SOCIALIZATION AND GENDER ROLES WITHIN THE FAMILY:
A STUDY ON ADOLESCENTS AND THEIR PARENTS IN GREAT
Isabella Crespi (email@example.com)
Department of Sociology, Catholic University of Milan, Italy
symbolic dimension of the relationship between
parents and children. More precisely I intend to address
The way we are, behave and think is the final
the following questions:
product of socialization. Since the moment we are
 what are the patterns of association between socio-
born, we are being moulded into the being society
economic conditions and parents’ gender attitude?
wants us to be. Through socialization we also learn
 what are the direct impacts of parents’ gender
what is appropriate and improper for both genders.
attitude on the young, taking into account the latter’s
The vast literature on this topic has pointed out a
consolidation of the debate. It allows us to identify
Using survey data, I will show different behaviours and
strategies, among parents and sons.
important problematic bonds relative to the
achievement of their gender identity throughout
their adolescence and to build reciprocity and
1 SOCIETY AND GENDER
complementarities between the sexes and the
valorisation of fundamental contexts such as family.
Socialization is a relational process between
According to psychologists such as Sandra Bem ,
adolescents and parents and its objective is to build
one cognitive process that seems nearly inevitable
identity [in this case gender identity]. If the topic of
in humans is to divide people into groups. We can
gender is extremely important for the overview of
partition these groups on the basis of race, age,
sociological studies, it is even more important if it is
religion, and so forth. However, most of the times
seen from an intergenerational point of view
we split humanity on the basis of gender. The
speaking about gender socialization.
first thing we instantly determine, when meeting
This paper will focus on how in particular family
someone new, is their gender.
and parents’ attitudes mediate traditional gender
This process of categorizing others in terms of gender
roles and the effect of their attitude towards gender
is both habitual and automatic. It's nearly
impossible to suppress the tendency to split the
world in half, using gender as the great divider.
Keywords: gender, socialization, youth, generations,
When we divide the world into two groups, males and
family, stereotypes, gender roles.
females, we tend to consider all males similar, all
females similar, and the two categories of
“males” and “females” very different from each
other. In real life, the characteristics of women
and men tend to overlap. Unfortunately, however,
This paper1 is concerned with understanding different
gender polarization often creates an artificial gap
dimensions of gender socialization, which vary in their
between women and men and gender roles that
impact on the young and which are essential to build
are very difficult to change in time.
up a gender identity.
The aim of the article is to analyse how the gender
1.2. Gender stereotypes for males and
socialization process deals with the structural and
1I am grateful to the Catholic University of Milan (Italy) for funding
the project ‘Gender socialization within the family: gender and
Stereotypes are representative of a society’s collective
generation in comparison” out of which this paper is a product. I am
knowledge of customs, myths, ideas, religions,
also grateful to Prof. Tim Liao (Dept. of Sociology, University of
and sciences . It is within this knowledge
Essex) for his precious guide into this work. Thanks to Dott. Elena
that an individual develops a stereotype or a
Bardasi and Dott. Marco Francesconi (ISER-Essex) too, for their
belief about a certain group. Social
support. Neither the original collectors of the data nor the Data
Archive bear any responsibility for the analyses or interpretations
psychologists feel that the stereotype is one part
presented here. I am the only one responsible for any errors and
of an individual’s social knowledge. As a result
mistakes in the paper.
of their knowledge, or lack of knowledge, the
truth lies in differential socialization, which
stereotype has an effect on their social
claims that males and females are taught
different appropriate behaviours for their
Stereotypic behaviour can be linked to the way that the
stereotype is learned, transmitted, and changed
3 GENDER SOCIALISATION
and this is part of the socialization process as
well. The culture of an individual influences
Socialisation is the process, through which the child
stereotypes through information that is received
becomes an individual respecting his or her
from indirect sources such as parents, peers,
environment laws, norms and customs  
teachers, political and religious leaders, and the
mass media    .
Gender socialisation is a more focused form of
In order to understand stereotyping, an individual must
socialisation, it is how children of different sexes
first be made knowledgeable about the
are socialised into their gender roles  
definition of a stereotype2. Stereotyping is how
and taught what it means to be male or female
we perceive each other, especially individuals
outside our group. What we believe to be
Gender socialisation begins the moment we are born,
“normal” is associated with who we are
from the simple question “is it a boy or a girl?”
hanging out with. Which are usually our friends
. We learn our gender roles by agencies of
and social networks  .
socialisation, which are the “teachers” of society.
