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Gender roles in the American Family

Family institution and family processes is firmly regarded as a crucial element of social health status. For many years, social and behavioral science studies have consistently revealed fairly reliable family institutional structure processes, as well as the family well-being. However, the debate continues as to how universal family relationships are for more diverse groups of individuals.  This paper seeks to (1) examine how facets of family life are similar or different for both men and women; (2) analyze gender roles in family set up between immigrants and U.S.-born groups (Takeuchi & David (2010); and (3) how the gender roles vary within African-American families and often contradict ideologies of functionalist viewpoint.Gender roles in the family remains part of long standing discussions with regard to how family life differentially impact health, and other dynamics within the family;  nativity remains part of the recent assessments seeking to determine whether family life partially explains the reason why immigrants seem to have a lower morbidity as well as mortality.There has been much controversy in recent years regarding gender roles in the institution of family. As different societies continue to give a narrow dynamic relationship regarding family patterns, traditions and the socio-economic factors, have been resistant on the communal restrictions of societal customs. There are some researchers, as well as scientists, who have revealed views on the functionalist position of well-defined responsibilities of both men and women (Amato, Booth, Johnson and Rogers, 2007). The critical aspect, whereby a family with a breadwinning, domineering husband and caretaking, a submissive mother provides both emotional care and support to the family; challenges these views through recognizing environmental issues that are important such as understanding the family structure.

Hawke (2007) looks at how gender roles have evolved over time, families relied on farming to support the family, therefore strength was needed to sharecrop, and the men were the breadwinners of the family, while the women were the caregivers. On the contrary, the African American women are taught to be independent and most of them do not rely on marriage as source of their economic security (Higginbotham & Webber, 1992 as cited in Hill). According to Higginbotham & Webber argument low paying jobs and unemployment problems for African American men presents a bigger challenge. Many are unable to fulfill what is traditionally assumed to be their gender roles in their families and society. However, it is understood that African American’s upbringing and the view on gender roles influences the shape of marital prospect regarding these roles (Hill, 2002).

According to a study by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (2009), gender roles and expectations is a crucial element in family relationships, particularly for couples decision making and perspectives regarding marital satisfaction. Their research finding indicates that gender roles are heavily determined by society.  However, in recent years expectations have taken a sharp turn particularly in the U.S. as documented by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center research finding for either gender. The drastic change is primarily due to the evolving cultural practices over the years. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center (2007) indicates that sharing of household issues in American families is ranked third among a list of nine important items that this society associates with a successful family.

A survey conducted by Rich Morin and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center (2008) revealed a mixed public attitude among survey respondents.  The survey aimed at finding out decision making roles in U.S. families, on decisions such as shared weekend activities and purchasing of big things for home as well as managing household finances. In general approximately 43% of men have no final decision role on specific elements that were tested in the survey. However, the survey results indicate that these men share decision-making jointly with partners. The survey also indicated that 33% of women in U.S. do not play any role in decision-making in the areas mentioned. It also reveals that 15% more women, compared to men’s 9% play decision-making role in most of the household decisions.

A survey conducted by Amato, Booth, Johnson and Rogers (2007) revealed that by end of the1990s, most husbands believed that the breadwinning role should be shared between the wife and the husband.  They argued that a woman’s employment does not hinder her role as a mother; however, the same survey revealed that women expect men to compensate by taking up a bigger share of the housework for men whose wives contribute as bread winners in the family.      According to a survey conducted by Amato, Booth, Johnson and Rogers (2007), survey findings indicates that in the 1990’s, a high number of husbands alleged that their wives should also help in bringing food to the table in the family, also that the employment of the wife in the house should not at all interfere with the motherhood role in the house to both the husband and the children. Hence, the husbands should have a high part of the house tasks when the wife is at work. In return, women in the current years thought that their husbands should perform a huge share of these household tasks as well as looking after the children.

Current research shows that the Americans are forgetting the now patriarchal engagements by moving away from it. This is well explained by a recent study that showed that 61% of American husbands as well as 74% of their wives said that their husbands have the final word sometimes, on the other hand, 65% of the husbands as well as 70% of the women accounted that their wives have got the final word sometimes. It is therefore believed that individual up bring influences shaping of marital expectations with regard to their responsibilities (Burgess, 1994).

