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Gender Role Ideology

Gender role ideology refers to attitudes regarding the appropriate roles, rights, and responsibilities of women and men in society. The concept can reflect these attitudes generally or in a specific domain, such as an economic, familial, legal, political, and/or social domain. Most gender ideology constructs are unidimensional and range from traditional, conservative, or anti-feminist to egalitarian, liberal, or feminist. Traditional gender ideologies emphasize the value of distinctive roles for women and men. According to a traditional gender ideology about the family, for example, men fulfill their family roles through instrumental, breadwinning activities and women fulfill their roles through nurturant, homemaker, and parenting activities. Egalitarian ideologies regarding the family, by contrast, endorse and value men’s and women’s shared breadwinning and nurturant family roles.

Gender ideology also sometimes refers to widespread societal beliefs that legitimate gender inequality. Used in this way, gender ideology is not a variable that ranges from liberal to conservative; instead it refers to a specific type of belief -those that support gender stratification. Gender ideology in the remainder of this summary refers to the first sense of the concept – attitudes that vary from conservative to liberal.

Sociologists’ interest in measuring gender ideology can be traced at least as far back as the 1930s, with the development of instruments such as Kirkpatrick’s 1936 Attitudes Toward Feminism scale. Interest continues today, and currently most major national surveys in the USA, such as the General Social Survey (GSS) and the National Survey of Families and Households, include gender ideology scales. The most common technique for measuring gender ideology is a summated rating scale in which respondents are presented with a statement and given three to seven response options that vary from strong agreement to strong disagreement. The following statement from the GSS is illustrative: It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.”

Researchers have examined the correlates, causes, and consequences of individuals’ gender ideology. Within the USA, the documented antecedents include gender and birth cohort, with males and earlier cohorts reporting more conservative attitudes than females and later cohorts. Among women, labor force participation and educational attainment decrease conservatism. More generally, conservative gender ideologies are positively related to church attendance, fundamentalism, literal interpretations of the Bible and are negatively related to education, family income, parents’ gender liberalism, and women’s labor force participation (whether self, spouse, or mother). In addition, liberalism is positively related to married men’s housework and child care contributions and negatively related to women’s housework contributions.

Cross-national research has also shown that gender ideology is related to women’s political representation. Using the World Values Survey, which includes individual level information on gender attitudes in 46 countries in 1995, Paxton and Kunovich (2003) showed that a conservative gender ideology is negatively related to the percentage of female members in the national legislature of a country even when controlling for political and social-structural factors.

Bibliography:

  1. Beere, C. A. (1990) Gender Roles: A Handbook of Tests and Measures. Greenwood Press, New York.
  2. Brooks, C. & Bolzendahl, C. (2004). The transformation of US gender role attitudes: cohort replacement, social-structural change, and ideological learning. Social Science Research 33, 106-33.
  3. Paxton, P. & Kunovich, S. (2003). Women’s political representation: the importance of ideology. Social Forces 82: 87-114.

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