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Study: Parents More Accepting of Gender Roles

Men and women affirm more traditional family values after the birth of their first child, according to a study released this week.

The study’s author, Australian professor and social scientist Janeen Baxter, describes the results as problematic—evidence of men and women conforming to sexist gender roles—in a post on the Child and Family Blog. She notes the study, first published in the journal Social Forces, found men and women grow “more traditional” about mothering, housework, and caregiving after the birth of their first child, a shift that should “concern policy makers.”

Baxter rejects the notion of God-given gender roles, instead arguing societal structure is to blame. The report contends societal pressure to adopt traditional roles leaves “reluctant” mothers with less opportunity to rethink a responsibility that might not fit her family, and forces “enthusiastic” fathers to fight for opportunities to be involved with their children.

However, the general public is more divided than Baxter seems to acknowledge, still wrestling with the benefits and drawbacks of two-income homes. A 2013 Pew Research Center study found while most U.S. adults acknowledge the economic benefits of both parents working, nearly three-quarters say the number of women working for pay has made it harder for families to raise children.

In Baxter’s study, 1,800 parents were read a series of statements before and after the birth of their first child. The statements reflected positions on motherhood, the division of housework, and childcare. Overall, the study found attitudes among men and women are becoming less supportive of traditional gender roles over time. However after the birth of a first child, both men and women, but especially men, were more likely to agree that mothers should work only if they need the money, children should not be in childcare for long periods of time, and a working mother is less able to bond with her child than a mom who stays at home.

U.S. adults exhibit similar attitudes about families and parenting. Pew found that 51 percent of adults still believe children are better off if their mother is home full-time, compared to 34 percent who said children are just as well if their mother works, and another 13 percent who said it depends on the circumstances.

— by Kiley Crossland