Gender stereotypes are related to cognitive processes
The main agencies in Western society are the
because we have different expectations for
family, peer groups, schools and the media. In
female and male behaviour   and the
respect with gender socialisation, each of the
traditional gender roles3 help to sustain gender
agencies could reinforce the gender stereotypes.
stereotypes, such as that males are supposed to
Gender differences result from the socialization
be adventurous, assertive aggressive,
process, especially during our childhood and
independent and task-oriented, whereas females
are seen as more sensitive, gentle, dependent,
The classical example of gender socialisation is the
emotional and people-oriented.
experiment done with babies that were introduced
Here we will deal with the opposite male dominance
as males to half of the study subjects and as
and feeling superior to women. Of course, not
females to the other half. The results are
all men have power and arrogantly dominate
interesting and quite disturbing at the same time.
women; indeed, according to Miller , many
The participants behave differently according to
men are dominated by “the system” and
the sex they had been told . .
considered disposable. Also, women are given
These findings show that other people contribute a lot
certain advantages and “protected” in many
to how we see ourselves only on the basis of
ways that men do not enjoy. Clearly, each sex
has and utilizes power in certain ways and we
are getting more equal, but, clearly, the sexes
aren't equal yet [1, 6]. The most recent
3.2 The family as gendered
suggestion to solve this problem is to
relationships: influences on gender
completely disassociate gender from all
personality traits. 
Within the two career families  of today, the
It is said before that parents are the primary influence
women-are-inferior attitude is muted and
on gender role development in the early years of
concealed, but the archaic sex role expectations
one’s life   .
are still subtly there. The old rules still serve to
With regard to gender difference, the family in fact,
“put down women and keep them in their
unlike other groups, is characterized by a specific
way of living   and constructing gender
By nature, men and women have some biological
differences through a process that is surely
differences, but it is life experience that
biological, but also relational and social. The
reinforces or contradicts those differences. The
family is “ the social and symbolic place in which
difference, in particular sexual difference, is
2 A stereotype is defined as an unvarying form or pattern,
believed to be fundamental and at the same time
specifically a fixed or conventional notion or conception of a
constructed “ . In particular, in the family the
person, group, idea, etc, held by a number of people and allows for
gender characterization reflects the individualities
no individuality or critical judgment .
of the parents.
Traditionally, men are supposed to earn a living to support their
families. They are to be aggressive and in charge. Women belong at
The family is therefore a “gender relation” . In the
home cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. They are to be
family, the relation with the father and the mother
submissive and weak. Gender stereotypes such as these pervade
assumes therefore one fundamental importance in
society today .
the definition of the gender belonging, because
they way they decorate their children's rooms, the
it ’s the first experience of relation with males
toys they give their children to play with, their
and females. Gender identities and the
own attitudes and behaviour” .
expectations towards male and female roles are
socialized within the parents-children
3.3 A relational approach to gender
relationship; such expectations are today various
and new4 compared with the past .
The models from which fathers and mothers take
The most important aspect of the sociological
inspiration need to be verified because “the crisis
reflection is the ability to use the concepts
of the paternal authority has given more space to
elaborated in the theoretical debate at an
the father in shaping the educational relation with
empirical level, realizing “a hermeneutic”
the child. They think that the important thing is to
connection between the interpretative framework
converse and to build convincing representations
and social life.
of the world “ . The gender socialization
Gender socialization can be read like a “relational
inside the familiar relations evidences therefore
also the temporal dimension of the transmission
It is unavoidable that in the transformation a
of styles and expectations between parents and
simplification is put into effect, a reduction of the
children  . The parents ’ generation, in
complexity of the terms in game, because you
comparison with the child ’s one, can highlight
need to lead back to the factors that explain a
marked differences too. Parents today probably
social phenomenon to one more rigid pattern of
have different expectations from those their
reality: in order not to fall into the trap of the
parents had, and their children have even more
merely casual interpretation it is necessary to
different expectations. We must go deeper into
always place, to the centre of attention, the
the matter on how transmission of gender
relation between different factors that concur to
differences happens today and how the gender
see the phenomena from more points of view, in a
belonging is constructed..
multidimensional perspective .
