Why Fathers Who Split The Housework Raise Ambitious Girls

When men do traditional "women's work" at home their daughters are more likely to consider broader career goals, a new study reports.

Dads who do the laundry are influencing the next generation of female leaders.

Mom can lean in as much as she wants, but when a girl sees her dad shouldering more of the housework, she begins to see the world differently, according to new research.

The study, from the University of British Columbia, shows the connection between parents who share chores, and what girls want to be when they grow up.

"Even when fathers publicly endorsed gender equality, if they retained a traditional division of labor at home, their daughters were more likely to envision themselves in traditionally female-dominant jobs, such as nurse, teacher, librarian, or stay-at-home-mom," reports the Association for Physiological Science.

Through interviews with 326 children, ages 7 to 13, and at least one of their parents, researchers determined the parents' stereotypic leanings, division of chores and paid work, and the kids' career aspirations. Not surprisingly, women bore most of the housework, and both adults and children supported that stereotype.

What is surprising, however, are two main findings:

  • Girls self-stereotyped more than boys when it came to family life.
  • Boys are more stereotypical about occupational aspirations.

Girls seem to grow up sensitive to societal expectations, and are aware of the roles they'd be expected to take—mother, wife, housekeeper—and the "second shift" that comes with it. According to the study:

In each case, only daughters’ and not sons’ aspirations were predicted by their fathers’ variables. Daughters reported aspiring toward more stereotypic future occupations to the degree that their fathers:

  • a) explicitly endorsed a traditional division of household tasks
  • b) had stronger implicit associations of women with home and men with work
  • c) reported contributing less to household tasks and childcare

This is the first researched evidence that fathers shape their daughters’ aspirations not only uniquely, but even more strongly than their mothers—even when she’s the traditional primary caregiver and gender-role model.

The study offers several explanations for these findings. Speaking in heteronormative terms, fathers may model their daughters’ future husbands, and set expectations for young women to seek partners who also pick up a vacuum, do the dishes, and know how to work a washing machine.

It could also be mere proximity: Men who spend more time with their families have more opportunity to shape their child’s goals. If Dad is a white-collar guy who comes home to fold towels, he’s modeling work-life balance for his kids, and potentially sharing insights on his career pursuits with the whole family.

Fathers who work more around the house may be married to women who work more outside of it; the dynamic is different at its foundation, and children likely pick up on that as they age in a world that would have them slotted into gender roles.

No matter the reasons, fathers act as “gatekeepers,” the study says, for their daughters’ expectations of the future.

Alyssa Croft, the study’s author and PhD candidate in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychology, discusses the research and findings, here:

“These findings are important because despite our best efforts to try and create gender-egalitarian workplaces, women are still under-represented in leadership and management positions,” Croft says.

“So this study suggests that by creating gender-egalitarian domestic roles, we might then inspire little girls to pursue some of those careers where they might traditionally have been excluded.”

[Image via Shutterstock]

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