UPDATE: This piece is now cross-posted with small revisions on Girl w/ Pen! Check it out here.
The Council on Contemporary Families published a report this week suggesting the gender revolution has rebounded. Using data from the General Social Survey (GSS), sociologists Cotter, Hermsen, and Vanneman provided an update on public attitudes about gender. As a rookie sociologist (i.e. lowly graduate student), this seemed like a great opportunity to try my hand at replicating and extending their sociological research by looking at American high school students' attitudes about gender. This is an important population to study because scholars who study adult attitudes may be capturing changes in respondents' post hoc justifications for their behavior as a result of confronting resistant social structures and adulthood realities.
I used data from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a survey given annually to a nationally representative group of American 12th grade students. Three of the four egalitarian attitude variables in the GSS are also available from MTF and are asked in the same manner (FECHLD, FEPRESCH, and FEFAM). Whereas the answers in the GSS included a four-point agreement scale, in MTF, the respondents could answer on a five-point agreement scale: disagree, mostly disagree, neither, mostly agree, and agree. The fourth variable (FEPOL) regarding attitudes about female politicians was worded differently than the GSS on the MTF surveys: Women should be considered as seriously as men for jobs as executives or politicians. In a previous class, I replicated Cotter and colleagues original publication so I feel reasonably confident that methodological differences are not contaminating my results.
I charted the four MTF variables below. Noticeably, the question on women in politics is an outlier and remains consistently high over time. Agreement that working moms have warm relationships with kids was consistently higher than average agreement in the GSS by about 10%. Disagreement that preschoolers suffer when mothers work began at about 30% agreement and has risen to about 65% agreement for both GSS and MTF respondents.
Most interestingly, disagreement with the statement that it's better if a man works and the woman takes care of the home peaked in the 1990s at about 70% and has declined to 60% disagreement by 2012. This pattern is noticeably different than that of the averages for the population in the GSS. Today, 12th graders are less likely to disagree with these stereotypical gender roles than the general population. In 2012, 60% of MTF respondents disagreed with the statement compared to about 70% of GSS takers.
In the updated report by Cotter and colleagues, the scale stalled out through the 1990s and early 2000s but started to pick up again by 2006. However, the youth scale presented below shows a continued stall. From the graph above, we can see that attitudes on women in leadership positions has remained high over time so it's not accounting for any changes. It seems that the increase in agreement that men should work and women should take care of the home is off setting the rise in egalitarian attitudes measured by the other two variables.
Following Cotter and colleagues report, I also graphed the index by sex. Similar to that of the adult population, women persistently show more egalitarian attitudes than men in the MTF data. These differences also are consistent over time, with both stalling in the early 1990s.
I skipped replicating the gender attitudes scale by political ideology because of the large number of respondents who answered "I don't know". In place of replicating the trends by education (as all of the MTF respondents are currently 12th graders), I took a look at the scale by their mother's education. They all increased their gender ideology over time and showed remarkably similar patterns.
Overall, the 12th graders show some different patterns in gender role attitudes than the greater population. Notably, youth do not show a resurgence in disagreement that it's better for men to work and for women to take care of the home. This is especially puzzling given their high agreement that women should be considered for leadership positions. Speculatively, youth express commitment to equality but simultaneously pair these egalitarian attitudes with beliefs about stereotypical gender roles. Thus, women are viewed as peers in entering the work force, but continue to be responsible for labor at home. On the other hand, there does seem to be a persistent increase in youth agreement that working mothers do not harm children.
The Millennial generation is certainly one to watch. As noted by Cotter and colleagues, their egalitarianism is high. However, their egalitarian ideology is not consistently increasing over time. I'm not yet convinced that the stall in the gender revolution is over.