Gender inequality is a persistent issue in Aotearoa New Zealand. Underpinning it are conscious and subconscious attitudes towards and expectations of men and women. To help break the cycle of potentially harmful gender inequalities, it is important to understand how gender stereotyping is learned and passed on to new generations.
This paper investigates the intergenerational transmission of gender attitudes and inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand from parents to their young children. We explore whether the parenting of boy and girl children differs in such a way that perpetuates traditional Western gender stereotypes and gendered expectations, and for which groups gendered parenting is most prevalent.
We use exploratory factor analysis to group together similar parenting behaviour survey questions and run OLS regressions of parental behaviour on the child’s sex assigned at birth for mothers and fathers separately. We run the regressions pooling ethnicities and disaggregated by ethnicity. We then run three sets of interaction regressions, interacting the child’s birth sex with a measure of within-couple parental gender inequality, a measure of each parent’s absolute socioeconomic inequality, and an indicator of parents’ migrant status. The developmental psychology literature does not support that there are any biological differences between the behaviour of boys and that of girls at the ages we consider. However, influences outside the home may encourage different behaviour in boys and girls, and the resulting behavioural differences may make parents treat the sexes differently. We refer to such parenting differences as child-driven, and distinguish them conceptually from parent-driven differences, which result from gendered parental preferences or expectations of boy versus girl children, likely influenced by society’s gendered structural constraints. We use two main approaches to help distinguish parent-driven from child-driven mechanisms.
First, we explore a range of parental behaviours, some of which are less likely to be affected by the child’s behaviour, such as the values that parents think are most important for their child’s development.
Second, we look at the heterogeneity in gendered parenting by whether the father has higher socioeconomic status than the mother, which we consider a traditional Western relationship. We use parents’ traditional versus non-traditional relationships status as a proxy for their own beliefs about gender roles and gendered expectations. We hypothesise parents in traditional relationships are more likely to treat children of different sexes differently in ways that perpetuate traditional Western gender stereotypes than are parents in non-traditional relationships. Testing this hypothesis sheds light on the extent to which parents’ own experience shapes their parenting of boy versus girl children, and hence reveals information about the intergenerational transmission of gender norms and attitudes from parents to children.
The study found some evidence of intergenerational transmission of gender stereotypes and gender expectations, but overall parents do treat boy and girl children similarly. Differences detected in parenting by gender were not large enough to explain the persistent gender inequality evident between adults in Aotearoa New Zealand. The research suggests that external structural factors outside parents’ control likely play a primary role in perpetuating potentially harmful gender inequalities.
Parents’ attitudes and behaviours alone cannot end the cycle of harmful gender inequalities, particularly since they are often pressured to parent within society’s gendered structural constrains. Gender inequalities are slow to change largely because of the gendered nature of broad, persistent social factors.
The researchers suggest that structural changes required to eliminate gender inequality are likely to be multi-faceted and fall in a wide range of areas including education and employment, as well as requiring a shift in societal attitudes, which individuals learn from many places, parents being just one.