October 2002

IZA DP No. 619: The Changing Nature of Employment-Related Sexual Harassment: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Government (1978-1994)

published in: Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 2004, 57(3), 443-461

This paper examines the changing nature of views towards and reports of sexual harassment using unique data drawn from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (USMSPB) of the U.S. Federal Government over the period from 1978-1994. Our results indicate that while federal government employees reported only slightly more incidents of employment-related unwanted sexual behavior in 1994 than in 1978, the willingness to define unwanted sexual behavior as sexual harassment increased dramatically over this period. The increased willingness of federal government employees to label certain behaviors as sexual harassment does not appear to be driven by changes in the demographic, human capital and job characteristics of federal government employees, rather the changes appear to be due to structural changes in views (conditional on characteristics) of what constitutes sexual harassment. At the same time, more of the change in the incidence of unwanted sexual behavior on the job itself seems to be explained by changes in human capital and job characteristics. Finally, we find that the qualitative nature of harassment in public-sector employment has changed despite the fact that the incidence of unwanted sexual behavior was relatively constant between 1978 and 1994.