If such differences seem to diminish on the one side,
The relational model  is assumed like the point of
on the other instead they move on different areas
observation to verify the hypotheses in order to
in comparison with the past . Between children
characterize those that are the gender socializing
in fact the sexual difference “produces various
outcomes in the contemporary society.
models of belongings and continuity“ , and
Within a risky society  the relational model
they are today completely different from those of
considers every phenomenon as the outcome of a
the previous generations.
process in which the challenges and the resources
In the past, families had different educational demands5
are put implicitly or explicitly in comparison. The
for their sons and daughters after puberty , they
risk therefore is given from the relation of
then tended to differentiate them in the sense to
adequacy/inadequacy between challenges and
promote the autonomy of the males and the
dependency of the females. It was implicit that
That appears clear if it is believed that every choice is
the boy should realize himself, even if against
linked to multidimensional situations, which are
familiar ties, while the girl had, in some ways, to
relational contexts, in which the phenomena are
accept and to conserve them. This difference has
networks of phenomena and every node
always favoured the fact that young women lived
represents interlaces of challenges, ties and
their desire of autonomy with a sense of guilt and
of independency with intolerance  .
Speaking about challenges and resources in gender
A child’s parents are the first socialization agents he or
socialization simplifies reality and circumscribes
she will come into contact with. Parents teach
a point of view from which to observe a
stereotypes through different ways and
phenomenon, but it always takes into account that
behaviour6: “the way they dress their children,
is a relational phenomenon, in which more
dimensions are intersected.
4 This has induced to support the idea of “disarmament of the
Consequently the gender socialization process is
father“ . So the mother plays the most important role because
divided into two orders of factors, one leads the
she often finds herself carrying out “traditional paternal functions,
challenges and the other the resources, in the
must propose models of identification to the sons, that sometimes
hypothesis that behind every phenomenon there
are competitive with the roles carried out from the father. The
mother offers to the adolescent son, that begins to be interested in
are however the intentions of the actors who
how to live in society, also her model of employment, to produce
arrange in a more or less balanced way, with
yield, to be interested in the public thing . This has modified the
reference to the context of options that delimits
representation of the male and female roles in time.
the action, objects to reach and strategies of
5 They then tended to differentiate them in the sense to promote the
autonomy of the males and the dependency of the females.
6 See also [2, 5, 17, 22, 43 and 46]
I have selected questions9 that most closely match the
gender socialization dimensions. With indicators
Figure 1 Analytical framework for the relationships
for traditional gender attitude father and mother,
between socio-demographic attributes, gender
and traditional gender attitude for the youth, some
attitude parents and gender attitudes youth.
items reflected similar types of organisation that
age (parents and youth)
Gender attitude youth
(sons and daughters)
Gender attitude parents
were rarely endorsed and were summed together,
4. MEASURING GENDER
with the sum score being treated as a single
5. Exploring gender relationships
I seek to measure the different dimensions of gender
socialization using one of the most reliable British
In order to analyse the data, I used multiple regression
survey data sources, namely the British
analysis. In our case, three multiple regression
Household Panel Survey [BHPS]7.
analysis will be required - one for father
The initial problem was to build up a data set
traditional gender attitude, one for mother and
containing “family data”, that is to say
constructing a matrix with father, mother and son
one for youth10.
for each household. Using Stata8 it has been
possible to create a new matrix importing data
Table 1 Regression coefficients of Father Gender attitude
from various BHPS files and obtaining a triads
file. So, at the end I obtained a new file with 717
families with both parents and at least one child.
The second step was the identification of variables for
the analysis. To have a synthetic measure for
gender attitude I decided to make some indexes in
order to use them as numerical variable in
The data in the BHPS allow us to differentiate the
dimensions I have illustrated above. As shown in
the notes, there are eight questions of an ordinal
nature for parents’ gender attitude and two
questions for the youth.
7 The survey began in 1991 as the premier British panel study, and
samples around 5,000 households and 10,000 individuals each year.
Although some of the original sample members (OSMs) moved out,
new members are added each year, including those OSMs who
reach 16 years of age by the time of interview and all adult members
of the OSMs’ new household should they leave their original
household to form new families. Thus, each year, the sample is
appropriately representative of the population as a whole. I have
used also the Youth Panel, started in 1994 that considered young
Some variables have been recoded in order to have the same
people in the sample of the BHPS. I used wave 9.
direction within the gender attitude dimension.
Thanks to dott. Elena Bardasi (ISER Institute) for helping me do
Splitting the sample into males and females
11* p<0.05, ** p<0.01 and *** p<0.001; the same below.
mother traditional gender
father traditional gender
Traditional homework division14
The traditional gender attitude of the father [tab. 1]
The traditional gender attitude of the mother is
is strongly influenced by the traditional gender attitude
strongly influenced by the traditional gender attitude of
of the mother [0.34]. Further, the more traditional the
the father [p= 0.36]. Further, the more traditional the
housework division is the more stereotyped the father
housework division is the more traditional the
mother ’s gender attitude is [p=0.14].
