Note: The full study is now attached to this story
Maybe you've told your daughter she can grow up to be an engineer or CEO if she wants to, but she may not really believe it if her dad doesn't cook or clean, a new study suggests.
A group of psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that when a father performs a greater share of traditionally female household chores such as cooking, cleaning and childcare, his school-aged daughter is less likely to say she wants to pursue a stereotypical female career such as nursing, teaching or staying at home with the kids, and more likely to aspire to more gender-neutral (and often higher-paying) careers, such as becoming a doctor or lawyer.
A mother's stated views on gender equality were linked to her children's views. However, a father's share of housework made a difference even if both he and the girl's mother explicitly endorse gender equality, reported the study that will be published in the journal Psychological Science this week.
Boys tended to choose gender-stereotyped careers regardless of their father's role at home.
"What this is suggesting is that when girls, specifically, are seeing their parents enacting a traditional division of labour at home, it may be limiting their own ambition," said Alyssa Croft, a PhD candidate who was the lead author of the study, in an interview with CBC News.
"It may just be restricting what they see themselves as capable of doing.… You may not realize how much kids are watching and observing and taking in beyond just what we're telling them."
Croft acknowledged that researchers don't know how the career aspirations of the children will be linked to what they end up doing when they grow up. However, she said they are a good indication of how children see themselves in the context of gender roles.
Actions speak louder than words
She said the effects seen in the study of 326 children aged seven to 13 and their parents were "definitely very significant, meaningful effects."
She advised parents to be aware of how they're dividing their labour at home, if they say they believe in gender equality and really do believe in it.
Croft said she undertook the study because most previous studies about children's gender stereotypes look mainly at the role of their parents' jobs. She thought what parents do around the house might be more important, since children were more likely to see that.
To find out, she ran a series of tests on children recruited at Science World in Vancouver, along with at least one of their parents. For example, some part of the tests included descriptions of two people — one with more gender stereotypical characteristics and one with less — and asked the participant which one he or she was more like.
In a video interview produced by UBC, Croft said she thinks the findings of the study are important because "despite our best efforts to try and create gender egalitarian workplaces, women are still underrepresented in leadership and management positions." She added that the study suggests equality at home may inspire girls to pursue careers that they have traditionally been excluded from.
According to Statistics Canada's 2010 General Social Survey on Time Use, Canadian women at the time of survey spent, on average, four hours and 38 minutes on unpaid work per day — one hour and 13 minutes more than men. The unpaid work included household work, child care, and civic and voluntary activities. The difference was particularly big for child care, where women spent more than twice as much time as men, regardless of the child's age. For example, women spent an average of six hours and 33 minutes a day on children under the age of four, while men spent just three hours and seven minutes.