May 28, 2014 at 11:00 AM ET
Dads, here’s another reason to chip in on the household chores. Fathers who help with cooking, cleaning, laundry and child care are more likely to raise daughters who aspire to less traditional — and potentially higher paying — careers, according to a new study.
In other words, what dads do rather than what they say may influence how their children, especially daughters, envision the future.
“Kids might be picking up their stereotypes about gender behaviors based on what their fathers are modeling,” said Alyssa Croft, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of British Columbia Department of Psychology.
For her research, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, Croft looked at 326 children ages 7 to 13 and at least one of their parents. Researchers calculated the division of chores and paid labor in each household and determined the career stereotypes that participants identified with, their attitudes on gender and work attitudes and children’s career aspirations.
While mothers’ beliefs were key in predicting kids’ overall attitudes toward gender and work, fathers’ participation in household chores was the strongest predictor of their daughters’ career ambitions. Even when fathers said they supported gender equality, but still retained a traditional division of labor at home, their daughters were more likely to envision themselves in traditionally female-dominant jobs such as teacher, nurse, librarian or stay-at-home-mom.
“We were surprised by this sort of unique gatekeeper role that fathers might be playing in their daughter’s career aspirations,” Croft said.
“It’s almost a cautionary tale: Walking the walk and talking the talk on gender equality.”
Adrian Kulp, a writer and stay-at-home dad, was surprised that the division of household labor is still so lopsided.
"I feel like 'helping out with household chores' sounds so 1950," he said. "These aren't chores, these are vital cogs that are required to keep the machine moving.
"My wife works in a high-level executive capacity, while I maintain the kids' schedules, handle the housework and work a full-time writing job on the side," he said. "And even when my wife comes home after working an 11-hour day, we still divide and conquer together."
Women still are underrepresented in management and leadership roles, and they make up less than a third of senior management across North America, Croft said. Perhaps by creating a more equal distribution of labor at home, parents can inspire girls to pursue their full career potential.
Interestingly, boys’ career choices were less influenced by their parents’ contribution to household chores. For example, Croft said that boys might answer that they want to grow up to be a firefighter no matter who does the majority of the housework.
Numerous studies have found that women still shoulder more of the housework burden than men.
“On the one hand, it is promising that dads' involvement in household chores enables their daughter's to aspire to ‘male’ jobs, which are generally more highly remunerated and more socially respected,” said Elizabeth McClintock, a sociology professor at University of Notre Dame who was not involved in the study. “On the other hand ... relatively few men share housework equally with their female partners. That suggests that, unfortunately, most girls in America are growing up without the benefit of a father who helps out at home.”