Gender ideology and gender role ideology refer to attitudes regarding the appropriate roles, rights, and responsibilities of women and men in society. The concept can reflect these attitudes generally or in a specific domain, such as an economic, familial, legal, political, and/or social domain. Most gender ideology constructs are unidimensional and range from traditional, conservative, or anti-feminist to egalitarian, liberal, or feminist. Traditional gender ideologies emphasize the value of distinctive roles for women and men. According to a traditional gender ideology about the family, for example, men fulfill their family roles through instrumental, breadwinning activities and women fulfill their roles through nurturant, homemaker, and parenting activities. Egalitarian ideologies regarding the family, by contrast, endorse and value men’s and women’s equal and shared breadwinning and nurturant family roles.
Gender ideology also sometimes refers to widespread societal beliefs that legitimate gender inequality. For example, Lorber (1994: 30) defines gender ideology as ‘‘the justification of gender statuses, particularly, their differential evaluation. The dominant ideology tends to suppress criticism by making these evaluations seem natural.’’ Used in this way, gender ideology is not a variable that ranges from conservative to liberal; instead, it refers to specific types of beliefs – those that support gender stratification. Gender ideology in the remainder of this summary refers to the first sense of the concept: attitudes that vary from conservative to liberal.
Sociologists’ interest in measuring gender ideology can be traced at least as far back as the 1930s, with the development of instruments such as Kirkpatrick’s 1936 Attitudes Toward Feminism scale. Interest continues today, and currently most major national surveys in the US, such as the General Social Survey (GSS) and the National Survey of Families and Households, include gender ideology scales. Two volumes by Carole Beere (1979, 1990) summarize the psychometric properties and past uses of most gender ideology instruments developed through 1988.
The most common technique for measuring gender ideology is a summated rating scale in which respondents are presented with a statement and given three to seven response options that vary from strong agreement to strong disagreement. The following statement from the GSS is illustrative: ‘‘It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.’’ Other measurement techniques include Guttman scales, Thurstone measures, identity vignettes in which respondents rate their similarity to fictional characters, and intensive, open ended interviews.
Researchers have examined the correlates, causes, and consequences of individuals’ gender ideology. Within the US the documented antecedents include gender and birth cohort, with males and earlier cohorts reporting more conservative attitudes than females and later cohorts. Among women, labor force participation and educational attainment decrease conservatism. More generally, conservative gender ideologies are positively related to church attendance, fundamentalism, and literal interpretations of the Bible, and negatively related to education, family income, parents’ gender liberalism, and women’s labor force participation (whether self, spouse, or mother).
Other correlates and consequences of gender ideological positions have also been studied. Liberalism is positively related to married men’s housework and childcare contributions and negatively related to women’s housework contributions. Yet gender ideology is unrelated to the affective meanings (goodness, power, activity) associated with most social roles (e.g., a husband, a wife) and self-meanings (e.g., myself as a husband) among individuals of the same sex, suggesting that gender ideology does not affect perceptions of most social roles or self-meanings within those roles.
Researchers have also investigated the way that gender ideology shapes spouses’ perceptions of their marriage. Liberalism reduces women’s perceived marital quality but increases men’s. Women’s gender ideology also moderates the relationship between housework divisions and perceptions of fairness in housework divisions: as women’s gender ideology becomes more liberal, the negative relationship between housework inequities and perceptions of house work fairness becomes stronger. Women’s liberalism also increases the positive relationship between perceived fairness in housework and marital stability.
Researchers have recently begun to examine discrepancies between gender ideological positions and self-identification with feminism. Schnittker, Freese, and Powell (2003) show a cohort effect in the US such that self-identification with feminism is most strongly related to liberal gender ideologies for males and females who were young adults during the second wave of feminism. In addition, Klute et al. (2002) have applied Melvin Kohn’s ideas to gender ideology. They found that self-direction at work is positively related to values emphasizing self-direction rather than conformity, and that spouses who value self-direction are also more likely to hold egalitarian attitudes about marital roles. Thus, workplace experiences may have an indirect effect on gender ideologies through the values that they foster.
Cross national research has also shown that gender ideology is also related to women’s political representation. Using the World Values Survey, which includes individual level information on gender attitudes in 46 countries in 1995, Paxton and Kunovich (2003) showed that a conservative gender ideology is negatively related to the percentage of female members in the national legislature of a country even when controlling for political and social structural factors.
- Amato, R. & Booth, A. (1995) Changes in Gender Role Attitudes and Perceived Marital Quality. American Sociological Review 60: 58-66.
- Beere, A. (1990) Gender Roles: A Handbook of Tests and Measures. Greenwood Press, New York.
- Greenstein, N. (1996) Gender Ideology and Perceptions of the Fairness of the Division of House- hold Labor: Effects on Marital Quality. Social Forces 74: 1029-42.
- Kane, E. (2000) Racial and Ethnic Variations in Gender-Related Attitudes. Annual Review of Sociology 26: 419.
- Klute, M., Crouter, A. C., Sayer, A. G., & McHale, S. M. (2002) Occupational Self-Direction, Values, and Egalitarian Relationships: A Study of Dual-Earner Couples. Journal of Marriage and Family 64: 139-51.
- Kroska, (2002) Does Gender Ideology Matter? Examining the Relationship between Gender Ideology and Self- and Partner-Meanings. Social Psychology Quarterly 65: 248-65.
- Lorber, (1994) Paradoxes of Gender. Yale University Press, New Haven.
- Meyers, M. & Booth, A. (2002) Forerunners of Change in Nontraditional Gender Ideology. Social Psychology Quarterly 65: 18-37.
- Paxton, P. & Kunovich, (2003) Women’s Political Representation: The Importance of Ideology. Social Forces 82: 87-114.
- Schnittker, , Freese, J., & Powell, B. (2003) Who are Feminists and What Do They Believe? The Role of Generations. American Sociological Review 68: 607 22.
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