Gender attitudes of police officers: Selection and socialization mechanisms in the life course

Soc Sci Res. 2019 Mar;79:71-84. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2018.12.008. Epub 2018 Dec 18.

Abstract

Police officers may have attitudes that are more traditional than the general public, perhaps impacted by a unique "working personality", but recent evidence suggests that more conservative individuals may be drawn to policing (LeCount, 2017). In this article I draw from the life course perspective to evaluate the degree to which two mechanisms explain police gender attitudes, selection into policing or socialization while on the job. I examine gender attitudes relating to division of labor in the home and women's disadvantage in the labor market, comparing police to non-police using the National Longitudinal Survey of the High School Class of 1972. Following employment patterns for respondents at the start of their policing career (age 18 to age 25), I find more support for occupational socialization than selection. A fixed effects model shows that men who became police officers shifted to become more traditional in their gender attitudes in comparison to other men while the average person in the cohort became less traditional. Women who entered policing in the mid-1970s were less traditional than other women and police status was not significantly related to their attitudes. While attitudes do not necessarily predict behavior, the results suggest that experiences in police work can enhance traditional gender attitudes. Policy recommendations are discussed.

Keywords: Gender attitudes; Life course; Occupational socialization; Police.