Have Gender Roles in the Family Changed?

Aug 8, 2012 by

Gender roles in the family were pretty much set in stone back in the fifties, but times change. . .or do they? The Council on Contemporary Families did a study on gender roles and equality in family life for their upcoming conference and the results might surprise you.

** Does marital quality decrease when couples need to negotiate the division of household chores and child-care?

Researchers and clinical psychologists Philip and Carolyn Cowan report that marriages suffer most when couples fail to talk through these thorny issues. On average, having a child leads to a long-term decline in marital satisfaction. But couples who have more egalitarian relationships can avoid these problems, first when they jointly plan for and welcome the birth of a child, and second, when they minimize the tendency to slip into more traditional gender roles after the child’s birth. Still, the closer couples move toward equality, report conference presenters Marc and Amy Vachon, the less likely they are to focus on quantifying who does which chores.

** Women feel more work-family conflict than men, right?

Not any longer. A just-released report from the Families and Work Institute, “Times Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and at Home,” shows that as men have increased the amount of time they spend with young children over the past 15 years, they are now experiencing more work-family conflict than women.

** What’s Happening to the Traditional Double Standard?

It’s been to a great extent reversed in middle school, according to researcher Barbara Risman. Forty-five years ago, studies showed that the school culture was suppressing girls’ natural talents and aspirations by the time they entered middle school. At age 10 or 11, girls stopped speaking up in class and even started “playing dumb” to attract boys. They often chose not to compete in sports or to develop their bodies for fear of being teased as tomboys. Risman’s new study of middle-school children in the 21st Century shows a remarkable reversal of this pattern. Being a top-flight athlete is now considered part of the “ideal” girl package, and girls are very willing to compete with boys in the classroom. Today it is young boys who are afraid of showing off how smart they are and who feel they have to suppress their interest in certain activities for fear of being taunted as “gay.”

**But the double standard is still alive and well in college, says Stanford University researcher Paula England.

While women have gained some sexual freedoms, they risk harsher judgments than men do if they proceed beyond “making out” in a hook up. And when activity does progress beyond making out, there is a striking “orgasm gap” between males and females — it is worse than the sex gap in pay! “Men get more than their share of the orgasms while women get more than their share of the bad reputations,” notes England, who is currently interviewing students across the country about changing sexual practices and norms.

In still more data-driven observations from family experts, you can learn about important and surprising research on family, gender, economics, and sexuality from the past year. The report is available through the Council’s website, www.contemporaryfamilies.org.

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