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Parents’ Attitudes And Sexual Orientation May Influence Gender Stereotyping In Children’s Environments

August 30, 2001-- On one block, heterosexual parents are raising Dick and Jane. On another block, lesbian parents are raising Johnny and Suzie. Do parents’ sexual orientation and attitudes affect sex-role stereotyping in their children’s environments?

At the American Psychological Association meeting this week in San Francisco, a University of Virginia researcher will present results of a novel investigation into this question. A research team photographed bedrooms of young children of heterosexual and lesbian couples and rated the rooms’ décor and furnishings for sex-role stereotyping. They also asked the parents to assess their own gender-related attitudes.

The results showed that most children’s bedrooms are stereotyped along traditional gender lines. Although all personal items, such as pictures and clothing, were removed digitally from the photographs, the furnishings and décor obviously illustrated those bedrooms belonging to boys and those to girls.

The researchers found that girls’ bedrooms from heterosexual-parented families were rated as more feminine than girls’ bedrooms from lesbian-parented families. However, no differences were found in the ratings of masculinity in the girls’ bedrooms. Boys’ bedrooms had similar ratings of masculinity and femininity across family types.

The study also showed that children with lesbian mothers had bedrooms that appeared somewhat less stereotyped than children with heterosexual parents. Lesbian mothers were also found to hold significantly more liberal attitudes about children’s gender-related behavior than heterosexual parents.

"Parents with more liberal attitudes had children whose bedrooms were less stereotyped along gender lines," said Erin Sutfin, one of three U.Va. researchers who conducted the study.

The research team consisted of Charlotte J. Patterson, a psychology professor known for her studies on children being raised by gay and lesbian parents, and Megan Fulcher and Sutfin, graduate students in U.Va.’s psychology department.

The study participants were 53 four- to six-year-old children and their 106 parents. The sample was drawn from the Atlantic Coast Families Study of two-parent heterosexual and lesbian couples raising children who either were born to or adopted into their current families. Both the heterosexual and lesbian couples were well educated and reported comfortable incomes.

To conduct the study, two trained researchers visited each family’s home. One asked parents to complete questionnaires and to answer interview questions. The other photographed children’s bedrooms from several angles. All identifying information, such as the children’s names or family photos, were removed from the pictures using computer software. Slides were made of each bedroom and shown to raters who were asked to identify the gender of the child living in the room.

From analysis of the parents’ interviews and questionnaires and the raters’ evaluations of the bedrooms, the researchers found that parents’ attitudes are related to the extent of stereotyping in children’s bedrooms. Parents with more liberal attitudes had children with bedrooms that appeared less stereotyped.

"The results indicate that parents’ attitudes account for the association between sexual orientation and gender stereotyping in the children’s bedrooms," Sutfin said.

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (434) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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