The women are wonderful effect is the phenomenon found in psychological and sociological research which suggests that people associate more positive attributes with the general social category of women compared to men. This bias reflects an emotional bias toward women as a general case. The phrase was coined by Eagly & Mladinic (1994) after finding that both male and female participants tend to assign positive traits to women, with woman participants showing a far more pronounced bias. Positive traits were also assigned to men by both genders of participants but to a less significant degree. The authors supposed that the positive general evaluation of women might derive from the association between women and nurturing characteristics. This bias is suggested as a form of benevolent sexism towards females which is a concept within the theoretical framework of ambivalent sexism. It can also be seen as an example of hostile sexism towards men under the same framework.
In a review conducted by Eagly, Mladinic & Otto (1991), evidence was found to indicate that women were evaluated positively as a social category and more favorably than men. In the experiment, over 300 college students (both men and women) evaluated the social categories of men and women, relating the traits and expectations of each gender through interviews, emotion-associations and free-response measures. Supporting this effect, words perceived as positive, like "happy" and "good", were more quickly assigned to women than men.
Rudman & Goodwin (2004) conducted research on gender bias that measured gender preferences without directly asking the participants. Subjects at Purdue and Rutgers participated in computerized tasks that measured automatic attitudes based on how quickly a person categorizes pleasant and unpleasant attributes with each gender. Such a task was done to discover whether people associate pleasant words (good, happy, and sunshine) with women, and unpleasant words (bad, trouble, and pain) with men.
This research found that while both women and men have more favorable views of women, women's in-group biases were 4.5 times stronger than those of men and only women (not men) showed cognitive balance among in-group bias, identity, and self-esteem, revealing that men lack a mechanism that bolsters automatic own group preference.
Other experiments in this study found people showed automatic preference for their mothers over their fathers, or associated the male gender with violence or aggression. Rudman and Goodwin's found that maternal bonding and male intimidation influences gender attitudes. Another experiment found adults' attitudes were measured based on their reactions to categories associated with sexual relations. It revealed that among men who engaged more in sexual activity, the more positive their attitude towards sex, the larger their bias towards women. A greater interest in and liking of sex may promote automatic preference for the out-group of women among men, although both women and men with sexual experience expressed greater liking for the opposite gender.
Some authors have claimed the "Women are wonderful" effect is applicable when women follow traditional gender roles such as child nurturing and stay at home housewife. The original study by Eagly, Mladinic & Otto (1991) mentions this possibility and states "Nor did it appear that respondents' very positive evaluations of women masked ambivalence toward them" in the abstract. Other authors have cited studies indicating that the women are wonderful effect is still applicable even when women are in nontraditional gender roles.
Several scholars have argued that the "women are wonderful" effect might be better phrased as "women are wonderful when" effect, with the "when" meaning when women are not in charge. However, in the case of one of these scholars, they admit that men only showed diminished pro-female implicit attitudes and that they still exhibited an in-group bias that favoured women. In the case of the other scholar, they state that men who held antifemale attitudes also viewed women benevolently, suggesting ambivalence towards women. The original Eagly, Mladinic & Otto (1991) study that discovered the women are wonderful effect states it found no such ambivalence.