Lindsey in her articles starts by giving the definition of socialization and culture.  Lindsey perceives socialization as a lifelong process whereby the individuals learn their culture, expand their human potential, and at the same time become responsible members of society.  Socialization demands interaction, through social interaction once life, personality among other related aspects are shaped to correspond to the societal norms.  On the other hand, the author defines culture as a way of life in a given society.  This includes material and non-material elements.  Every society has defined norms which are transmitted from one generation to the next generation. Cultural elements are all derived from social institution, where family is one of the social institutions in any society (Lindsey, 2009).

Lindsey reckons that every institution has a role to play within the society, family institution is in charge of childhood socialization, which thereafter continues with the institution of education. In American culture, gender roles are differentiated based on the workplace, leisure, dress, possession, and language so forth. For each of these areas, American culture defines expectations and actions that differ on the basis of gender.  In normal situations, when once choose a course of action deviating from the accepted norm means jeopardizing chances of social approval.  Society therefore approves conformity elements as the only cultural mechanism on social aspects (Lindsey, 2009).

Social class and Race patterns  

With regard to social class, Lindsey reveals that gender roles in American society are extremely flexible within middle-class families’ compared to the working and lower-class families.  The patterns regarding gender roles across social classes are in fact, shaped according to homes having career-oriented middle-class mothers.  In most cases, both boys and girls from these homes are assigned to less stereotype gender roles. On the contrary, the author argues that the patterns indicate that boys are more success oriented compared to girls.  She further states that white middle-class women in American society are looked at by college students in a manner that portrays more stereotype elements than compared to their African American women counterparts. The article also indicates that a family that increases in terms of mobility is most likely to stick to the traditional gender roles (p.57-59). This is true, where norms require that the father is the breadwinner while the mother is regarded as the caregiver to both children and her husband.

According to Jaime, Chun & McHale (2006) gender role attitudes in family have continually attracted interest from different researchers for many years.  For example (Benin & Agostinelli, 1988; Rudle, Martin & Berenbaum, 2006; Thompson & Walker, 1988, as cited in Chun & McHale) conducted a study on gender role attitudes of family settings. The approach employed focus on determining the way family members’ gender features are linked. The study explores data on US families in order to identify different family characteristics regarding gender role attitudes of a family.

On social aspects, parents’ roles include instructing, reinforcing and serving as children’s models (Lytton & Romney, 1991, as cited in Jaime, Chun & McHale). Basically parents communicate to their children on issues that regard beliefs on gender. This is achieved by providing instruction, training and guiding their children. Parents are able to reinforce sex-typed behaviors through motivating their children’s to take part in gender-stereotypical tasks.

Jaime, Chun & McHale (2006) siblings in a family set up provides companionship and is a source of advice and reinforcement especially among the adolescent children.

The socio-economic issues affect family gender role attitudes. According to (Benin & Agostinelli, 1988; Rudle, Martin & Berenbaum, 2006; Thompson & Walker, 1988, as cited in Chun & McHale) gender role attitudes include aspects that both women and men who have higher educational success and income who openly communicate more gender role and are get used to ideas, where both female and male models. These individuals identify gender myth and stereotypes.

The sex role orientation of mothers in two parent family structures is a topic that has been well studied. On the contrary, little is known about single mother’s sex role orientation and the eventual effect on her perceptions of her children’s, level of influence in the family decision making process. Being the sole parent, single mother experiences significant changes in her life style, this is due to the break up of family unit. Never-married mothers would not experience changes in sex role orientations, as a result of loss of the husband. In this easy we look at single mother households formed by divorce, separated or Widowhood (Richmond-Abbott, 1984).

According to the Census report of 1990, it was estimated that about 94 million households in U.S., with about 71% or 66 million were reported to consist of households. The non-family households consisted of 27 million or 29% (Waldrop & Exter, 1990). Out of the household families about 12% represents the females heading parents. This was a higher percentage compared to 5% in 1970 (Statistical Abstract, 1984). Waldrop & Exter (1990) indicated Female-headed single parent families. This group represented the fastest growing family type, until 1980 this group represented 36%.

