Tenenbaum, H.R. & Leaper, C. (2003). Parent-child conversations about science: The socialization of gender inequities? Developmental Psychology, 39, 34-47. (PDF is available if you just google the citation. The first link should download the article)
Purpose: Given the large discrepancy between the number of women and men in science careers but the small gender difference in test performance, innate ability alone cannot account for gender differences in the science labor force . . . For this reason, in the present study we examined parents’ socialization beliefs and practices to understand possible causes of the apparent gender inequity in science participation.
Participants: There were 13 sixth-grade girls, 13 sixth-grade boys, 13 eight-grade girls, and 13 eight-grade boys, all from different socioeconomic backgrounds, mainly from European American decent.
Methods: Parent-child pairs were asked to do four activities . . . The science activities included biology, physics, and technology tasks. In addition, an interpersonal dilemma activity was included. There were two tasks for each science domain as well as for the interpersonal dilemma activity. Children completed one of the two tasks with each parent. Parents and children also completed questionnaires.
Hypotheses/Results [trunacted]: There were no significant differences between girls’ science grades and boys’ science grades from the teachers who returned the forms. In addition, there was no significant difference between girls’ science self-efficacy and boys’ science self-efficacy. Finally, no significant difference was found between girls’ science interest and boys’ science interest. (Self-efficacy refers to one’s belief that he/she has the capacity to do something.)
Hypothesis 1a: Parents will rate daughters lower than sons in science interest and ability.
Hypothesis 1b: Parents’ gender-stereotyped attributions will be more pronounced toward adolescents than towards younger children.
Parents of sons were more likely to believe that their child was interested in science than were parents of daughters. In addition, parents of daughters were more likely to believe that science was difficult for their child than were parents of sons. However, parents of daughters and parents of sons did not differ significantly in their evaluations of the amount of effort needed for their children to do well in science.
Hypothesis 2a: Parents’ attributions of their children’s science interest and ability will predict children’s interest and self-efficacy in science.
Hypothesis 2b: The correlations between parent’ ratings and children’s self-concepts (Hypothesis 2a) will be strong for mothers than fathers.
First, the more difficult that mothers believed that science was for their children, the lower the children’s self-efficacy and interest. In addition, the more interested mothers believed that their children were in science, the higher the children’s self-efficacy and interest. . . . In partial support of this prediction, the correlation between parents’ rating of their children’s science interest and their children’s science self-efficacy was significantly stronger for mothers than for fathers.
Hypothesis 4a: Parents will use more cognitively demanding speech forms with sons than with daughters during the science tasks.
Hypothesis 4b: The child gender effect on parents’ use of cognitively demanding speech (Hypothesis 4a) will be more likely during either the physics or the technology tasks.
Hypothesis 4c: Parents will use more cognitively challenging speech forms with daughters than with sons during the interpersonal dilemma task.
Hypothesis 4d: Child gender effects on parents’ use of cognitively demanding speech (Hypotheses 4a-4c) will be more likely for fathers than mothers.
During the physics task, fathers of sons used more cognitively demanding talk than did fathers of daughters. No other interactions were significant.
Interesting Discussion Points: In general, parents held gender-stereotyped expectations regarding their children’s science interest and ability. They also tended to use teaching language in gender-typed ways. It is noteworthy that, as predicted, father but not mothers were observed to act differently toward daughters and sons. Prior studies indicate that gender-differentiated treatment is more likely among fathers than mothers (see Siegal, 1987). Men tend to be more concerned than women with the adoption of gender-typed behavior (see Leaper, 2000).
Closing thoughts: Of course, this study has its share of limitations and biases, but I find it very interesting on a whole. It hold much more information than what I have recopied here, I encourage you to check it out!
Parents have different conceptions about their child’s abilities based on gender and regardless of their actual abilities in various subjects. In turn, these ideas influence their behavior . . . and subsequently the behavior and ideas of their children.
Since I only have sisters, I am not sure if my parents would have treated sons/daughters different. Perhaps you can think of instances of this in your own life?