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Family Roles - Role Expectations And Demands

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Gender roles, as they pertain to the family, are interactive. Being a daughter implies that there is a mother or father. It suggests that being a daughter entails expectations about a female's behavior visà-vis a parent and a parent's behavior vis-à-vis the daughter. A daughter or son reasonably expects physical care and emotional support to a certain age, and parents might expect increasing domestic responsibility and self-direction with their child's physical maturation. Societies usually codify these responsibilities in general terms.

In rural communities around the world, for example, in China and India, kinship responsibilities were well understood without specific laws. With urbanization and industrialization, informal relations weaken, and laws emerge to specify gender-kinship responsibilities. Precise rights and responsibilities are often interpreted by specific cases channeled through the society's legal and welfare systems, particularly for those families needing outside assistance.

Role anticipation is associated with becoming an adult as children mature and leave the family (Nilsson and Strandh 1999). Role anticipation assumes that a particular role will exist in the future, and self-anticipation assumes the person will someday occupy that role. For example, in the fifteen member countries of the European Union (Austria, Belgium, France, etc.), mothers tend to be employed and concomitantly have fewer children (Lesthaeghe and Williams 1999). Role anticipation occurs when the daughter assumes this will be true for her in the future. If she also assumes she will be an employed mother some day with reduced fertility, she engages in self-anticipation. Children emulate the behavior of the parent they identify with, usually the same-gender parent. In this case, the mother becomes an important referent for the daughter's learning the anticipated role.

An assumption is that role learning for the son will be more difficult if the father is absent from the home. Fathers in industrializing countries often leave home, sometimes permanently, to find employment in cities, thereby creating mother-only families. Daughters also have different learning experiences with absent fathers because cross-gender parent experiences are absent or limited. In modern societies, fewer families have absent mothers. A study of people in thirty-nine countries found that the family's national and cultural context may importantly mitigate parental absence through greater social integration (Gohm et al. 1998).

Role compatibility is important in a society that permits multiple role sets for wives and husbands, as when a wife expects her role to include employment outside the home and her husband does not. These kinds of incompatibilities produce role conflict, in this case between the female's self-expectations and the male's role prescriptions. Therefore gender roles become an important part of premarital assumptions and anticipations. Such incompatibilities require varied forms of negotiation, and sometimes counseling, to reduce conflict. Various theories address these negotiations that may include professional mediation and counseling. A study of Australian males, who became primary childcare givers while their wives worked, indicated how difficult it was to shift one's behavior away from traditional role expectations. These men were highly pressured by peers to return to traditional family roles (Grbich 1992).

Role overload and role conflict are closely related. A frequent international phenomenon of role overload occurs when an employed wife also does a large part of the domestic chores traditionally assigned to her. This produces role strain in that not all tasks can be performed in the time available. Consciously acknowledging this imbalance may lead to arguments and, if the issue is not resolved, to marital breakup if the culture permits it.

Work role and other demands outside the family heighten both role strain and conflict. The wife's external employment introduces another set of role demands that increases role strain and conflict through social power adjustments (Standing 1991). Married women's employment outside the home increases stress when they are expected to be primary caregivers to their elderly parents as is expected in traditional extended families. For example, Japan is experimenting with various plans to substitute or supplement the traditional family care of the elderly (Ogawa and Retherford 1997).

When a female enters the marketplace, as is increasingly common worldwide, she derives status benefits from her direct contribution to the family income. However, careful research of past and present cultures indicates that actual family bargaining power is often hidden, though persisting along gender lines. With the wife's greater economic independence, she is more likely to sever the relationship if conflict is unresolved. Dual-earner families may gain greater independence from their employers because dual incomes permit more employment choices. For example, the husband may elect to spend more time in domestic duties while the wife pursues her career goals.

The feminist movement influences gender role change both in and outside the family in multiple ways. Broadly speaking, the movement may be viewed as a social process focusing on female role identities and prescriptions. Its basic premise is that gender ascriptions produce power inequities in family systems where the male is the primary paid earner and the female is confined to domestic duties. Domestic work is viewed as important but is not well rewarded in money or status (Al-Nouri 1993). Feminism identifies inequities and suggests strategies for their modification. Education examines gender role inequities and challenges traditional gender roles (consciousness raising), providing females with greater control over their reproductive functions (McDonald 2000). The 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development specifically addressed women's health issues. Since then, forty countries, including South Africa, Brazil, and Bangladesh, have instituted laws and policies reflecting goals set at this conference (Ashford 2001). Such activities intend to weaken gender role bias by leading to more equitable and individualized family roles.


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