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Fathers who split dishes, dusting and laundry with mothers raise daughters who aspire to high-paying careers, says the author of a new gender roles study from the University of British Columbia.

For dads who unburdened their wives by doing even some of the domestic drudgery, their daughters expressed greater interest in working outside the home as doctors and lawyers. In homes with no sign of equally divided chores, daughters had more traditional ambitions: they wanted to be housewives or nurses, teachers and librarians – all stereotypically feminine occupations.

"Girls developing ideas of what is possible for themselves, these ideas may be based on what their fathers expect from women in general and from their mothers," says lead author Alyssa Croft, a PhD candidate in psychology at the University of British Columbia.

Croft points to the second shift, a phenomenon identified by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in 1989. As wives increasingly work full-time outside of the home, they continue clocking more hours on housework and childcare than their husbands; Hochschild argued that this double burden had stalled the gender revolution. Men in Canada spend 160 minutes per day on domestic work, while women put in 254 minutes, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The gap widens after marriage and again once babies arrive.

The current Canadian study examines how this gendered discrepancy in housework forms attitudes in children, especially daughters. To girls watching this dynamic play out in their own homes the message is, "You can do anything you want to do, but you have to do all this too," says Croft.

The study, "The Second Shift Reflected in the Second Generation: Do Parents' Gender Roles at Home Predict Children's Aspirations?" will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. Croft and her colleagues interviewed 326 children aged 7 to13 and their parents; in some cases both parents were present, in others just one. Mothers (average age 39), fathers (average age 42), and children were quizzed separately on their beliefs about gender roles. They were all asked which partner in a heterosexual couple would be responsible for more of the dishes, cleaning, laundry and childcare tasks. Parents then reported the number of paid hours they work per week and also how much housework and childcare they're personally responsible for. Researchers asked the children which parent they felt they were more like and also what they want to be when they grow up, rating their replies as stereotypically masculine, feminine or gender-neutral.

The data showed mothers doing disproportionately more around the house even when both parents worked full-time outside the home. Still, in homes where fathers pitched in even a little, daughters held broader career goals. Contrast that with fathers who were vocal in their support of gender equality but didn't walk the talk, skipping out on the chores instead. In these families, daughters were more likely to see themselves as stay-at-home moms. In other words, children watch and learn.

"Our data suggests that kids might pick up their stereotypes about gender and about themselves not only from what parents say explicitly but from what they do around the house," says Croft. "The important part is just how much of an impact these behaviours seem to have over and above what parents are publicly endorsing."

So how do you go from Dad folding his own socks to daughters gunning for a PhD? Is it about dads modelling behaviour, or are dads who do the dishes generally less retrograde and more supportive of their daughters' big dreams? "More research is needed to unpack this link," says Croft. Still, she sees fit to advise dads who see future CEOs in their daughters to pick up the laundry hamper.

"Women make up less than a third of senior management positions in Canada. One of the reasons is they just have less time to devote to more involved career responsibilities, thanks to the second shift. Our study suggests that a more equitable division of household labour can inspire young girls to pursue some of these more involved careers."

What about sons? The researchers found that regardless of parental attitudes and behaviours, boys chose traditionally male jobs – firemen, policemen – as well as ambitious career trajectories like law and medicine.

"It may be that boys are receiving fewer messages about being able to do whatever they want," says Croft. "Maybe those stereotypes are even more rigid."

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