Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Their Mother's Daughters? the Intergenerational Transmission of Gender Attitudes in a World of Changing Roles

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Their Mother's Daughters? the Intergenerational Transmission of Gender Attitudes in a World of Changing Roles

Article excerpt

This study examines the intergenerational transmission of two gender attitudes (gender role ideology and work role identity). It draws on a life course perspective and panel data on mothers to assess the relationships between daughters' attitudes and (a) mothers' attitudes and employment experiences, as well as (b) the daughters' own life experiences. We find that mothers' gender role ideology in the 1950s was positively related to their daughters' gender role ideology as adults in 1988 and that social change over this 30-year period contributed to greater mother-daughter congruence in gender role ideology and work role identity by the 1980s. However, daughters' own status matters most in predicting their work role identity, suggesting the importance of both behavior and broad historical changes in moderating intergenerational transmission processes.

Key Words: gender attitudes, intergenerational processes, longitudinal study, mothers and daughters.

A rich tradition of social-psychological research focuses on the formation of basic orientations toward politics, religion, and gender roles (Alwin, Cohen, & Newcomb, 1991; Alwin & Krosnick, 1991; Glass, Bengtson, & Dunham, 1986; Miller & Glass, 1989). A basic question within this tradition is the relative contribution of earlier influences on adult attitudes, compared with later influences. Although the evidence for links between the attitudes of parents and children is strong (Smith, 1983; Smith & Self, 1980; Starrels, 1992), the notion of intergenerational transmission of attitudes and orientations becomes problematic in times of large-scale social change, when younger generations may well part ways with their elders in beliefs, values, and behavior. The revolution in gender roles over the last 30 years is a case in point, as succeeding generations of young women face new norms and frame new expectations regarding work and family roles (Gerson, 1985; Moen, 1992). How are daughters of the gender role revolution similar to or different from their mothers? Given the broad societal shifts in gender norms and expectations in the second half of the 20th century, are adult daughters effectively immune from the influence of their mothers' earlier attitudes and behaviors, or have both mothers and daughters been transformed by the tide of change in women's opportunity structure and expectations?

To address issues of family influences and social change, we draw on a life course perspective to propose a transgenerational approach to gender role attitudes. We employ a unique data set of 245 mother-daughter pairs, with data collected on the mothers' generation at two points: in 1986 when their daughters were adults and 30 years earlier in 1956. The adult daughters were surveyed once, in 1988. Daughters may have "learned" their beliefs about women's roles and established their own work role identity while growing up, through their mothers' instruction and example. Or daughters' attitudes about gender roles may continue to develop in adulthood, drawing on the daughters' own experiences and roles as adults (although these, in turn, may reflect the social and economic position of their parents).

Because we only have data on daughters at one point in time, we are unable to make firm conclusions about causality. In addition, we lack data about the important contributions of other family members (or caregivers) to the shaping of daughters' gender role attitudes. However, because we do have early data from mothers, we are able to examine the relative contribution of maternal influence and daughters' experiences on daughters' gender role attitudes and work role identity. We consider, as well, the potential for a growing congruence between mothers and daughters, given the revolutionary changes in gender roles and expectations from the 1950s to the latter half of the 1980s.


Much of the research on intergenerational transmission has followed either childhood socialization or social status models or a combination of the two (Acock, 1984; Acock & Bengston, 1980; Glass et al. …

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