Paper Presented for East Asian Labor Markets Conference at Yonsei University, Seoul
Korea, February 24, 2000
Women’s and Men’s Gender Role Attitudes in
Coastal China and Taiwan
Su-hao Tu* Ying-hwa Chang**
* Associate Director, Assistant Research Fellow ,Office of Survey Research, Academia Sinica, 128
Sec. 2 Academy Road, Nankang, Taipei, 11529, Taiwan. E-mail: email@example.com
** Research Fellow, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, 128 Sec. 2 Academy Road, Nankang,
Taipei, 11529, Taiwan.
This paper examines gender differences in gender-role attitudes from a
perspective in which social and economic changes are assumed to be the main force
changing family life, employment life and individual beliefs. In doing so, this paper
uses a comparative framework to assess the extent how family- and individual- level
attributes respectively explain women’s and men’s gender-role attitudes in China and
Taiwan -- the societies with the same Chinese cultural heritage but different political
and economic systems. The particular attention is put on the relationship between
employment life and gender-role attitudes.
Using primary survey data from East Asia Social Survey, this study takes
married population as an example to test the following hypotheses. First, women’s
perception of gender roles is less traditional than men’s. Second, in response to the
different patterns (paths) of social and economic change, people in Taiwan hold more
egalitarian in gender role attitudes than those in China. Finally, the factors
explaining the variation of gender role attitudes across gender and societies would be
different. Controlling for other socio-economic and demographic factors, the effect
of employment life on gender role attitudes would be more significant for women
than for men and more crucial for Taiwan than for China. The preliminary analysis
fully supports the first hypothesis and partially supports the rest of the hypotheses.
China and Taiwan have all experienced rapid social change since 1950s. The
stage and pattern of economic development between them is much different.
Export-led industrialization and the development of family enterprise did increase
women’s labor force participation in Taiwan. However, since women mostly
participated in family enterprises and thus were defined as labor force in the informal
sector. It is until the 1990’s that women’s employment was formally recognized.
By contrast, socialist reform in China since the mid-1950’s had radically increased
women's employment rate and female workers were employed primarily by state and
collective firms. The economic reform in China since the late 1970’s has been
characterized in part by the emergence of family businesses. However, most of the
employees are now still working in non-family large firms and women’s employment
rate is especially high in large urban areas. For example, women’s employment rate
was 91% in Shanghai according to the census data in 1990 (Lu 1999; Abbott et al.
1995; Fei and Sue 1995).
In light of the different structural process of social and economic development
and its impact on women’s employment in both societies, the following questions are
of interest. How does the social and economic change introduce new values for the
societies and shape people’s beliefs? How does the increase of women’s employment
affect women and men’s gender-role attitudes? As suggested in the previous studies,
industrialization plays an important role in shifting a society from the familial toward
the non- familial modes of organization. The shift of familial modes happens even in
the same cultural setting with different political and economic changes. Furthermore,
the shift of familial modes reflects a normative change that implies a modification of
the gender ideology. The results of the normative change are family and individual
behaviors and beliefs such as the increase in age at marriage and the growing
proportion of nuclear families, the decrease in arranged marriages, and the change of
family relationship and gender role perceptions (Thornton and Lin 1994, Tiano 1994).
Few studies have examined gender role attitudes by relating them to the change
of social structures (Baxter and Kane 1995; Panayotova and Brayfield 1997). The
first purpose of this study is thus to compare the perception of gender role in two
social systems characterized by the same Chinese Cultural heritage but different paths
of economic development. Even both societies are derived from the same cultural
heritage, socialist ideology of equality in productive labor after cultural revolution has
provided a path to women's emancipation in China for several decades, which may
have resulted in a gender ideology different from that in Taiwan. As such, to assess
whether economic forces play an important role in shaping gender role attitudes in
different societies becomes particular important.
Many previous studies have examined the relationship between women’s gender
role attitudes and their wage employment. These studies explored women’s view of
ideal gender roles through their double/conflict roles experienced in the reproduction
and production spheres. It was found that women’s paid employment would direct
them to egalitarian attitudes toward gender roles. Nevertheless, their attitudes
toward gender role were not necessarily to catch up with gender equality ideology (Lu
1993;). What the previous research has not discussed is that in addition to work
opportunity and status, how the occupational choices or job characteristics are related
to women’s gender attitudes. Accordingly, the second purpose of this study is to
detect if there is any significant difference in the gender role ideology among women
over their various employment lives in terms of the nature of wage employment: the
characteristics of occupation.
