Academic journal article Demographic Research

Changes in Gender Role Attitudes Following Couples' Residential Relocations

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Changes in Gender Role Attitudes Following Couples' Residential Relocations

Article excerpt


Recent decades have witnessed tremendous changes in how women and men behave and express their views regarding work and family life. Increases in egalitarian gender role attitudes, or the degree to which individuals support an equal division of labour between women and men, have been documented in a number of countries (including Britain) since the 1970s, particularly among women (Braun and Scott 2009; Cotter, Hermsen, and Vanneman 2011). Ideational changes regarding gender issues were paralleled by a pervasive structural de-traditionalisation of gender relations. These developments involved generalised delays and declines in marriage and fertility levels, alongside women's increasing educational attainment and participation in paid employment and men's rising employment instability and increasing involvement (though still incipient) in domestic work and childcare. In recent years, concurrent progress in egalitarian gender role attitudes and practices have stalled, and consequently, gender equality at home and at work remains elusive (England 2010).

Understanding the shifts and reversals in gender role attitudes is important because adherence to traditional gender role attitudes has been shown to contribute to the (re)production of gender inequalities over the life course (Corrigall and Konrad 2007; Christie-Mizell et al. 2007; van Gameren 2013). Recent studies have shown that individuals' gender role attitudes are malleable and context-dependent and have suggested that individuals re-evaluate these attitudes in relation to life course transitions that affect the negotiation of work and family roles (Cunningham 2005; Fan and Marini 2000; Schober and Scott 2012; Baxter et al. 2015; Perales, Lersch, and Baxter 2017). While strong evidence of the effects of union formation, parenthood, completion of education, and entry into employment on gender role attitudes already exists, there is much less evidence about the effects of other important life course events, such as couple relocations. This is a limitation, since couple relocations are expensive, disruptive, and thus often accompanied by changes in the household's family, employment, and residential circumstances and contexts, which are potentially relevant for the negotiation of gender roles (Cooke 2001; Vidal et al. 2017). Established findings from the empirical research indicate, among other things, that couples often relocate around the time of childbearing, that men more often lead job-related (long-distance) relocations than women do, and that these relocations almost exclusively benefit men's careers while women's careers are possibly held back (Boyle et al. 2003; Boyle, Feng, and Gayle 2009). Since these findings suggest that unequal gender divisions of household labour likely emerge or widen following couple relocations, a hypothetical association between gender role attitudes and couple relocations is reasonable. While gender role attitudes were examined as predictors of couple relocations and their outcomes (in, e.g., Cooke 2008a; Brandén 2014; Lersch 2016), to our knowledge, no previous study has investigated gender role attitudes as an outcome of couple relocations.

In this study, we close gaps in knowledge and shed light on additional sources of change in gender role attitudes by examining the role of couples' relocations in the British context between the 1990s and the 2000s. We address the following questions:

(1) Is there an association between couple relocations and changes in gender role attitudes?

(2) Does the association vary by relocation distance? And by relocation motive?

(3) What are the mechanisms that underlie these associations?

Extending prior research, we address, for the first time, a subjective measure of gender inequality - combining individuals' support to statements on mothers' employment and equal divisions of labour - as an outcome of couple relocations. This contributes to understanding the persisting gender inequalities that follow couple relocations in Britain (and elsewhere), which have only been addressed as objective rather than subjective inequality outcomes. …

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