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Back on track? The stall and rebound in support for women's new roles in work and politics, 1977-2012

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David Cotter, Joan Hermsen & Reeve Vanneman
Publication Date: 
30 Jul 2014



For almost a decade now, researchers have been struck by a stall in what had been a remarkably rapid and seemingly unstoppable increase in support for gender equity and approval of women's workforce participation up until the mid-1990s. This research paper provides evidence of what may be a rebound in support for gender equity since 2006.

The General Social Survey contains four questions about gender roles that were first posed to the American public in 1977 and have been asked on every survey since 1985. While some of the questions may feel dated (remember they were first asked 37 years ago), they remain useful to show the degree of change in our attitudes about proper roles for men and women. And between 1977 and the mid-1990s, the rate and extent of change were nothing short of remarkable.

In 1977, 66 percent of Americans agreed that "It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family," with just over a third of respondents disagreeing. By 1994, less than 20 years later, just over a third of respondents thought this was the ideal family arrangement, while 63 percent disagreed.

  • In 1977, 68 percent of respondents believed that a preschool child was likely to suffer if her or his mother worked outside the home, with less than a third disagreeing. By 1994, almost 60 percent of Americans disagreed that maternal employment was harmful to preschoolers.
  • In 1977, more than half of respondents (52 percent) believed that a working mother could not establish as warm a relationship with her children as a fulltime homemaker, but by 1994, only 31 percent of Americans still believed this.
  • The percentage of Americans who believed that men and women are equally well suited to politics rose from just 48 percent in 1977 to 75 percent by 1993.


Entered Date: 
20 Aug 2014
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