Moreover, very few studies have touched on the issues related to men’s gender
role attitudes (Wilkie 1993). As women’s gender attitudes are closely related to their
opportunities for waged employment, what direct our attention are the following
questions. How do men perceive gender roles in response to the social structural
change and the increase of women’s out for waged work? To what extent does
men’s perception of gender roles differentiate with women’s? Unfortunately, while
many empirical studies suggest an employment model for women’s gender role
attitudes, few studies have tried to integrate employment experience into the study of
men’s gender role attitudes or to find out whether there is any different way of
modeling men’s gender-role attitudes. Therefore, the third purpose of this study is to
investigate the extent to which men’s attitudes toward gender roles are different from
women’s, the applicability to men of the employment explanation of women’s
gender-role attitudes, and the gender difference in modeling gender-role attitudes.
Literature and Hypotheses
As patriarchal values have been the dominant gender ideology in most of the
societies around the world, taking socially constructed gender and social structure as
the main elements into the understanding of gender role beliefs has hardly been
viewed as necessary and significant issues to learn until the late of 1990’s (Lott 1997).
Although the beliefs about gender roles have been examined in the past several
decades, previous studies mostly center on the relationship between attitudes toward
gender roles and the personal and family relations and behaviors.
The sources of gender role attitudes are explained from four interrelated
perspectives: social normative, gender difference, paid employment life, and family
life and personal resources. The literature review is structured under the assumption
that social and economic changes are the main forces directly or indirectly changing
family life, employment life and individual life and beliefs. The review of literature is
also to provide the conceptual framework of understanding gender role attitudes
between women and men through different patterns of employment life for both
genders in different social systems.
Social normative perspective argues that the differential social conditions would
produce distinct individual life experience and beliefs through their effect on the
change of family relationships and behaviors. The ways in which preexisting central
values and norms in a society guide individual beliefs and behaviors widely include
cultural, social, political, and economic changes. Among these structural changes,
state policy plays an influential role in achieving industrialization, urbanization,
educational attainment and other aspects of social development in a country.
The industrialization shifts a society from agricultural to non-agricultural modes
of production, creates employment opportunities and new occupations, and facilitates
people’s (especially women's) ability to earn wages. Those who are exposed to
these structural changes tend to be directed to non-domestic value orientations.
Especially, women, who were generally dependent on men in the past, have become
increasingly independent in earning living. This is under the rationale that
employment would liberate women from private sphere (Baxter and Kane 1995;
Bergen 1987; Tiano 1994). Along with industrialization, urbanization is another
important factor related to value orientation. Urbanization intermediates individual
beliefs through the change of the quality and arrangement of living, of educational
attainment, of personal networks and the increase of international (or Western cultural)
contacts across distinct social locations.
Family organization and family life could be viewed as the agent interlocking the
transformation of social structures with individual life changes. In response to
structural changes, the creation of specialized institutions, the decline of economic
dependence of family members, and the demographic change would shape the change
of family patterns and relationships, and then alter gender relation in the family as
well as in the society (Thornton and Lin 1994; Mason et al. 1998). Those who
experience the transformation of gender relation would modify their perceptions of
gender roles toward modern and egalitarian orientations (Gerson 1987).
The research of ge nder role attitudes associated with social normative change in
terms of different state policy of economy suggests that there is a significant gap in
gender role attitudes between a state-market society (Hungary) and a capitalist society
(the United States). Despite the assumption that employment opportunities are
positively related to modern attitudes toward gender roles and the higher rate of
Hungarian women's employment, Americans are less likely than Hungarians to be
traditional in their attitudes toward women's employment (Panayotova and Brayfield
Baxter and Kane (1995) take five Western industrialized nations as the example to
assess the relationship between women’s dependence and gender role attitudes in
order to identify cross-national differences in women’s levels of dependence. They
found different levels of egalitarianism in attitudes across nations. Women’s
dependence on men at social, economic, and interpersonal levels makes the difference
In contrast to the studies of gender role attitudes in Western cultures, there are
three reasons for us to examine the change of cultural values in Taiwan and China.
First, they have the same cultural traditions. Second, both societies have had
dramatic social and economic change since 1950’s, nevertheless, until now they have
experienced different structural changes in political, economic, and social systems, at
least for 50 years. Third, in comparison with Taiwan, China lags behind in
economic development and the contact with Western culture. Therefore, the mix of
different dimensions of structural changes provides us with a good laboratory to
compare and to investigate the extent and the factors related to the change of gender
role ideology (Abbott et. al. 1995).
