Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"At-Home Dad" Stigma Is All Relative

Dave Munger over at Cognitive Daily conducted a most interesting experiment a couple of weeks ago after being a bit worried that NPR's decision to refer to him as "a science blogger and stay-at-home dad" would dent his authority. He gave visitors to his site a reading comprehension tests, with each visitor getting one of four versions of the same story. The only difference between the four stories was the way the protagonist (a was identified. In one version, "Jordan" was referred to as a "father," another version call him a "stay-at-home father," one called the subject a "mother," and the final version used "stay-at-home mother."

The twist: the test then asked how many hours Jordan worked a week as "coordinator of natural disaster relief efforts for ReliefCorps International" (a fictitious web-based relief group).

The results:
... readers guessed that "father" Jordan worked significantly more hours per week than when Jordan was characterized as a "stay-at-home father," a "mother," or a "stay-at-home mother." The story made no mention of Jordan's working hours, just a description of the organization Jordan was a part of.

There was no significant difference between estimated work hours for stay-at-home fathers versus mothers, but stay-at-home mothers were seen as working significantly less than both mothers and stay-at-home fathers. "Fathers" were estimated to work a full six hours per week more than "stay-at-home mothers."

Does this mean our readers think stay-at-home parents aren't as good at their jobs as other parents? We can't say that based on this data. Perhaps they believe that stay-at-home parents are simply more efficient. Perhaps they think that stay-at-home parents have made a conscious decision to work fewer hours, possibly for lower pay than other workers.


I do think there's a clearer case for gender bias in our responses. Why would respondents believe that women, regardless of their parenting status, work fewer hours than men, when all other aspects of the story are identical? I'm having a difficult time coming up with an answer other than gender bias.

Ultimately, based on these results, it appears that whatever stigma I felt by being labeled as a "stay-at-home" parent may be roughly equal to the bias a woman encounters every day, just for being a woman.

Not sure what to make of this, but it does give me less faith that a gender-blind utopia is right around the corner ...


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