Race, threat and workplace sexual harassment: The dynamics of harassment in the United States, 1997–2016

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28 Scopus citations


Sexual harassment is a persistent problem for women in the workplace. Prior research has explored the effects of sexual harassment on the psychological, physical and economic wellbeing of the victims. Despite the extensive research exploring the causes, most studies focus on micro-level factors, and few studies examine the role of macro-level factors on sexual harassment in the workplace. Using public Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data and a separate dataset of individual level workplace sexual harassment complaints, we test two hypotheses about sexual harassment in American workplaces. First, we show that the decline in workplace sexual harassment complaints has been uneven, with African-American women experiencing an increased relative risk of sexual harassment in the workplace, even as overall reported harassment complaints are down. Second, we show that economic threat — operationalized in this case through unemployment rates — drives increases in sexual harassment of women in American workplaces. While the data on harassment complaints is limited, data strongly suggests that the changes are driven by shifts in underlying levels of harassment, rather than changes in the likelihood of reporting harassment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1221-1240
Number of pages20
JournalGender, Work and Organization
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • gender
  • inequality
  • race
  • sexual harassment


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