Previous studies indicate that gender is the most significant factor of gender role
attitudes (Wilson and Smith 1995; Panayotova and Brayfield 1997). In the gender
explanation, it is believed that the increase of women’s entry into labor force causes
role change between women and men from private sphere to public sphere, and vice
versa. However, men’s role change does not usually keep pace with women’s role
shift (Yi and Kao 1986; Wilkie 1993). As such, under the dominantly patriarchal
definition of gender roles, which has been last for several centuries, men tend to hold
less egalitarian attitudes than women do. On the other hand, from personal interest
perspective, women tend to support egalitarian gender roles (Panayotova and
This kind of gender difference in gender roles attitudes is supported by previous
cross-sectional or longitudinal studies nationally or internationally (Baxter and Kane
1995; Cassidy and Warren 1996; Huang 1998; Lu 1993; Mason and Lu 1998; Rice
and Coates 1995; Spade, 1994; Wilson and Smith 1995). Most of the gender
comparative studies focus on the relation of gender attitudes with either employment,
especially women’s work roles, or women’s family roles. Wilkie (1993) provides
profound understanding of men’s gender attitudes in her study of American men.
Using longitudinal data, the study shows that men’s attitudes toward family provider
role have changed to egalitarian from 1970’s to 1980’s. Young and unmarried men
hold more egalitarian values than their counterparts. The economy of the family
seems to have negatively affected men’s attitudes toward egalitarian values.
However, this study shows that lower-income men who would view the incomes from
the other gender important, are not necessary to be less likely than higher- income men
to hold egalitarian attitudes.
Huang’s study of the Taiwanese married subjects (1998) indicates that there is
gender difference in attitudes toward gender division of labor in the family. Married
men’s gender attitudes are more likely to be determined by family related variables
such as wife’s education and family structure (socialization experience). By contrast,
married women’s gender attitudes are more likely to be affected by the personal
resources they own themselves such as waged incomes and self-education. In sum,
given scant attention and general but rough findings in previous studies, whether
economic resources are actually the major force of attitudes toward gender roles
between married women and married men requires further investigation.
Paid Employment Life
Exchange theory suggests that employment experience would guide a person into
liberal value orientation. Those who work outside the home, regardless of gender,
tend to be more modern in gender role attitudes than those who do not. As
suggested in the previous literature, employment experience would make a difference
in women’s gender role attitudes. Women’s participation in the labor force may
provide them with many chances as well as concrete examples for them to modify
their traditional perspective on equality at work (Plutzer 1988; Wilson and Smith
Many studies have found that paid employment is a strong predictor of
gender-role attitudes. Most of the studies relate women’s employment experience to
gender role attitudes and show that women who take part in labor force are more
feminist than those who have no any work experience. Furthermore, mother’s
employment experience affects women’s gender role attitudes (Dugger 1991; Mason
et. al. 1976; Herring and Rose 1993; Mason and Lu 1988; Tallichet and Willits 1986;
Thornton et al. 1983; Wilson and Smith 1995). However, it appears inadequate in
the discussion of employment difference in gender role attitudes based on the
previous literature. First, the definition and discussion of employment experience
mostly centers on whether or not a respondent is working. Few studies explore
many other aspects of employment experiences, such as patterns of prior employment,
number of previous jobs, employment duration, job continuity, and job characteristics.
These all are important dimensions for the study of employment, but hardly included
in most studies on gender role attitudes (Bielby and Bielby 1984; Tiano 1994).
Second, very few studies explore Gender differences in the modeling of the effect
of employment life on gender attitudes. Employment effect model is also explored
less frequently from men’s perspective, although has been suggested by scholars since
the late 1980’s (Cassidy and Warren 1996; Yi and Kao 1986). Taking family
employment perspective, it is found that men in the dual-earner families have greater
support of non-traditional attitudes toward gender roles, especially if their wives have
full-time jobs (Mason and Lu 1988; Wilkie 1993). In their family employment study,
in which women’s and wives’ employment status defines comparative groups,
Cassidy and Warren (1993) found that women employed full time show significantly
greater support of egalitarian attitudes than men with wives employed or not.
Part-time employed women are more egalitarian than men with part-time employed or
homemaker wives. This study echoes important implication provided by Yi and Kao
back in 1986 that different resource and family variables need to be taken into account
in modeling men’s gender role attitudes.
Third, differences in the effect of state employment patterns on gender attitudes
are less frequently explored. Using cross-national data in five Western societies,
Baxter and Kane (1995) indicate that there is different level of egalitarian attitudes
across the countries. Instead of using employment, they take women’s dependence
on men including economic dependence as the major explanatory and find that the
level of egalitarian attitudes is highest in nation where women’s dependence is lowest.
However, in the comparative study of Hungary and U.S., Panayotova and Brayfreild
(1997) show that their hypothesis of low gender inequality in Socialist Hungary did
not make the residents in this country more support of egalitarian than American.
