Intergenerational Transmission of Prejudice, Sex Role Stereotyping, and Intolerance

By O'Bryan, Megan; Fishbein, Harold D. et al. | Adolescence, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Intergenerational Transmission of Prejudice, Sex Role Stereotyping, and Intolerance


O'Bryan, Megan, Fishbein, Harold D., Ritchey, P. Neal, Adolescence


Traditional research indicates that parents and families are the primary social influences that model and communicate values to children (Benson, Donahue, & Erickson, 1989; Steinberg, 2001). This belief is explicit in many researchers' theories concerning the development of prejudice in children (e.g., Allport, 1954; Marger, 1991). People commonly believe that children's and adolescents' prejudiced attitudes are simply reflections of their parents' attitudes. However, these ideas have been challenged by research that finds inconsistencies in the effects of parents' prejudiced attitudes on the development of their children's prejudices (Aboud, 1988; Fishebein, 2002). Some studies have found that children's prejudiced attitudes are moderately influenced by their parents' attitudes, while others have found no significant systematic relationship.

The research that has found moderate parental effects on their children's racial prejudices include Carlson and Iovini (1985) who examined the relationship between Black and White adolescent boys' attitudes and those of their fathers' (mothers' attitudes were not assessed). They found that White boys' prejudices were highly correlated with their fathers'. However, they did not find a significant relationship between Black boys' racial attitudes and those of their fathers. Mosher and Scodel (1960) found a positive relationship between white children's and mothers' racially prejudiced attitudes (fathers' attitudes were not assessed).

On the other hand, Davey (1983) did not find a systematic relationship between White parents' prejudiced attitudes against Blacks and Asians and those of their seven- to ten-year-old children. Branch and Newcombe (1986) surprisingly found that among young Black children, ages four and five, the higher their parents' "pro-Black" attitudes, the higher the children's preference for White dolls as compared with Black dolls. Further, for six- and seven-year-old Black children, seven out of eight correlations between parents' and children's attitudes were not statistically significant. Finally, Aboud and Doyle (1996) did not find significant correlations between mothers' and children's racially prejudiced attitudes (fathers' attitudes were not assessed).

Aboud (1988) contends that considering the conflicting data in the literature, the most that we can assert is that ethnocentric parents occasionally produce ethnocentric children. However, the inconsistencies in the findings concerning parental influence on prejudice may be attributable to two principal shortcomings in previous research. First, the above researchers have examined only a single domain of prejudice--race/ethnic prejudice. Assessing a variety of domains of prejudice, including race/ethnicity, would give a more accurate picture of parental influences. It is possible that parents will influence some, but not all domains.

The second shortcoming is that both parents' attitudes were not always examined and by implication were assumed to be similar (e.g., Aboud & Doyle, 1996; Carlson & Iovini, 1985; Mosher & Scodel, 1960). There is no research indicating that both parents are in agreement in their prejudices, nor that they equally affect their children. This issue is especially critical for two-parent households because the child is exposed to both parents' values and beliefs. In the two studies in which both parents were assessed (Branch & Newcombe, 1986; Davey, 1983), the difference between the mother's and the father's attitudes was not considered.

In the present study we attempted to overcome both of these shortcomings. We restricted the sample to adolescents who were living with both biological parents, and independently assessed all three. In addition, we measured six domains of prejudice and sex-role stereotyping rather than only race/ethnic prejudice. We then attempted to empirically and theoretically describe how mothers and fathers influence the prejudices and stereotyping in their adolescent children. …

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