Exploring Gender Roles in Family Life

Published January 8, 2021
Same sex couple and their children cooking dinner together

Gender roles in family have changed over time and continue to evolve to reflect societal and cultural norms and attitudes. It is important to note that on a micro-level, individual families will develop their own norms when it comes to gender roles.

Gender Roles in Family

Simplistically, gender roles in a family refer to the extent one performs tasks and behaves in a way that is viewed as societally and culturally normative. Gender role adherence, according to one's social and cultural background, does not work for each individual or every unique family and will range on a spectrum.

How Do Gender Roles Affect Families?

Gender roles impact families on a conscious and unconscious level. Unconsciously gender related material is internalized via television shows, movies, commercials, books, ads, and podcasts. On a conscious and unconscious level, gender roles are internalized through one's upbringing, observing relationships and other families, and interacting with the world in general (school, jobs, friendships, etc.). Gender roles within a family:

  • Can affect how one thinks they should behave
  • Can impact one's view of themselves
  • Can impact one's conscious and unconscious understanding of their gender
  • Can affect relationships within the family (for example, a family may experience more conflict if the parent(s) and children disagree on gender role expectations)

What Is the Role of a Man in the Family?

It's important to note that not all families have men in them, and there is not one right way a family needs to look. Presuming a man has certain roles within a family can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a ton of pressure placed on one individual within the household. This pressure may be self-induced, placed on them by others within the family, or a combination of both. A man's role in the family is not typically limited to just one, but rather may be a combination of many roles according to the family's needs.

Role of a Woman in Family

It's important to consider that not all families have women in them, and that women, like men, are not limited to certain roles within the family system. Women may have many roles within a family system including, but not limited to, loving parent, caring partner, financial contributor, stay-at-home parent, and part-time working parent. Unlike what was deemed "traditional", today:

What Are Typical Gender Roles?

Typical gender roles have shifted over time, and what was seen as normative generations ago may now be considered outdated. To say there are typical gender roles would be a disservice to the uniqueness of each family, which will have of their own set of expectations and needs. More than half of couples (62%) raising children together today believe that both partners should equally share the child rearing and household chore duties, meaning the majority of couples with children are not subscribing to "typical" gender roles.

Role of Family in Gender Identity

Gender identity development in children can be fostered in healthy ways by parents. To do so, parents can:

  • Understand that gender development and gender exploration are normal aspects of maturing
  • Not stifle their children's interest in certain activities because they are stereotypically for boys or girls
  • Understand that gender identity is different from one's sex
  • Allow their child or children to express themselves in ways that feel authentic to their gender identity without judgment
  • Understand that gender exploration is a process
  • Know that gender identity and gender presentation are not the same as one's sexuality

Gender Stereotypes Have Changed Over Time

Gender roles within a family system are a complex concept that continues to evolve over time. It's important to note that while there may be cultural and societal based norms when it comes to gender roles, each family will have their own unique interpretation of what that means to them and who will take on particular family roles and responsibilities.

Exploring Gender Roles in Family Life