How do parents’ beliefs about gender and their gendered behaviours affect their children’s aspirations? This study conducted tests with 326 children and their parents to investigate this question. It found that mothers’ explicit beliefs about gender roles – such as associating women with the home and men with work – predicted their children’s beliefs. Further, fathers’ participation in domestic work and their implicit beliefs about gender roles specifically impacted their daughters’ aspirations. For example, when fathers contributed to domestic work, daughters were more likely to aspire to less gender-stereotypical occupations. The study suggests that parents’ endorsements of gender equality as well as their household behaviours play an important role for children’s perspectives of gender.
Research has found a significant relationship between parents’ self-reported beliefs about gender roles and the beliefs of their children. However, parents may report an egalitarian belief, but not behave accordingly. This study tested whether parents’ behaviours, as well as their implicit beliefs about gender, also impact children’s aspirations and beliefs.
Researchers recruited 326 children between the ages of 7 and 13, and one of their parents, from a local science centre. Data was collected from December 2011 to August 2012. The study involved several different tests:
- To uncover parents’ explicit (self-reported) beliefs, researchers gave parents five scenarios involving heterosexual couples and household tasks, and asked them which partner they thought would do more of a household task. Parents were also asked whether they considered themselves more work-oriented or family-oriented.
- To uncover their implicit beliefs, researchers gave parents implicit association tests that showed whether they associated men’s and women’s faces to work or to home.
- To assess their behaviours, researchers asked parents to record how many hours of paid work they did per week, and their contribution to domestic tasks.
- Children were asked whether they thought they would be more work-oriented or family-oriented in the future. They were also asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Researchers coded this open response as masculine, feminine, or gender-neutral.
Children’s beliefs and self-stereotyping: The study found that when mothers explicitly believed that women are more likely than men to handle domestic tasks, and when fathers explicitly identified as work-oriented, their sons and daughters were more likely to hold gender-stereotypical beliefs.
On the other hand, when mothers self-stereotyped as more work-oriented and did relatively less domestic work, and when fathers held explicit egalitarian beliefs about domestic work, they were more likely to have daughters who envisioned working outside the home.
Children’s career aspirations: Fathers’ explicit and implicit beliefs about gender, as well as their domestic contribution, influenced their daughters’ (but not their sons’) career aspirations. Fathers who explicitly endorsed traditional gender roles, had stronger implicit associations of women with the home and men with work, and contributed less to household work, were more likely to have daughters who aspired to stereotypically feminine occupations.
Gender stereotyping and inequality starts at home, so policy needs to ensure women can access paid work—This study demonstrates how gender stereotyping is ingrained from a young age and is based on parents’ actions and beliefs. Parents who share domestic work and do not associate women with domestic work are more likely to have children who do not hold gender stereotypical beliefs. To increase gender equality, it is vital that policymakers create policies that facilitate mothers to paid work, such as affordable daycare and paid parental leave.
Fathers play an important role in mitigating gendered occupational segregation—The findings here suggest that fathers’ participation in domestic work and their beliefs are particularly impactful on daughters’ aspirations. Since fathers’ day-to-day behaviour with their daughters may play an important role in mitigating gendered occupational segregation, fathers have a responsibility to educate themselves on gender equality and equity.
Workplaces must facilitate men’s caregiving roles—Considering the importance of fathers’ roles in their daughters’ aspirations, companies should facilitate men employees to take parental leave so that they are encouraged to be caregivers. Workplace policies for equal parental leave must be in place alongside strong efforts to change workplace cultural norms so that men do not feel stigmatized for prioritizing family.
Research brief prepared by: CARMINA RAVANERA