The Effect of Children's Sex on Parent's Gender-Role Attitudes: An Extension Using Japanese Data

Article excerpt


Family sociology is replete with research focusing on how parent's attitudes and behaviors affect their children. Less well researched is the effect of children on parents (Ambert, 1992) and, in particular, the effect of sex composition of children in the family on parents' lives. Several recent papers have started to explore this issue, focusing on how child gender is related to parental attitudes (Warner, 1991), maternal views on socialization (Downey et al., 1994), the likelihood of parents divorcing (Morgan et al., 1988; Katzev et al., 1992), and father's behavior in family life (Marsiglio, 1991; Harris & Morgan, 1991). To date, however, studies based on non-US data exploring these relationships are rare.

One piece of research using data from Detroit, MI and Toronto, Ontario, compared parents with sons and / or daughters to assess variation in their gender-role attitudes (Warner, 1991). Warner suggested that for both fathers and mothers, having daughters would allow for an extension of "self-interest" and therefore should result in more egalitarian views when having daughters than having sons. Results showed that mothers with daughters in both settings were more supportive of gender equality than mothers with son. Fathers in Canada showed similar results, but fathers with daughters in the United States tend to be less supportive of gender equality than fathers with sons, although the relationship was not statistically significant. Warner (1991) argues that part of the difference between the findings for men in the two countries may be explained by a heavier emphasis on individualism in the United States. She concludes by suggesting that an extension to other settings would benefit our understanding of how gender of children interacts with culture / structure to affect parents' lives.

A setting that is very different from that of the United States or Canada is Japan, with cultural norms placing the family above the individual. And although Japan has undergone an industrialization process which had resulted in dramatic shifts toward individualism elsewhere, social norms about family structure and relationships seem to have changed little. Japanese families are still hierarchically structured by age and gender to a large extent. With this emphasis, then, should we expect that the sex composition of the family would have impact on ideas about gender roles? The present study examines the relationship between child gender and parental attitudes utilizing data from Japan.


Warner (1991) refers to her dependent variable as "support for feminism". This concept was measured by six questions covering women's roles in family life, employment, and even in the military. None of the items specifically asks respondents about "feminism." Although a few scholars see these items as indicative of support for feminism (e.g. Ransford & Miller, 1983), most researchers refer to them more generally as measures of "gender-role attitudes."

Gender roles have been an important issue in the United States in recent decades (Ferrer, 1990; Miller & Garrison, 1982). At the center of the gender role debate is the dichotomy between "provider and housekeeper roles" (Slocum & Nye, 1976) which permeate not only public spheres but also private spheres, particularly the family. Gender roles seem to be constantly changing both at work and in the family. At work, changes in gender role are reflected in the increasing labor force participation by women, and more women can be found in previously male- dominated occupations. At home, changes in gender roles may be seen in a somewhat more egalitarian division of household work and childcare (Coverman & Sheley, 1986; Gershuny & Robinson, 1988), although this shift is due more to women spending fewer hours in household work than men spending longer hours. Along with this change in the actual gender-role enactment, we have seen a rather drastic change in the attitude toward gender roles (Cherlin & Walters, 1981; Thornton et al. …