Are you free to choose? Gender stereotypes and the life path

The first choices people make at a young age have a huge impact on their life trajectory. Once you follow the path, it is difficult to deviate from it. Stereotypes and gender norms among young people influence their choices regarding work, care and learning. These (stereotyped) choices have a significant impact on subsequent outcomes, such as the sector in which a person works and the time of work.

This is evidenced by research by Atria, which investigated the factors that influence the choices of young men and women* in relation to work, care and learning. The report’s findings are based on a survey of more than 1,300 young people between the ages of 25 and 35 in the Netherlands. and two group interviews with young parents.

Read the report here Are you free to choose? Gender stereotypes and the life path [PDF]

Young Dutch people still think about stereotypes

Young Dutch people still have stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.

  • Discount properties (such as ambition, decisiveness, aggression) often attributed to men, and Community spirit features (eg affectionate, sensitive, emotional) more often for women.
  • Both young men and women have stronger stereotypes about their gender.
  • Young adults are more likely than women to believe that gender determines a person’s personality and that this is immutable.
  • Few young Dutch people think that the mother should be primarily responsible for the children.

Gender stereotypes affect young people, especially in the field of study, the professional sector and working hours

Young people who have more gender stereotyped ideas show more gender-stereotypical behavior. However, gender stereotypes are not equally strong in everyone. They affect the choices of young men and women to varying degrees.

  • Young adults are directed more by gender stereotypes and views of gender roles than women are in terms of work, care and education.
  • Male stereotypes are associated with a greater likelihood of obtaining a technical or economic education in men. By doing so we put them on the path to a career in these sectors and to work full time.
  • For women, their views have no bearing on field of study and working hours.
  • Although young adult women are more likely to work part-time jobs than men, this is mainly related to the sector in which they work and the field of study that preceded it.

Division of labor in the family: women have to balance

  • And the stronger the opinions of young adults about the role of gender, the lower their share in the family.
  • Young women always do more housework. They are often more responsible for caring responsibilities than men. Regardless of their opinions and whether or not they have a paid job.
  • Women with traditional ideas about motherhood do more housework and childcare than women with more equal views. But this effect is also stronger in men. Men work less at home if they have a strong ideology of motherhood.
  • So it seems that young mothers who have a traditional ideology of motherhood have the most balance. Between paid work, responsibility for childcare, and expectations about motherhood.

The great influence of past choices on the course of life

The first choices people make at a young age have a huge impact on the course of life. Once you follow the path, it’s hard to get off it:

  • Choosing to study strongly defines the professional sector and thus creates obstacles and opportunities later in life.
  • The sector in which a person works is closely related to whether a person works full-time or part-time. In sectors where many women work, part-time work is the norm. In industries where many men work, full-time employment is the norm.
  • Even if men want to work part-time, it depends on the sector whether or not that is an option.

Plans made by employers can perpetuate inequality

Regulations put in place by government and employers to combat inequality in the labor market and in the household appear to conform to existing social norms and thus perpetuate inequality.

  • Regulations designed to improve the combination of work and care do not encourage the young women in our study to work (or continue working) more or divide care tasks more evenly.
  • Men who take advantage of work and home arrangements, which are intended to facilitate the combination of work and care, have no more care responsibilities. They are more likely to work full time.
  • Men who benefit from childcare programs have a larger share of the family, regardless of their opinions. This is especially true for men in the technical and economic sectors. They generally do minimal housework and often work full time.

Policy Recommendations

The findings of this study call for policies specifically aimed at combating stereotypes at an early age – especially among young people. Employers should also develop plans that include incentives for men to fairly share care responsibilities in the home. This increases the scope for both men and women to follow their own life path. A path not bound by gender stereotypes and gender expectations.

Read the report here Are you free to choose? Gender stereotypes and the life path [PDF]

Read the factsheet here Are you free to choose? [PDF]

* The research report used the binary distinction between men and women, while there are more than two genders and many people do not feel comfortable in the male or female category. This was chosen because social norms around masculinity and femininity and their real impact on people’s lives are central to this research.

Research conducted by: Paula Thijs, Mickey Stegart, Djoike Ardon, Franca Hencamp, Ingrid Durten

Photo: guest idea + photo

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