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Here’s another reason why dads should help out with household chores: their daughters are more likely to be more ambitious and aspire to more success than girls raised in more traditional households.

A study conducted at the University of British Columbia followed 326 children aged seven to 12 and at least one of their parents. Researchers then calculated the division of household tasks and also parents’ involvement in the paid workforce. They also surveyed parents about gender and career attitudes and asked children what they want to be when they grow up.

They found several things. Not surprisingly, mothers were found to take on most of the household chores; this matches previous studies. Even those fathers who endorsed gender equality and had high expectations for their daughters actually tended to do very little around the house. And when that occurred, their daughters tended to aspire to more traditionally-female careers in teaching, nursing, library work, or child-rearing.

Only when fathers actively pitched in at home, at levels their daughters could notice, did girls aspire to careers in leadership roles, the sciences, or business. Lead researcher, Alyssa Croft notes that “’Talking the talk’ about equality is important, but our findings suggest that it is crucial that dads ‘walk the walk’ as well — because their daughters clearly are watching,”

Certainly only girls can grow up to be mothers and motherhood is a worthy goal. But parents owe it to their children – boys and girls both – to prepare them for a rich and varied life. This means that girls should feel empowered to aspire to career success and that boys should feel empowered to be a full partner in a household. Each child misses out on opportunities for life satisfaction when aspects of life are eliminated from consideration early.

Fathers were the focus of this study. What can both parents do?

  1. Fathers can take more responsibility for homemaking tasks like shopping for groceries, cooking, doing laundry, running the dishwasher, and straightening the family room. Who does these at your home? Why?
  2. Mothers can give up any perfectionist impulses that have caused them to horde household tasks. Letting fathers step up and do things means that fathers get to do things their way, without supervision from their wives or evaluation of how well they did. So long as life goes on, however household tasks are accomplished is good enough.
  3. Both parents can ensure that sons and daughters share in all the household chores, and not divide them up into gender-stereotypical roles. Girls can do yard work. Boys can fold clothes.
  4. Both parents can encourage their children to aspire to any career they like, without being steered into future roles that are ‘appropriate’ for their sex. All work is worthy work and the ability to do well in any field isn’t biologically determined. Keep an open mind.

Summer is a great time to notice the subtle messages you and your partner are sending to your children, about what is expected of them and what they can dream of becoming. As you choose fun things to do with your kids and as you assign them chores this summer, notice if their a gender bias to your choices.

Then notice too what the adults are doing. If work falls along traditional gender roles, maybe this summer is the time to shake things up.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.