Gender-role attitudes capture individuals’ degree of support for traditional divisions of paid and domestic work in which men act as ‘breadwinners’ and women as ‘homemakers’ or ‘secondary earners’. These attitudes are important, because they influence the decisions men and women make about how to organise housework and childcare responsibilities, as well as decisions about who in the household engages in paid employment. Therefore, it is important that we understand what factors predict individuals’ support (or lack of support) for traditional gender-role attitudes.
Becoming a parent is a life-changing event, and previous research has demonstrated that it can lead men and women to alter their previous gender-role attitudes. However, the existing evidence has largely overlooked a potentially important aspect in this process: the gender of the newborn child. ‘Exposure-based’ theories of attitude change suggest that parents of girls will face situations that expose them to discriminatory behaviour towards their daughters, while ‘interest-based’ theories highlight how parents of girls benefit more from a gender-egalitarian society in which their daughters are treated fairly. As a result, we expect that people who become parents of girls will shift their attitudes and express stronger support for gender egalitarianism.
We examine this proposition using high-quality, longitudinal data from 14,439 individuals covering the years 2001, 2005, 2008 and 2011. These data come from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey. We find that men’s and women’s gender-role attitudes become more traditional when they become parents, but we find no evidence that the gender of their children matters.
These findings can be read in a positive light: a lack of difference in gender-attitude change between parents of girls and parents of boys may indicate that in contemporary Australia gender does not play such a significant role in shaping individuals’ behaviours and outcomes. This may not be the case in other societies with different cultural and institutional contexts, and so studies that compare these processes over time and across countries with different cultural regimes are necessary to advance our knowledge.
June 15, 2016