The status of the father is very little significant [.09]
The status of the mother is very little significant [0.09]
and even the mother status is more important and has
as well as the status of the father [0.004] but in the
an inverse [-.12] effect on the father gender attitude.
opposite direction. The mother ’s age and status have
In the case of our father sample, it is clear how the
instead an inverse relationship with the mother ’s
relationship and the gender attitude of the mother are
traditional gender attitude. The younger and the higher
very important in determining the father ’s gender
the status of the mother, the more the traditional gender
attitude. Even traditional housework division has a
attitude diminishes. It is clear that father ’s gender
direct effect [0.16] on traditional gender attitude. The
attitude has a predominant effect.
mother status has a double effect. A direct [-.12] and
an indirect one15 [–.15] and the total effect of the
Table 3 Regression coefficients of Youth traditional gender
mother status is –.27
In the end the mother’s status is very significant in its
direct and indirect effect.
Table 2 Regression Coefficients of Mother gender attitude
traditional gender attitude father ,18**
traditional gender attitude
Variables used for index building: Last amount received, Highest
educational qualification, Employment status on Sept 1, year ago
(same for mother).
Variables used for index building: Pre-school child suffers if
mother works, Family suffers if mother works full-time, Woman and
family happier if she works, Husband and wife should both
contribute, Full time job makes woman independent, Husband
should earn, wife stay at home, Children need father as much as
mother, Employers should help with childcare (?=.75) (same for
14 Variables used for index building: Who is responsible for
childcare, Who cares for ill children, Who does the grocery
16 Variables used for index building: I feel I have a number of good
shopping [couples], Who does the cooking [couples], Who does the
qualities, I certainly feel useless at times, I am a likeable person, I
washing/ironing [couples], Who does the cleaning [couples] (same
don't have much to be proud of, I am as able as most people, I can
usually solve my own problems, I am inclined to feel I am a failure,
15 Calculated as: -0.12 + (-0.09*0.34) = 0.15
At times I feel I am no good at all (?=.88) (same for females).
The analysis17 conducted on young males shows how
for new relationships with men.
the traditional gender attitude of parents is the main
determinant on youth gender attitude [0.16 mother and
In this case the mother’s status has a very strong
I have tried, in this paper, to conceptualise and measure
inverse direct effect [-0.18] and also a slight indirect
gender socialization. In fact the concept of gender
effect [-0.09*0.16= - 0.01]. Summing up these effects
socialization can be operationalized in three distinctive
we obtain – 0.19, which is the strongest effect of the
ways, as forms of transmission from parents to
gender attitude of the mother.
children, which depend on personal attitude and
Interesting the self-esteem strong inverse effect [- 0.11]
resources [self-esteem, age, status], and also on family
in contrasting a traditional gender attitude. Also if the
life [housework gender division]. Technically, I have
age is higher the traditional attitude will diminish [-
used path analysis models to measure scores of gender
attitude dimensions from their categorical/ordinal
Table 4 Regression coefficients of Youth traditional gender
First, the paper shows that it is possible to
operationalize these different dimensions using the
BHPS, and that there is indeed quite good correlation
between these types of gender attitudes; this implies
that family life and relationship are very important and
sometimes more important than structural variables.
Secondly, if one weighed the relative importance
between relational and structural factors influencing
gender socialization process, the evidence would
strongly suggest that it is the former rather than the
latter that is of greater explanatory power.
gender attitude father
An interesting further consideration is that a cross-
gender attitude mother
gender relationship between fathers and daughters,
mothers and sons has emerged as significant in
determining traditional/non traditional gender attitude.
During adolescence the identification with gender
models goes through different relational mechanisms,
As for the males, parents’ gender attitude has a strong
which for example in this case stress more the
effect also on young women [0.17 mother and 0.11
relationship with the opposite gender.
father]. So the more traditional the parents are, the
The relation with the same gender seems to have a
more traditional the children will be.
strong reinforcing power on an already existing
Further, another interesting aspect is that the status of
traditional attitude; the relation with the parent of
the father is much more influent on the females’
opposite sex instead could be a strong factor in
traditional gender attitude than on the males’ one. In
reducing stereotyped attitudes. Probably because
fact the direct effect is – 0.18 and the indirect effect is
gender in the family is a relationship and could assume
0.01 and the total effect is – 0.17. So a higher status is
different features, sometimes a challenge, sometimes a
directly a good resource for females because this seems
to reduce a traditional gender role transmission. Instead
the total effect of the mother’s status is near to 0 and
insignificant. The traditional attitude of the mother is
very important on the contrary.
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