They suggest that more consideration of structural forces into the study of gender role
attitudes is important for the future study.
Concerning rapid economic development between China (more like Hungary)
since 1970’s and Taiwan since 1940’s, whether the support of egalitarian attitudes
follows the same patterns as them in the study of Hungary and U.S. should be further
explored. Before the rapid economic change, there was not much gender gap in
employment. Assuming rapid economic development has introduced urbanization and
Westernized culture, created new industry and occupations and made the difference in
gender role attitudes, how the job characteristics in China and Taiwan explain gender
role attitudes or gender difference in gender role attitudes remains unexplored.
Family Life and Personal Resources
The previous literature mostly relates women’s gender role attitudes to their
employment from Socialization perspective. In this perspective, women's attitudes
toward gender roles are affected by socialization factors such as family, parental, and
the respondent's background related to occupational and educational attainment,
social economic status, and marital status at individual level, as well as residential
characteristic, family incomes, family structure at the family level. The family is
viewed as a place for shaping individual’s identity of gender roles by operating
through structural aspect of family, parental personal resources (such as education and
occupations), and the presence of siblings. It is hypothesized that as individuals and
their families encounter new changes outside, they would respond and adjust to new
family or individual values, relationships and behaviors (Thornton and Lin 1994;
Huang 1998; Lu 1993).
According to previous studies, family structure affects men’s gender attitudes
more than women’s. Men who grew up in the nuclear family tend to hold egalitarian
attitudes. It is true for both men and women that maternal employment would
increase their support of egalitarian gender-role attitudes (Huang 1998; Thortan et al
1983;). Marital status and childbearing are also important predictors of gender-role
attitudes. Unmarried women would hold less egalitarian attitudes. However, the
effect of marriage is not as strong for men, especially in the country where women
experience greater economic dependence on men. Childbearing is to increase
women’s dependence on men so as to decrease women’s egalitarian attitudes (Baxter
and Kane 1995; Huang 1998; Mason et al. 1976; Panayotova and Brayfield 1997).
Many studies have found that education is a strong predictor of gender-role
attitudes. The positive effect of education on men and women's egalitarian attitudes
is operating through their exposure to egalitarian ideas (Baxter and Kane1995; Huang
1998; Mason et al. 1976; Tallichet and Willits 1986, Thornton et al. 1983; Wilson and
Smith 1995). In comparison with married men, self-education is more important for
married women in predicting their gender attitudes. Men’s gender attitudes are
affected by wives’ education (Huang 1998). Age is also suggested to be a strong
predictor of gender role attitudes by a few studies. The old cohort socialized with
more traditional values tend not support of egalitarian attitudes (Tallichet and Willits
1986; Thornton et al. 1983). The negative relationship between age and gender
attitudes was found for both genders in five Western, democratic countries (Baxter
and Kane 1995).
Personal incomes represent a person’s economic dependence on others.
Previous studies suggest that income independence lead women to egalitarian
orientation (Mason et al 1976; Panayotovva and Brayfield 1997; Tallichet and Willits
1986). Such independence especially affects women’s attitudes and leads to men’s
less egalitarian views (Baxter and Kane 1995; Huang 1998). Concerning the income
related factors, social economic status a good dimension to explore. It is found that
socioeconomic status affects women’s gender role attitudes, however the direction of
the effect is not singular and needs further examination (Bielby and Bielby 1984;
Davis and Robinson 1991).
Based on the previous literature review, this study comes to the following
Gender role attitudes would be different between China and Taiwan. If we
view the economic opportunity as the major force shaping people’s beliefs.
More support of egalitarian attitudes would be found in Taiwan than in China.
Men are more likely than women to hold traditional attitudes toward gender
Gender role attitudes would vary with different employment experience
separately for men and women.
3.1 The variation of gender role attitudes by different employment experience
would be more important for women than men.
3.2 The variation of gender role attitudes by different employment experience
would be more important for Mainland Chinese than for Taiwanese.
4. Family structure, childbearing, income status, spouse’s and parents’ employment,
personal and parents’ education, personal age, and residential experience would
be other significant factors associated with gender role attitudes.
Data and Measurement
The data analyzed here were collected as part of East Asian Social Surveys of
Taiwan in 1996 and Coastal China in 1997. In the surveys, respondents were
selected from a multistage probability sample of adult aged 25 to 60. In this study,
we restrict our sample to married women and men recognizing that marriage and
family life would produce the variance of employment life and gender attitudes
between women and men. 2414 and 2372 married women and men who have
employment experience respectively for China and Taiwan samples are included in