double standard

[ duhb-uhl stan-derd ]
/ ˈdʌb əl ˈstæn dərd /
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any code or set of principles containing different provisions for one group of people than for another, especially an unwritten code of sexual behavior permitting men more freedom than women.Compare single standard (def. 1).
Economics. bimetallism.
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Origin of double standard

First recorded in 1950–55
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does double standard mean?

Ideally, we should all be judged according to the same criteria. But when someone is treated differently than someone else in the same situation, especially when women are treated differently than men or men are given more freedom than women, we call that a double standard.

How do you pronounce double standard?

[ duhb-uhl stan-derd ]

Where does double standard come from?

The expression double standard originally referred to 18th- and 19th-century economic policies of bimetallism. Bimetallism was a monetary system that was based on two metals—a double standard, in its financial “prescribed value” sense, of gold and silver.

The first recorded instance of the idea of a double standard as applying to the realm of morality and ethics was in the late 1800s. By the turn of the 20th century, double standard was used both in dry economic debates and spicier discussions of morality. For instance, the opening address by Yale’s president in 1905 exhorted students to guard against “double standards in college and business life” as good Christians.

The question of double standards as referring to different expectations in behavior for men and women emerged in the 1910–20s. One Christian text from the time snappily put it: “What was right for Jack was wrong for Jill.” The women’s suffrage movement picked up on the moral tone of double standards and used it to fight for their rights.

Around the same time, the idea of double standards as applying specifically to different rules for sexual activity for men and women (i.e., a man’s a stud if he has multiple sexual partners, but when women do, they’re sluts) started gaining wider use. One textbook example, written by a medical doctor in 1915 reads, “the majority of mankind—women included—believes in the justification of the double standard of sex-morality for the two sexes.” The debate about female sexuality in those terms continued in mainstream culture into the 19th and 20th centuries.

By 1930, the expression double standard was used in just about any context to describe two different sets of rules for the same thing. While double standard isn’t a legal term per se, it became increasingly associated with arguing for equal treatment before the court. With the rise of the Civil Rights movement starting in the 1940s, activists frequently complained about the double standards for white and Black people as well as other oppressed minority groups.

The Women’s Liberation Movement from the 1960s thrust the spotlight back on the sexual double standards for men and women—and contributed, no doubt, to the prevalence of double standards in the context of sex and gender.

How is double standard used in real life?

Double standard is often used in the plural, double standards, to refer to the many and various unfair rules or expectations that differ between different groups of people.

As noted, double standard is frequently used in the context of sex and gender. When men are forceful in a debate, they may be called assertive while women are called shrill and bossy and told to smile more—a double standard.

Double standards also decry a whole range of other injustices. Many people describe, for instance, the different treatment white and Black people get by law enforcement and in the justice system as a double standard. Others describe, when it comes to religious liberties, the different treatment Christians and Muslims get in Western society as a double standard. Yet others think policies like affirmative action are a double standard, showing historically marginalized groups favoritism.

Double standards don’t just refer to big-picture social issues, though. Any unequal application of the rules qualifies, including less consequential ones. A kid complaining their older sibling gets to stay up later than them might whine that it’s a double standard, for example.

More examples of double standard:

“Progressives say you must bake a cake for a gay wedding, but you don’t have to serve Sarah Sanders when she comes to eat in your restaurant. If the Left didn’t have double standards, they would have no standards at all.”
—John Veritas, Rutland Herald, June, 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use double standard in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for double standard

double standard

a set of principles that allows greater freedom to one person or group than to another
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with double standard

double standard

A set of principles establishing different provisions for one group than another; also, specifically, allowing men more sexual freedom than women. For example, She complained that her father had a double standard—her brothers were allowed to date, but she was not, even though she was older. [Mid-1900s]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.