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First, society decried the working woman; she belonged with her children. Then it rallied behind her in a nearly epic gender revolution to support her climb up the corporate ladder. Then the momentum ebbed, with more people again favoring traditional female homemaker roles.

This so-called stalled revolution, however, has found its way out of neutral and into drive once more.

In a recent paper published by the Council on Contemporary Families, David Cotter and colleagues analyzed the last few decades of General Social Survey data, which has measured American support of gender equity since 1977. The trend they uncovered is illustrated below using one of four parameters studied:

  • In 1977, 34 percent disagreed it’s “better if man works, woman cares for home/family”
  • In 1994, 63 percent disagreed it’s “better if man works, woman cares for home/family”
  • In 2000, 58 percent disagreed it’s “better if man works, woman cares for home/family”
  • In 2006, 64 percent disagreed it’s “better if man works, woman cares for home/family”

“Attitudes underwent a massive transition, from two-thirds embracing traditional gender positions in 1977 to two-third embracing the egalitarian position by 1994,” Cotter said. “But between 1994 and 2006, they remained essentially unchanged, even drifting back toward the more traditional position. Since 2006, however, all four measures have resumed the egalitarian trend, though at slower rate than in the 1980s.”

While it’s not clear exactly what caused the stall, or what has rekindled American support of women in the workforce, understanding societal views of gender equity is important.

“Generally, there’s a reciprocal relationship between gender role attitudes and work and family outcomes. They tend to mutually reinforce each other,” Cotter said. “But it’s clear that to the extent that public opinion and private attitudes are supportive of women working, we should see more efforts to ensure equity.”

Cotter’s early work on this subject was supported by a Russell Sage Foundation grant.

David Cotter, professor/chair of sociology (With Joan Hermsen, University of Missouri; Reeve Vannenman, University of Maryland)