Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Ethnic Conflict, Group Polarization, and Gender Attitudes in Croatia

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Ethnic Conflict, Group Polarization, and Gender Attitudes in Croatia

Article excerpt

We examine the sources of traditional gender attitudes during a period of social conflict and change. Using survey data from Croatia (Center for the Investigation of Transition and Civil Society, 1996; N = 2,030) we explore the relationships between war-related experiences, in-group and out-group polarization, and two dimensions of gender attitudes: policy attitudes (e.g., attitudes toward divorce and abortion) and gendered family roles (e.g., attitudes toward the division of household labor). We argue that ethnic conflict promotes in-group polarization (i.e., attachment to the Croatian nation) and out-group polarization (i.e., distrust of "others"), which lead to a resurgence of traditional values, including traditional gender attitudes. We also examine the effects of childhood socialization, individual resources, and interpersonal familial ties on gender attitudes. Results support the conflict-group polarization model and indicate that out-group polarization has the most powerful effect on both gendered family role attitudes and policy attitudes for men and women. In-group polarization does not affect gender attitudes, however.

Key Words: ethnic conflict, gender attitudes, gender ideology, nationalism, war, Yugoslavia.

Many studies have examined the sources and consequences of gender attitudes, both cross-nationally and in the United States (e.g., Baxter & Kane, 1995; Greenstein, 1996; Kane & Sanchez, 1994; Panayotova & Brayfield, 1997). In cross-national studies, scholars often select a small number of countries on the basis of differences in contextual conditions related to gender inequality (usually the countries are from North America or Western Europe). Few studies, however, examine the sources of traditional gender attitudes during periods of social conflict and change, such as during war and political and economic transition. The renegotiation of gender attitudes during such periods has profound implications for outcomes as diverse as the household division of labor, marital satisfaction, the allocation of money within the household, the representation of women in the economy and national politics, and social legislation concerning divorce and reproductive rights. We address this gap in the literature by examining the sources of traditional gender attitudes in Croatia in 1996, immediately following three of the wars of Yugoslav succession.

In this article, we ask: How do people's warrelated experiences and their levels of group polarization affect their gender attitudes? In brief, we argue that nationalism and ethnic conflict encourage the creation and maintenance of sharp boundaries between in-groups and out-groups and the modification of social roles, including gendered family roles, to deal with the threat (Coser, 1956). The conflict and resulting polarization encourage a return to traditional values. Women are thus relegated to the role of "mother of the nation" (King, 2002; Milic, 1993; Ramet, 1996; Yuval-Davis, 1997).

We begin by briefly reviewing recent research on the consequences of traditional gender attitudes. Following that, we discuss possible sources of traditional gender attitudes in Croatia. Two interrelated characteristics of Croatia's national context are particularly relevant for our discussion: (a) the political and economic transitions (i.e., from a communist political system and planned economy to a tightly controlled democratic system and capitalism) and (b) nationalism and ethnic conflict. We also discuss other important predictors of traditional gender attitudes, such as childhood exposure to egalitarian gender attitudes, individual economic resources, and interpersonal familial ties.


Gender attitudes or gender ideology is an important independent variable in many areas of research. In studies of marriage and family, the gender ideologies of husbands and wives are used to predict the relative proportion or the total amount of housework done by husbands (for recent reviews of research on the distribution of household labor, see Coltrane, 2000; Kroska, 1997; Shelton & John, 1996). …

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