Study: Dads who do chores have daughters who see more opportunities

A new study shows that girls’ views on gender equality begin with who unloaded the dishwasher, not who brings home the bacon.

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Photo: iStockphoto

When I was growing up, it was completely normal to see my dad vacuuming the carpet, loading the dishwasher or making dinner (and not just on the grill). My dad did (and still does) all the grocery shopping. In fact, he recently had knee replacement surgery and when we went to visit, the house was uncharacteristically unstocked. He was apologetic at not being able to get to the store and my mom—between working all day and caring for him in the evenings—hadn’t made it to the grocery store. It wasn’t on her usual to-do list and slipped her mind.

Did my dad do his fair share of housework because he was a good guy? Was it because he worked shift work and, some weeks, he was home more than my mom? It wasn’t something I ever thought about—I was more surprised to learn that other dads didn’t do these things. When friends would ask me why my dad did our grocery shopping, my sincere response would be, “Why wouldn’t he?” It never occurred to me that it was “women’s work.”

However my parents fell into that routine, I think it had good, far-reaching effects on their three daughters. And a new study by a group of psychologists at the University of British Columbia backs that up. They discovered: “When a father performs a greater share of traditionally female household chores such as cooking, cleaning and childcare, his school-aged daughter is less likely to say she wants to pursue a stereotypical female career such as nursing, teaching or staying at home with the kids, and more likely to aspire to more gender-neutral (and often higher-paying) careers, such as becoming a doctor or lawyer.”

Read more: How your work ethic influences your kids>

The study says that seeing this division of household labour has a bigger impact on girls’ aspirations (not boys’, incidentally) than the actual jobs their parents have. It’s interesting, and heartening, to read research that shows how a girl’s view of gender equality can at least partially be shaped right in her home from the time she’s young, and that it can empower her dreams. Especially with the #YesAllWomen campaign amplifying how far we have to go in terms of equality between the genders, it gives me hope that maybe this next generation can create a meaningful shift in perspective. As the mom of two girls, I sure as hell hope so.

At my house, my husband does the dishes and packs lunches and sweeps the floor. He’ll clean the bathroom and tidy toys, as well as cut the grass and take out the garbage. (Maybe he does more than I do!) There’s never been a discussion about it. We never had to sit down and figure out which jobs are his or mine (except for the fact that we both have certain tasks we hate that the other doesn’t mind, so we swap those out). We’re both adults capable of doing what needs to be done around the house, so when something needs to be done, one of us just does it. That goes for grocery shopping as much as making beds or throwing in a load of laundry. There are no “traditional female household chores” here.

Read more: Chore charts: 8 DIY ideas>

I never really thought about the message this was sending our daughters, but if it’s helping to strengthen their view of what’s possible in their worlds, I’m glad. And, more practically, I hope they grow up to have similar expectations of the people they live with. To me, it’s not about breaking down gender stereotypes, but simply being a good partner (or a good roommate). Really, my biggest task right now is to get the girls to pick up a broom themselves once in a while!

The study doesn’t say that the division of labour necessarily influences the child’s ultimate career choice, just her aspirations when she’s young. I can’t remember what I wanted to be when I grew up, or what my sisters aspired to be back then. But do our jobs today take on a gender-neutral tone? My oldest sister started out in social work and now teaches at a college. My other sister is a senior systems administrator at an IT company. I guess I have the most gender-specific job as an editor at a magazine mainly targeted to women.

All of our husbands do housework.

How do you divide household labour at home?

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her@T_Chappell.

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