The Impact of Parental Marital Status on Gender Ideology

By Alexandra G. Kissling
2012, Vol. 4 No. 08 | pg. 2/2 |


Study Population

In order to get a study sample, I used snowball and convenience sampling. I sent the survey to about 50 people, and asked that whoever was interested send the survey on to more people. I made an online version of the survey, to make it easier for people to send out. The interviews were conducted at various homes, and places around the University of Cincinnati, for the convenience of the interviewee. 56 people participated in the survey, and 5 people participated in the interview.

The sample was 89% white, and the rest was made up of black and Asian people. The sample was 40% male and 60% female. Most of the sample surveyed was single, never married (39%), and 23% is in a relationship but not living together. 81% of the participants had some college education. The sample was 33% catholic, 11% other Christian, 39% Atheist and other.

Data Collection

I used a survey in order to gather a lot of general information about people. When I sent out the survey, I included the consent form with it, to make sure that the participants understood the purpose of my research, and to protect them. The data collection was performed by me, and I used online spreadsheets to organize the responses.

Survey Form

The survey was made up of three parts. The first part asked for demographic information. The second part asked about gender ideology. The participant was expected to respond to a statement with an answer from the scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). Based on their responses, I determined their gender ideology. The third part asked about marital intentions, intentions about having children, and feelings on the importance of work outside the home. This form of data collection is helpful in order to get the feelings of a wide number of people on a variety of topics. It forced people to make choices, and answer questions on the importance of different factors. The surveys were analyzed using frequency tables and descriptive statistics.

Interview Form

The interview guide included questions about family, importance of gender, perception of where gender ideology came from, and feelings on divorce. This choice of methods was good, because the participants were able to talk about the subject of divorce in depth. Divorce evokes strong feelings which can best be articulated in an interview, so that respondents can use their own words. The interviews were recorded, and then transcribed. Responses to the questions were coded in order to identify salient themes.

Identifying Gender Ideology

In order to measure gender ideology, I decided to look for themes within the interviews. These themes were coded, and I judged the gender ideology of the participants based on the themes. In the surveys I measured gender ideology by using the scale of strongly agree, agree, no opinion, disagree and strongly disagree. Strongly agree and agree usually signified being egalitarian (though there were a few questions that meant the opposite), whereas disagree and strongly disagree signified traditional. Transitional was a mixture.

Limitations and Challenges

I had a difficult time recruiting people to the study that were not my friends, though having friends participate in the study made the interview rapport easier. This lead to my sample being mostly white people in college. I picked an age range that I knew was accessible to me, which was helpful.


Of my whole sample, including both those with married and divorced parents, 82.1% of the sample was egalitarian. The sample of respondents with divorced parents was 100% egalitarian. There were no traditional or transition respondents from the sample with divorced parents. The sample of respondents with married parents were 15.5% transitional, 5.2% traditional and 79.3% egalitarian. In all cases, those whom I coded transitional were done so because they believed that children are under the best care with their mother, but other household duties should be split between the husband and the wife. All traditional respondents were male, with married parents. This is not surprising, as being traditional is likely to benefit them.

The reactions to parents as models were mixed. 14% strongly disagreed, 26% disagreed, 28% no opinion, 23% agreed, and 7% strongly agree. Of the sample with divorced parents, 88.88% either strongly disagreed or disagreed with seeing their parents as models for parenting behavior.

In the interviews, the most important distinction I found was that those with divorced parents stressed the importance of independence. Those with married parents stressed the importance of working collectively. When asked to describe her ideal marriage, a interviewee with divorced parents said, “For me, I'm a traveler. I need time and space from whomever I'm with. So as long as each partner has their own autonomy, and has really great communication, where each person continues to learn about each other as time progresses, and they both allow for independent thought, independent ideologies.” This independence includes spatial, mental, and financial independence. Another interviewee with divorced parents told me a story about a friend being upset that she and her husband didn’t share a bank account. The interviewee said, “I feel like wanting to keep our money separate is not saying that I do not trust you. It's saying, ‘This is my money, that is your money. We can have a joint account where we pay bills that affect both of us. But the money you spend and the money I spend should not come from the same pot’.” The respondents with married parents felt entirely differently about the subject. An interviewee who had a stay at home mom talked about how his parents negotiated spending money. “It's fairly balanced. If there is a reason to get something, they are going to get it. It doesn't matter who makes the money and who wants it.” The same respondent also recalled the collective effort by his family to make the household work. He has 4 brothers, all fairly close in age to him, so they often contributed to the household as well.

