Published: April 23, 2020

A new Life Course Centre Working Paper investigates the impact of intergenerational family influences on Australian adolescents’ gender role attitudes.

Previous studies have identified other critical predictors of gender role attitudes, such as religion, education, and parenthood, but intergenerational influences have received little attention to date. This study finds substantial correlations in gender role attitudes between parents and their children. While fathers’ attitudes influence the attitudes of their sons and daughters equally, mothers’ attitudes influence their daughters more than their sons – highlighting the important role of mothers in the gender socialisation of their daughters. Significantly, the study also finds that when one parent holds egalitarian gender role attitudes (regardless of that parent’s gender), the influence of the other parent’s attitudes on the child is diminished. In other words, egalitarianism appears to trump traditionalism when there is parental disagreement on gender role attitudes.

The Working Paper utilises data from a national sample of Australian 14 and 15-year-old adolescents (Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children) and is authored by Associate Professor Francisco Perales, Heidi Hoffmann and Professor Janeen Baxter from the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland in conjunction with Dr Tania King from the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne and Dr Sergi Vidal from the Centre for Demographic Studies at the University of Barcelona. The study adds important new knowledge to our understanding of how attitudes about the roles of men and women in society are transmitted within families, and in turn how they can contribute to the reproduction of gender inequalities.

The paper’s findings provide strong, contemporary evidence that family influences play a pivotal role in the maintenance of the status quo regarding traditional gender role attitudes. However, the study also provides a glimpse of hope – egalitarianism is “intergenerationally stickier” than traditionalism, and we may expect steady, though perhaps slow, movement towards more gender-egalitarian societies. “Further, if reducing gender biases in contemporary societies is a policy goal, then our findings indicate that interventions that target parents will have significant flow-on effects for the next generation,” the paper concludes.

Read the full Working Paper, ‘Mothers, Fathers and the Intergenerational Transmission of Gender Role Attitudes’, here.