Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Influence of Parental Attitudes and Behaviors on Children's Attitudes toward Gender and Household Labor in Early Adulthood

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Influence of Parental Attitudes and Behaviors on Children's Attitudes toward Gender and Household Labor in Early Adulthood

Article excerpt

The paper assesses parental influences on young adults' attitudes toward gendered family roles, housework allocation, and housework enjoyment. The effects of parents' housework allocation, educational attainment, and religious participation are examined, as well as mothers' gender role attitudes and labor force participation. Using data from an intergenerational panel study, the analysis finds that children's ideal allocation of housework at age 18 is predicted by maternal gender role attitudes when the children were very young and by the parental division of housework when the children were adolescents. Adult children's gender role attitudes are associated with maternal gender role attitudes measured during both early childhood and midadolescence.

Key Words: gender, housework, life course, socialization.

Symbolic interactionists have conceptualized gender as an ongoing performance, rooted in social interaction, in which women and men enact and reinforce their own femininity and masculinity in specific social contexts (West & Zimmerman, 1987). The allocation of labor in the household has frequently been studied as one context that holds symbolic significance for gender display (Berk, 1985; Brines, 1994; Coltrane, 1989). By drawing attention to the way that gender is continually displayed through social interactions such as housework, symbolic interactionists have provided a needed corrective to static, unidirectional models of gender socialization that posit a singular, receptive socializee and a powerful, unchanging socializing agent. However, very little empirical research has specified the processes through which individuals learn about contextually appropriate behaviors that can be drawn on to display gender.

One significant barrier to understanding the processes through which interactions take on gender-symbolic meaning is the difficulty of obtaining context-specific, time-ordered information about the influences and interactions to which individuals have been exposed. Although there are many potentially important sources of learning about gender-significant symbolic behaviors, parents and siblings constitute one domain that is likely to exert an important influence on an individual's understanding of gender and is feasible to isolate and study. Specifically, longitudinal, intergenerational studies of parents and children facilitate the study of gender socialization that occurs as a result of parental behaviors, attitudes, and other attributes. The intimate and ongoing nature of family interactions may have an especially important effect on the meanings that children attribute to particular interactional patterns.

This study examines parental influences on three types of attitudes toward household labor and gender-differentiated family roles, including (a) the ideal allocation of stereotypically female household tasks to women and men, (b) support for gender differentiation in family responsibilities, and (c) the enjoyment of specific household tasks. Parental interactions and attributes are conceptualized as potential sources of information for children about how and when it might be appropriate to "do gender" (West & Zimmerman, 1987). Drawing on data from a 31-year longitudinal study of mothers and children, I examine the causal effects of parents' housework performance, gender role attitudes, and other potentially relevant characteristics on the attitudes of the 18-yearold children toward behaviors that are commonly believed to hold meaning for gender.



An important goal of this paper is to understand the process through which individuals learn the symbolic significance of gendered behaviors such as housework. Although a number of researchers have framed their arguments about gendered interactional displays (i.e., doing gender) and gender socialization in oppositional terms (Perkins & DeMeis, 1996; South & Spitze, 1994), the two approaches are not incompatible. …

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