Single parents by necessity play a large number of behaviors both masculine and feminine. For instance, single mothers are able to adjust there attitudes and behaviors to suit there new situation as head of household.  Some researchers such as Abrahams, Feldman &Nash (1978) have previously proposed adult sex role attitudes and sex role self-impression and are situational specific.  Kurdek & Siesky (1980) reveals that both single parents and child single sex role as a self-concepts are supple relative to the circumstance. Different situation influence children’s sex role values; for example, children in single parent families particularly girls in mother-only ones, do not acquire their liberal sex role orientations from within the home.   In a case where children’s gender role values do not relate to custodial parents gender role orientation or formed within the household, both Richmond-Abbott, 1984 and Kurdek & Siesky, 1980, studies provide valuable information on sex role self-concept of custodial parents.  According to Richmond-Abbott’s study on sex role orientations single parents tend to be sex role androgynous.


The emphasis is driven on household economic and social concerns. Culture in American families is dynamic, over the year’s gender roles have revolved in these societies and this is a result of continued redefinition of gender.  Traditionally, there were clear gender roles for the husband and wife; this is understood within the family context.  There are few defined roles for contemporary marriage gender roles as well as the manner in which the roles have to be lived out. Gender functional roles were observed in non-traditional couples; however, it questioned whether it was an equilibrium state. Based on these articles, levels of research required has to involve decision-making monitoring especially on issues of gender, and which may lead to changes in traditional functional responsibility.  The general argument is that, a huge gap exists between the current gender roles and the traditional roles.

In order to effectively determine the dynamic roles in the American Household, this paper reviews the theory of culture. This theory maintains that different individuals are held responsible in case of family breakdown or their own breakdown. This is done by considering the nuclear family as well as the social core issues resulting from lack of proper family organization. In the American society, it is found out that some men or breadwinners in that matter are unable to uphold employment or any income earning opportunity due to constant segregation they face in the society.  Similarly, the theory of structure implies that discrimination remains part of the root cause for employment crisis. The institutionalized oppression is the leading and the most outstanding when it comes to employment (National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (2009).

Some of the changes observed in African American families, shows that gender roles are reportedly different based on social class. A study done in 2009 by Randi revealed that gender parity and distribution of power among African American families differ and it is not based on the aspects of functionalities.  According to the study by Randi it indicates that for the middle and upper class, gender roles are disregard and rather couples work collectively to handle the task at hand.


Amato, P. R., Booth, A., Johnson, D.R., & Rogers, S.J. Alone Together How Marriage in America is Changing, Cambridge, and MA: p. 148; (Harvard University Press, 2007).

Burgess, Norma. “The Development of the “Woman’s Place” Among African- American, Women in the United States.” Gender Roles Revisited. Journal of Black Studies Vol 24

California: Sage Publications Inc, 1994. 391- 394

Christie, Linda L. Lindsey and Sandra Christie. “Gender Roles : A socialogical perspective.” Gender Roles. London: Prentice Hall, n.d. p. 53-70. http://jefferson.library.millersville.edu/reserve/SOWK505_Girvin_GenderRoles.pdf

Hawke, Lucy A. (2007) “Gender Roles within American Marriage: Are They Really Changing?,”ESSAI: Vol. 5, Article 23. Available at: http://dc.cod.edu/essai/vol5/iss1/23

Hill, Shirley. “Teaching and doing gender in African American families.”  Sex Roles: A Journal of Research (2002).

National health marriage resource center. “Gender Roles and Marriage: A Fact Sheet.” Gender roles and expectations play a significant role in couple interaction, family decision-making, and perspectives on marital satisfaction. (2009).

Takeuchi, Emily Walton & David T. “Family Structure, Family Processes, and Well-Being among Asian Americans: Considering Gender and Nativity.” Journal of Family Issues (2010): 31(3) 301 –332.

PEW Research Center (2007).“Modern marriage”.  Retrieved November 25th, 2012 from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2007/07/18/modern-marriage/

Rich Morin and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center. Gender and Power; Women Call the Shots at Home; Public Mixed on Gender Roles in Jobs. 25 September 2008. 30th November 2012 <http://pewresearch.org/pubs/967/gender-power>.

Statistical Abstract of the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (1989)

Richmond-Abbott,Marie  (1984), “Sex Role Attitudes of Mothers and  Children in  Divorced,

Single-Parent Families,” Journal of Divorce 8, No. 1, (Fall),  61-81.

Kurdek, Lawrence A.  and Albert E.  Siesky (1980), “Sex Role Self-Concepts of Single Divorced Parents and Their Children,”Joumal ofDivorce 3,  No.3,  (Spring), 249-261.

Waldrop, Judith and Thomas Exter (1990), “What the 1990 Census Will Show,” American Demographics, 12, Number 1, (January), 20-29.


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