Fathers and mothers who believe men should hold the power and authority in society and the family were less responsive to their children during family interactions, according to University of Auckland research.
“For decades, sexism has been known to predict negative behaviours toward women, from discrimination to violence,” said the research’s lead author Nickola Overall from the University of Auckland.
The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science on Tuesday, was the first of its type, suggesting that the effects flow through to poorer parenting.
Video-recording family groups in the laboratory, researchers assessed parents’ responsiveness, including warmth, involvement, engagement and sensitivity toward their children.
The less responsive parents, both mothers and fathers, had disclosed higher levels of “hostile sexism,” an academic term for attitudes favouring male authority and antagonism toward women who challenge men’s social power, according to the study.
The results for fathers were expected and highlight that the harmful effects of men’s sexist attitudes may also involve poorer parenting, it said, while the discovery that mothers who agree with hostile sexism were likely to be less responsive parents was unexpected.
“It could be that these mothers follow the father’s lead in family interactions, which leads to less engaged parenting,” Overall said, adding that another possibility is that mothers guard their traditional role as caregiver by restricting the father’s parental involvement, which detracts from being responsive to the children.
Responsive parenting is pivotal to healthy child development, and its absence can lead to behavioural issues, emotional difficulties and lower academic achievement, she said.
“The novel results offer new directions in understanding the broader impact of sexist attitudes on children across generations,” said Overall and her co-authors from the Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Essex.
There is also more to understand about why women continue to agree with sexist attitudes despite the harm they have for women and children, they wrote.