Mothers’ Gender Beliefs Matter for Adolescents’ Academic Achievement and Engagement: An Examination of Ethnically Diverse U.S. Mothers and Adolescents

Abstract

We examined mothers’ beliefs about gender-typed values and activities and their associations with the academic skills (i.e., math and reading/language arts) and engagement (i.e., emotional engagement in school) of their adolescent children (13–15 years-old) in a U.S. sample of Black, Chinese American, Latinx, and White families (n = 158). Mothers were more likely to endorse gender-typed activities (e.g., “Boys shouldn’t play with dolls”) than gender-typed values (e.g., “Men should make the important decisions in the family”). We found that Chinese American and Latina mothers endorsed more traditional gender-typed beliefs than Black mothers, who endorsed more traditional beliefs than White mothers. Adjusting for race/ethnicity and prior academic outcomes, mothers’ endorsement of gender-typed values was associated with lower emotional engagement in school for male adolescents. In addition, adjusting for race/ethnicity and prior academic outcomes, mothers’ endorsement of gender-typed activities was associated with lower math grades for female adolescents, lower emotional engagement in school for young men, and higher emotional engagement in school for young women. Mothers’ endorsement of gender-typed values and activities was not associated with reading/language arts grades for either male or female adolescents. Our findings have important implications for understanding the processes through which mothers’ gender attitudes may be conveyed and enacted in adolescents’ behavior within the school setting.

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The present work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant # 0721383.

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McFadden, K.E., Puzio, A., Way, N. et al. Mothers’ Gender Beliefs Matter for Adolescents’ Academic Achievement and Engagement: An Examination of Ethnically Diverse U.S. Mothers and Adolescents. Sex Roles 84, 166–182 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01157-7

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Keywords

  • Adolescent development
  • Academic achievement
  • Mothers
  • Sex roles
  • Stereotyped attitudes
  • Ethnic differences