status-stigma interaction on workplace outcomes. These findings lay the foundation for a synthetic theory that resolves certain divergences between status and stigma processes. In particular, there is compelling preliminary evidence for two new theoretical tenets that may guide the aggregation of status and stigmatized characteristics: a general interaction effect and the mediating role of moral expectations. As this study identifies moral expectations as a new mechanism of status and stigma-related bias, it also suggests fruitful new avenues for targeted interventionist efforts to reduce discrimination. However, this study should be viewed as a first step in the exploration of concerns that span the status and stigma literatures. More general conclusions about the applicability and scope of the framework developed here will depend on future research that examines additional sets of characteristics.
Degree ProgramGraduate College