Sex Roles

, Volume 74, Issue 5–6, pp 220–230 | Cite as

Chivalry’s Double-edged Sword: How Girls’ and Boys’ Paternalistic Attitudes Relate to Their Possible Family and Work Selves

Original Article


Paternalism refers to the ideology that women need men’s protection (Glick and Fiske 2001), which is associated with greater acceptance of the gender status quo (Jost and Kay 2005) and lower feelings of agency and competence among women (Dumont et al. 2010). To consider the potential impact of paternalistic attitudes during adolescence, we investigated girls’ and boys’ paternalistic attitudes in relation to their possible family and career selves. The sample comprised 201 U.S. adolescents from California high schools (Mage = 17.49 years; 46% girls) from ethnically diverse backgrounds (49% White, 26% Asian, 25% other). Participants completed survey measures of paternalistic attitudes, possible family and work selves, and other constructs. Possible work selves included occupations traditionally associated with men (computers, science, business/law, and action-oriented jobs [e.g., firefighter, mechanic]) or with women (elementary-school teacher and aesthetic-oriented jobs [e.g., fashion model, dancer]). There were significant average gender differences in paternalism (boys higher), future family hopes (girls higher), future careers associated with women (girls higher), and most future careers associated with men (boys higher); we found no significant gender difference in business/law career interest. Paternalistic attitudes significantly predicted several aspects of possible selves in hypothesized directions: future family hopes (positive association for girls and boys), future business/law and action-oriented careers (positive for boys), aesthetic-oriented careers (positive for girls), and science careers (negative for girls). Other hypothesized patterns were not indicated. Findings are interpreted as reflecting the potential influences of paternalistic attitudes in the formation of adolescents’ possible family and work selves.


Gender role attitudes Sexism Identity formation Occupational aspirations Family 



The research was supported by a grant from the Academic Senate Committee on Research of the University of California, Santa Cruz to Campbell Leaper. Preliminary findings from this study were presented at the Fifth Biennial Gender Development Research Conference, April 2012, San Francisco. Bonnie Glenesk, Katrina Hoagland, Alana Kivowitz, Tyler LeTourneau, Alexa Paynter, Payton Small, Stacey Storey, and Chaconne Tatum-Diehl are thanked for their assistance. Antoinette Wilson, Rachael Robnett, Veronica Hamilton, and Christine Starr are appreciated for their suggestions. Doug Bonnet is thanked for his assistance with statistical analyses.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Research involving human participants

The Institutional Review Board at the authors’ university reviewed and approved the research protocol.

Informed consent

Informed consent was secured from all participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California at Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA

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