Overall, the results indicate that both male and female adolescents develop more egalitarian gender role attitudes during adolescence. This finding can be linked to the assumption that young people increasingly question morally built constructs, leading to the endorsement of more egalitarian gender roles (Eccles, 1987
). Moreover, it confirms prior research that has shown that egalitarian attitudes increase during adolescence (e.g., Schroeder et al., 2019
). Consequently, the finding that boys experience an increase in traditional gender role attitudes during early adolescence was not replicated (Halimi et al., 2021
). Likewise, the opposing gender intensification hypothesis
—that gender role behavior increases during adolescence and sex differences increase (Hill & Lynch, 1983
)—was not supported. Although teenagers discover their gender identity during this time, the results show that attitudes towards gender roles nevertheless soften, and explicit role attributions are less supported. Moreover, contrary to the gender intensification hypothesis
, male adolescents experience greater change towards egalitarian direction than female adolescents. This reduces gender differences, although they remain at a significant level. Thus, endorsing egalitarian attitudes seems to be particularly important for women. To participate equally in the labor market, it is particularly relevant for women to pursue egalitarian attitudes, as they are traditionally assigned the domestic role. When female adolescents begin to consider their future plans (which first include decisions on careers after school), egalitarian attitudes are particularly relevant. While egalitarian attitudes are especially important for women, male adolescents develop more strongly towards an open and egalitarian direction. Thus, the finding that sex differences in gender role attitudes decline during adolescence (Fan & Marini, 2000
) was replicated.
Cognitive abilities were found to have significant positive effects on egalitarian gender role attitudes. This could be an indication that young people with higher cognitive abilities are better able to process seemingly competing concepts and critically question social structures, including critically reflecting on traditional gender role attitudes (Harter, 2003
). No gender differences were found with respect to this relationship; higher cognitive abilities promote egalitarian attitudes among both male and female adolescents. However, a negative slope effect was found, indicating that young people with weaker cognitive abilities are particularly likely to develop more egalitarian attitudes over time.
More ambiguous results were found for the effects of family background. Socioeconomic status correlated positively with gender role attitudes only at the first measurement point. Moreover, no significant slope effect was found, and when controlling for cognitive abilities, the significant intercept effect of parental socioeconomic status became insignificant. Despite the presence of a link between family socioeconomic background and gender role attitudes, this factor is not predictive for changes during adolescence. This may be because young people become more independent of their family during adolescence, distancing themselves from certain attitudes imparted within the family. A more important contextual factor than the family could be peer groups and school classes, which form a primary point of reference for teenagers (Halimi et al., 2021
). In particular, gender-related attitudes of peer groups could be relevant in the formation of gender identity and gender role attitudes. Also, by the end of the study period the adolescents had already entered adulthood and their own socioeconomic status may have become more relevant than their parents’ socioeconomic status. The study demonstrates that gender role attitudes experience changes during adolescence, confirming prior results that have observed an increase in egalitarian attitudes over the course of adolescence (Eccles, 1987
). That these trajectories converge during adolescence seems to be a central and overarching aspect of development.
The longitudinal dataset employed in this study provided an overview of the development of gender role attitudes across the entire period of adolescence. It captured long-term developmental trajectories from early adolescence to emerging adulthood while using an extensive sample (N = 3828). A partially uniform metric was applied over time and across groups to measure the development of gender role attitudes over time. Despite these advantages, the study also exhibited several limitations with relevant implications for future research.
