Does Family Structure Influence Adolescents'' Gendered Domestic Work? Evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study

Anne Solaz, INED
Pablo Gracia, Trinity College Dublin
Lidia Panico, Institut National d''Etudes Démographiques

Gender inequalities in unpaid work start in childhood and persist strongly throughout the life course (Anxo et al. 2011). Already among teenagers we observe clear gender differences in the performance of household tasks, with girls being significantly more active than boys in these activities (Wight et al., 2009, Solaz & Wolff, 2015). By analysing how boys and girls engage in domestic work, scholars can offer valuable insights into the role of families in shaping gender inequalities over the life course.

In this paper, we study how family structure influences adolescent involvement in gender-typed housework activities using a longitudinal approach. While an extensive literature analysed the impact of divorce on individuals’ psychological, socioeconomic or demographic transitions (Amato, 2000; Harkonen et al., 2017; McLanahan & Sandefour, 1994), little is known on how family structure affects adolescents’ gendered time use allocation (Mencarini et al., 2004; Wight et al., 2009). Drawing on ‘parental model theories’ (Cunninham, 2001), we expect gender inequalities in adolescents’ domestic work to be less pronounced in single-parent families than in two-parent families, as adolescents might more easily reproduce gender stereotypical roles in presence of both maternal and paternal roles at home.

Analyses are based on the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) (2000-2014), combined with the time-use module in Wave 6, about to be released. The MCS allows us to ideally investigate the role of family structure trajectories in adolescents’ housework behaviour. We will run logistic regression models predicting teenagers’ domestic work participation and linear regression models on the time spent on these activities, differentiating between “female” and “male-oriented” domestic tasks. Preliminary analyses suggest that differences by family structure on both household work and gender roles and attitudes play a minor role. Parental income and education seem to explain more of the variations in gender attitudes than family structure.


Gender inequalities in unpaid work start early in childhood, and persist strongly throughout subsequent stages of individuals’ life course (Buchmann et al., 2008; Cunninham, 2001; Hook, 2010). Teenager girls are already significantly more active than boys in housework activities (Wight et al., 2009). By analysing how boys and girls engage in gendered domestic practices, we can provide relevant evidence to better understand the intergenerational transmission of gender roles in the family, as well as how family contexts shape adolescents’ gendered roles and practices that have key implications for the reproduction of gender inequalities in later life.

In this study, we analyse how family structure trajectories influence adolescent involvement in gender-typed housework activities. Individuals who experienced parental separation in childhood have been found to be disadvantaged in key indicators of well-being, such as educational attainment, socio-emotional skills, and employment trajectories, while such effects were found to differ substantially across socioeconomic and demographic groups (Amato & Boyd, 2013; Harkonen et al., 2017; McLanhan, 2004; McLanahan & Sandefour, 1994). Less is known on the role of family structure in the construction of adolescents’ gendered behaviours, with only some few exceptions (e.g., Wight et al., 2009; Mencarini et al., 2014). Yet, previous studies did not use longitudinal data, relying on cross-sectional data.

We argue, first, that family structure trajectories can influence the way teenagers engage in gender-typed domestic work activities. Drawing on ‘role model’ theories, children learn about gender stereotypical behaviours at the parental home, which in turn influences their gendered aspirations and behaviours at different stages of the life course (Cunningham, 2001; Platt & Polavieja, 2016). In two-parent families, children might be affected by their two parents’ (gendered) behaviours through inheriting, consciously or unconsciously, gendered behaviours and values in family life that are potentially gender typed in presence of two parents. Boys could reproduce the (gendered) lifestyles of the father, while girls might do the same by reproducing female-typed attitudes from the mother. By contrast, when one parent is absent at home, “patriarchal” traditional values might be less reproduced from parents to children, due to the absence of one parent.

We posit, secondly, that family structures and living arrangements are not static and can change during childhood. Children may therefore experience a variety of family structures by the time they enter adolescence. We also argue that how long and when children experience different living arrangements may also impact the construction of their gendered behaviours in adolescence. In this respect, taking account of the dynamic nature of family structure could further elucidate the mechanisms through which families shape teenagers’ gender roles. We take account the role of two moderatos, namely ‘parents’ gender roles’ and ‘presence of opposite-sex siblings’


We use data from six waves of the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) (2000-2014). We use data on living arrangements at each wave and retrospective questions asking about changes in living arrangements in between waves, allowing us to construct a detailed month-by-month trajectory of family structure from birth to age 14. We differentiate between ‘two-parent families’, ‘single-parent families’, ‘biological mother and partner’ and ‘single father’, excluding same-sex couples. We plan to combine this information with the time-diary module from children that will be released in October 2017. At this stage, we provide generally descriptive evidence on family structure trajectories and preliminary evidence on correlations between family structure and the child’s gender norms and domestic participation at age 14. We use questionnaire data on two types of variables: (1) parents’ report of children’s frequency of engagement in household work and (2) gender role attitudes.


Figure 1 and Figure 2 provide two logistic regression models. Figure 1 is on how domestic behaviour is based on a logistic regression on the probability of parents to declare that their child is doing few domestic tasks, particularly less than once a week. Figure 2 is based on the probability that the focal child disagree with the statement that “Men and women should share household work equally”. Both models include several controls: Age, Gender, Number of Siblings, Parental Income, Parental Education, Ethnicity, Religious Background, Single-Sex School, Parental Family & Gender Values.

These preliminary analyses show that family structure plays a minor role on both household work and gender roles and attitudes. The only exception is the small groups of boys living with their mother and a step-father (6% difference) that have more gender egalitarian attitudes. Parental income and education explain more variations in gender attitudes than family structure does in all the empirical models. Future analyses using more refined measure of time spent on domestic work, using time-use data, will allow us to confirm or reject these preliminary results.

Presented in Session 1102: Families and Households