People who have more children have a greater tendency to believe that women should be objects of men’s adoration and protection, according to new research published in PLOS One. The findings indicate that both men and women who have a greater number of children subsequently become more likely to endorse benevolently sexist beliefs.
“We typically think about ‘gender inequality’ as something that happens in organizations or in societies. However, prior research shows that harmful gender inequalities also occur in heterosexual people’s closest relationships,” said study author Chris Deak, a postdoctoral research fellow at Victoria University.
For example, a household division of labor in which working parents do not equally divide childcare may lead them to be less satisfied with their life. In this research, we wanted to investigate how individuals’ life choices (e.g., the number of children someone has) relate to people’s gender beliefs that justify inequalities (e.g., believing that women are particularly or innately suited for childcare and household roles).”
The researchers examined data from 3,714 women and 2,303 men who had participated in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a 20-year longitudinal study of social attitudes, personality and health outcomes.
“It is impossible to experimentally test in our labs whether having children makes people hold beliefs that justify gender inequality and/or whether people who hold those beliefs tend to have more children. One way we can study this phenomenon is through collecting large-scale data that enables us to follow the same people and detect trends in their lives over time,” Deak explained.
As part of the study, the participants completed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, which measures both benevolent sexism and hostile sexism. Those who score high in hostile sexism agree with statements such as “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men,” while those who score high in benevolent sexism agree with statements such as “A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man.”
After controlling for hostile sexism, age, education, and household income, Deak and his colleagues found that both men and women who had more children at one time point tended to endorse benevolent sexism more strongly two years later. But the effect did not appear to run in the opposite direction. That is, the endorsement of benevolent sexism did not predict having a greater number of children two years later.
“Our results showed that having more children is linked to endorsing sexist ideologies, even when sexism levels were measured two years later. We believe that this effect is related to those gender inequalities that parents are particularly vulnerable to (e.g., change in the distribution of paid and unpaid work between parents), even in highly gender-egalitarian countries, such as New Zealand,” Deak told PsyPost.
“One important extension of the present research would be examining links between gender beliefs and parenting practices,” he added. “Do parents who hold more gender beliefs tend to invest in their children in a strongly gendered way?”
The study, “Individuals’ number of children is associated with benevolent sexism“, was authored by Chris K. Deak, Matthew D. Hammond, Chris G. Sibley, and Joseph Bulbulia.