News Sinead Moriarty

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Want an ambitious daughter? Help with the housework, dad

Published 04/06/2014 | 02:30

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What makes your daughter strive for greatness is watching her father doing household chores.
What makes your daughter strive for greatness is watching her father doing household chores.

HAVE you ever wondered what makes a girl ambitious? The answer will surprise you. It's not strong role models, or an expensive education, or a mother who is the CEO of a large corporation.

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What makes your daughter strive for greatness is watching her father doing household chores.

According to a new study, dads who want their daughters to aim for less traditional and more high-flying careers should take out the Hoover more often.

A group of psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that when a father performs a greater share of traditionally female household chores such as cooking, cleaning and childcare, his school-aged daughter is less likely to say she wants to pursue a stereotypical female career such as nursing, teaching or staying at home with the kids.

In fact, the daughter is a lot more likely to aspire to more gender-neutral careers, like becoming a doctor, lawyer or scientist.

Alyssa Croft, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, said the study suggested "girls grow up with broader career goals in households where domestic duties are shared more equitably by parents".

You would think seeing her mother achieving satisfaction and success in her career would ignite a daughter's ambition – but apparently it's a lot more effective if she sees her father with a tea towel.

It's all very well for a father to tell his daughter that he believes in gender equality, but apparently seeing him act upon it is a much more powerful lesson.

Croft says: "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."

Interestingly, boys tended to choose gender-stereotyped careers regardless of their father's role at home. Fathers of all-boy families can pack away the Hoover, sit back down and turn on the football match.

The study was carried out on 326 children aged seven to 13 and their parents. Croft said she undertook the study because most previous studies about children's gender stereotypes looked mainly at the role of their parents' jobs.

She thought what parents did around the house might be more important, since children were more likely to see that.

Who knew their daughters were watching so closely as to the division of chores? However, there is a definite upside to this for women with daughters – now you have an excellent reason to demand your husband does his fair share of the housework. If he happens to want your daughter to be a brain surgeon, you may even get him to do the whole lot.

In Ireland we still have a long way to go in relation to equality in the home. Our European neighbours are streets ahead of us. In a recent study of 26 European countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) it was revealed that Irish women do twice as much housework as men, even when both work full-time.

Having a father who empties the dishwasher is all very well, but surely it is equally important for girls to see their father supporting their mother's career.

A father who respects that his wife has obligations to her working life, like travelling abroad to conferences, is a good role model. Daughters (and sons) seeing that their fathers really respect their wives' jobs is setting a good example too.

The study does acknowledge that mothers also have a role to play. In fact, mothers' gender and work equality beliefs were key factors in predicting children's attitudes towards the roles of women and men. But the strongest predictor of a daughter's own career ambitions was their father's attitude to housework.

Croft sums it up: "Our results suggest that when fathers espouse and enact a more equal distribution of domestic work, their daughters more easily envision balancing work with family and having a less gender-stereotypic career."

But it seems to me that this study also reveals what we need to do with our sons. If your sons are taught from an early age to cook, clean, do laundry and tidy up, they will be better husbands and fathers in the future.

They will in turn go on to raise ambitious daughters and we may just end up with equality in the workplace and the home.

Irish Independent

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