Auckland study links sexism to inadequate parenting

The study reveals how parental sexism affects responsive parenting.

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According to a study from the University of Auckland, parents who think men should be in charge in society and at home were less attentive to their children during family time. It’s the first study of its kind.

Lead author Professor Nickola Overall of Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, said, “For decades, sexism has been known to predict negative behaviors toward women, from discrimination to violence. Our study suggests the effects flow through to poorer parenting.”

In a lab, researchers recorded videos of families and watched how parents acted with their kids. Parents who were less caring and involved, both moms and dads, had more ‘hostile sexism’ – that’s when they believe in male authority and don’t like women who challenge it. Overall, the findings about dads were expected and showed that being sexist can make men worse parents, too.

Being an attentive parent is crucial for a child’s well-being. If parents aren’t responsive, it can cause behavior problems, emotional issues, and lower school performance in kids.

But in the University of Auckland research, we can’t say that one thing causes the other. There could be other reasons. Also, the lab setting may have made parents act differently, making it less likely that they would show the harshest parenting methods.

Still, this study highlights how important it is to understand why and when sexist beliefs can affect parenting. This critical but often overlooked aspect is closely tied to the unequal roles of men and women in society.

“These new findings show that sexist beliefs can have a wider effect on children over time,” Overall said. “We also need to figure out why some women still agree with these beliefs, even though they harm women and kids.”

But if parents had “benevolent sexism” beliefs, which glorify traditional gender roles, there wasn’t a connection to being less responsive parents, according to Overall. This means they thought men should provide and protect, and women should care for the family, and it didn’t affect their parenting in the same way.

The first part of the study involved 95 couples with five-year-old kids. They watched how these families worked together to build a cardboard tower, and they found a connection between hostile sexism and less responsive parenting. They repeated this in a second study with 281 couples doing different family tasks and found the same link.

To figure out how sexist parents were, they asked questions like:

  • Do most women not appreciate all that men do for them?
  • Do women try to gain power by controlling men?
  • Do women exaggerate their work problems?
  • Do they put a tight leash on men after commitment?
  • Are women easily offended?

Both men and women can have these beliefs, and some women strongly agree with them.

A study from 2000 ranked countries like Chile and South Africa as having high levels of ‘hostile sexism,’ while Australia and the Netherlands had lower levels. However, New Zealand wasn’t included in that study.

Overall, ‘To improve the health and well-being of children, we need to change the attitudes that limit women and men to specific roles.’

The study’s co-authors were Dr. Valerie Chang, Dr. Annette Henderson, and Dr. Caitlin McRae from the University of Auckland, Dr. Emily Cross from the University of Essex, and Dr. Rachel Low from Victoria University of Wellington.

The study conducted in Auckland reveals a noteworthy association between hostile sexism and less responsive parenting behavior, highlighting the importance of addressing these issues for the benefit of children and families.

Journal reference:

  1. Nickola C. Overall, Emily J. Cross et al., Fathers’ and Mothers’ Sexism Predict Less Responsive Parenting Behavior During Family Interactions. Social Psychological and Personality Science. DOI: 10.1177/19485506231200296.