The transformed life: motherhood and women’s gender attitudes

Muzhi Zhou, University of Oxford

Past research asserting a traditionalizing influence of motherhood on gender attitudes suffers from inconsistent empirical findings and often ignores the heterogeneity of motherhood practices. When more mothers are participating in the labour market, the practice of mothering is becoming more diversified and flexible. Cognitive dissonance theory predicts that gender attitude change is highly dependent on women’s choice over work and family. Applying fixed-effects models to data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and the Understanding Society panel study, I find substantial variations in gender attitude change across different choices of motherhood practice. Specifically, mothers who choose to exit the labour market as family carers experience a move to more traditional gender attitudes, mothers becoming part-time workers experience no change in gender attitudes, and full-time working motherhood is associated with a move to less traditional gender attitudes. These findings indicate the importance of maternal employment choices in gender attitudes construction and illustrate how gender attitudes would reinforce mothers’ decisions on work and family. Findings of the various associations between different motherhood practices and gender attitude change should be able to account for the previously inconsistent findings on the association between motherhood and gender attitude change. Current findings also imply that women’s employment choice following childbirth remains constrained by the conflicts between childcare and work commitment and calls for a reconsideration of the meaning of motherhood.

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Presented in Session 4: Well-being and gender attitudes