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GIRLS AS ACHIEVERS
An article in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence reports on a longitudinal research project out of the University of Pennsylvania on the impact of gender roles and balance of power in the marital relationship on girls’ academic work. The focus was on adolescent girls, but preschool is where those mental attitudes are set, and so I present them to you as food for thought.

Previous research has reported that parents tighten their pressure on youngsters to “conform to sex-typed role expectations” once their offspring enter their teens. The study authors had wondered whether seventh grade girls might be pushed at home toward “feminine” activities such as peer relationships and dating at the expense of their academic achievements. The basis of the study was a group of first-born children as they moved from the fifth to the seventh grade. Grades in math and science were collected for the children and then both children and parents were interviewed for family differences. Approximately half of the group was in “traditional” families where they had significantly more contact with their mothers than with their fathers. The other half spent approximately the same amount of time with each parent. Parents answered questions about their attitudes on gender roles; e.g., “Is it more important for sons to go to college than daughters” and “Should fathers have more decision-making power than mothers”. As incredible as it may seem that these questions are still being asked in this new century, today the disparity between women’s and men’s salaries stubbornly hangs at 76%. The questions may be more pertinent than we would like to believe, and if you are the parent of a daughter, you will face these issues in about 10 years.

In the fifth grade, there were no gender differences in report card grades on math and science. By the seventh grade, girls from “traditional” backgrounds scored significantly lower in the “masculine” subjects than girls from the egalitarian households. There were three distinguishing family characteristics that may work in combination to influence girls’ grades at ages 12 and 13 and beyond. First, in egalitarian families, both boys and girls reported spending more time with their fathers. Second, in the egalitarian families, mothers and fathers were less traditional in their sex roles than the other parents. Third, the relative marital “power” based on income, education, and job prestige was much more equal in the non-traditional families.

As parents and teachers of girls, we have to be incredibly careful about our unconscious push toward sex roles. Decide now what you want for your daughter, and begin today to move toward that goal.

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