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Joanna Pepin

Research Findings

Youths’ gender attitudes maintain the status quo

March 10, 2020

Since the mid-twentieth century, women have entered the labor market in droves and now make up over half of the paid workforce. Still, women do a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare, despite their increasing hours spent in the labor force. Both academic research and public sentiment suggest that most people support gender equality and we just need workplace policies to catch up. But what if workplace policies are not the only barrier to progress?

Our new study in Sociological Science finds that fewer young people desire gender egalitarian arrangements—equal earning and caring roles for men and women—than conventional wisdom presumes. We analyzed almost 40 years of Monitoring the Future data to examine trends in young peoples’ division of labor preferences, an indicator of beliefs about appropriate roles for men and women in both work and family contexts.

Our study differs from prior research by evaluating perceptions of both women and men’s behavior in work and family contexts. Each year, high school seniors were instructed to imagine they were married and have one or more pre-school children. They then evaluated six distinct division of labor arrangements as not at all acceptable, somewhat acceptable, acceptable, or desirable for their future selves. This data enabled us to evaluate whose employment was prioritized, not just tolerated.

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