Some challenges arose when attempting to model the gender role attitudes construct in this study. Previous research (e.g., Knight & Brinton, 2017
) has shown that gender roles cannot necessarily be mapped on a one-dimensional scale with egalitarianism at one end and traditionalism at the other. The item statements used to assess gender role attitudes (Appendix Table 8
) encompass both descriptive statements on how men and women actually relate to one another and prescriptive statements about how they ought
to relate to one another (Krampen, 1979
). In addition, gender role attitudes can be divided into different facets. They encompass models for dividing domestic and paid labor among couples, while also including normative and legal aspects of gender equality and women’s greater presence in public life (Constantin & Voicu, 2015
). This multidimensional perspective on gender role attitudes cannot always be converted into a one-dimensional scale with egalitarianism at one end and traditionalism at the other. These various facets of gender role attitudes are also contained within the construct used here. A scale measuring egalitarian gender role attitudes was employed for two key reasons: first, due to the increasing endorsement of egalitarian attitudes in Western societies (Lomazzi & Seddig, 2020
), and second, because the egalitarian attitudes scale included sufficient linkages between items across measurement waves to examine developmental trajectories. Nevertheless, the use of the scale may have had an effect on the results, as acquiescence led adolescents to agree more with egalitarian statements, leading to the rejection of the gender intensification hypothesis
Following recent recommendations, the egalitarian gender role attitudes scale was embedded in structural equation models and tested for measurement variance over time and across genders (e.g., Lomazzi & Seddig, 2020
). This study was able to partially confirm the scale’s measurement invariance in both ways. However, due to the aforementioned complexity, recourse to partial measurement invariance was unavoidable in some cases (Byrne, 2013
). Moreover, the indicators shifted across measurement points, as the number of items measuring egalitarian attitudes was lower in the beginning and increased over time. This meant that only two anchor items were available for the first measurement point (Hancock & Buehl, 2008
). However, the exchange of items over time is not necessarily avoidable in a longitudinal perspective with a changing social construct. Agreement with items, such as that women should have the same rights as men, reaches a ceiling by no longer reflecting variance after a certain point in time (see also gender role scales of the European Values Study, EVS, 2021
). However, the sensitivity analysis concerning the shorter scale showed that measurement invariance and the developmental pattern were confirmed.
It was not possible to model a quadratic slope in the latent growth curve models due to convergence problems. This might have been due to the relatively low variance of the slope parameters. This issue could not be solved with the presented models because the most common solutions (e.g., fixing the residuals of the same indicators over time) did not achieve satisfactory model fit. This may be a further indication that modelling gender role attitudes remains a key issue requiring more extensive and in-depth research.
A typical issue of longitudinal analyses, which also affected this study, is panel attrition. People with lower cognitive abilities and socioeconomic status are more likely to drop out of the study. This is particularly relevant in this context, as these are key predictors of the developmental trajectory. Therefore, it is important to use missing data strategies such as FIML, as this strategy enables the retention of all students. Thereby, all existing information is used, maintaining the test power and minimizing the risk of selective dropout (Graham, 2009
). Nevertheless, the generalizability should be interpreted with caution and the effects may be underestimated. Further replications with other data sets are needed to test the robustness of the findings presented here.
It was also not possible to control for relevant predictors. No data was available from the parents themselves, so there was no information on the gender role attitudes of the parents. Moreover, it was not possible to look at time-variant confounders like biological changes (e.g., hormonal changes) or the time point when the participants had their first romantic and sexual experiences. Likewise, time-invariant confounders, such as genes or personality traits, could not be considered. Future research should consider whether these could be relevant and specific predictors for the development of gender role attitudes.
Lastly, the results need to be discussed from a historical perspective as the data basis refers to the 1990s and 2000s. In the last decade, societal discourses have increasingly engaged topics such as #metoo, nonbinary gender identities, and new ways to understand masculinity (Walter, 2018
). This discourse is currently being led by a (publicly very present) section of adolescents and young adults with an intensity that was not as characteristic and polarizing for the same age group in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the adolescents in this study developed more egalitarian attitudes, and this can also be assumed for today’s teenagers based on current debates. The results highlight the changes in attitudes towards gender roles that take place during adolescence, and the importance of this perspective when studying gender inequalities. Although the data refers to the 1990s, there are few research approaches and datasets with a developmental perspective on the whole of adolescence.
This study has key implications for future research. Methodologically, increased latent modelling of gender role attitudes combined with extensive measurement invariance testing is required to adequately deal with shifting indicators. First, social change needs to be reflected in attitudes towards gender roles so that adequate variance can be modelled. Second, young people’s attitudes to gender roles change as they move through adolescence. While young people in the seventh grade may only be observers of their parents, they will have already made occupational decisions by the end of the study period that may go hand in hand with their gender roles. Moreover, future research should compare the development of traditional and egalitarian gender role attitudes to separate descriptive and prescriptive parts of the items. Intensive content and methodological research on the development of attitudes towards gender roles in adolescence is required, as the results show that adolescents develop in an egalitarian direction, while gender differences continue to emerge in occupational decisions. This may clarify how gender differences manifest early on.