Everyone in the interviews noted the importance of communication. Even those whose parents are divorced said that keeping up great communication was important to maintaining a healthy relationship. Also all of the interviewees noted that they didn’t want to rush in to anything with marriage or kids. They felt that their peers who were getting married or having children were the ones rushing them into an “adult” lifestyle. This seemed to be part of the communication issue that everyone mentioned, because many spoke about how men and women have different marital intentions, and that one partner might be rushing the other one in to marriage. An interviewee when asked about her feelings on marriage said very bluntly “Don’t marry an idiot.” She followed that up with, “Three months is not long enough to know if you are going to love someone for the rest of your life. You can get divorced if you want. I don’t want to, and I’m hoping that it doesn’t happen.”

Four out of five interviewees did not want to emulate the relationships of their parents. They felt that they can take away important lessons on what they should do in their marriage, and what they shouldn’t. When talking about her parents one respondent said, “I feel like, ‘You are being so dumb. You are saying the same thing and arguing about it. I don’t understand why that is happening’.

All of the interviewees agreed with the concept of the “stay at home dad.” I interviewed 3 women and 2 men, and both of the men were very adamant that they would love to be a stay at home dad. One said, “Yeah, definitely. That'd be awesome. If it were possible for my wife to have a job where she could pay for all of the family expenses, which I know is becoming less and less common, where one of the spouses makes all the money, if that were possible, I would do that.” They didn’t feel that it was emasculating, but both thought that they might have difficultly explaining it to male family members, whom they considered to be more traditional. All of the women planned to work, and would be comfortable having a man stay at home with the kids, as long as he put in the work. One in particular noted that there is a difference between a stay at home dad and an unemployed dad.

Discussion and Conclusion

Overall, the information gathered from the surveys seemed to support my hypothesis as well as the literature. The divorced sample was more egalitarian, but the married sample not much different, because it was largely egalitarian too. This confirms Bohannon and Blanton’s (1999) work on egalitarian gender attitudes since the 1970s. The sample with divorced parents is completely female, as were the two interviewees with divorced parents. This could make a difference, because women are more likely to be egalitarian (Moen, Erickson & McClain, 1997). Most of the participants in the surveys, and all of the interviewees attend college, which Fan (2000) says gives women, as well as men, egalitarian attitudes.

Those with divorced parents stressed independence in a marriage. This is probably because single parents are put into the position of being independent from a marital partner, and they show their kids that being independent can be a good thing. A large part of the discussion on independence involved money. Since single parents are raising kids on one income, this suggests that they might have less money to go around. When their children get older, they might hope to keep it separate in order to save more. Also, both interviewee mentioned that their parents had a messy divorce when it came to separating banking accounts, how much one person owed the other one, and whether or not the money combined during their marriage should be evenly split. Those with divorced parents having strong views on independence could suggest that they have weakened marital ties, as Miles and Seib (2010) suggested. It could also mean that they don’t have as much implicit trust in relationships, and require that trust and loyalty to be proven. My findings concurred with those of Kapinus (2004), saying that those with divorced parents see divorce as a option, whereas those with married parents don’t as much. Knowing this information about a future marital partner is important, because independence might be read as having one foot out the door already. People getting married need to talk about this, so that they can prevent future problems, and potential self-fulfilling prophecies.

Egalitarian attitudes about childcare likely contribute to the opinion that stay at home dads are an option. This contradicts Moen, Erickson and McClain. When they did their work in 1997, they felt that people were more egalitarian because they supported women working, but not an equal division of household labor. Opinions could have changed since then. Maybe the stay at home dad is one step closer to an equal division of labor.

Because my results on modeling parental attitudes spanned a wide range, I was not able to conclude anything significant. In the interviews I did, only one person felt that his parents should be modeled, but even he had doubts about whether he could replicate his family’s success. He felt like his parents had done a good job raising him, and it was more about imparting the same values than doing the same actions.


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Bohannon, J. R., & Blanton, P. W. (1999). Gender role attitudes of american mothers and daughters over time. Journal of Social Psychology, 139(2), 173-179.

Cunningham, M. (2001). The influence of parental attitudes and behaviors on children's attitudes toward gender and household labor in early adulthood. Journal of Marriage & Family, 63(1), 111.

Kapinus, C. A. (2004). The effect of parents' attitudes toward divorce on offspring's attitudes: Gender and parental divorce as mediating factors. Journal of Family Issues, 25(1), 112-135.

Kiecolt, K. J., & Acock, A. C. (1988). The long-term effects of family structure on gender-role attitudes. Journal of Marriage & Family, 50(3), 709-717.

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