Sex Roles

, Volume 69, Issue 1–2, pp 89–106 | Cite as

Parental Role Portrayals in Twentieth Century Children’s Picture Books: More Egalitarian or Ongoing Stereotyping?

  • Amy L. DeWittEmail author
  • Cynthia M. Cready
  • Rudy Ray Seward
Original Article


Gender role stereotyping continues to dominate within many media forms. This research examined the portrayals of mothers and fathers as companions, disciplinarians, caregivers, nurturers, and providers in 300 twentieth century children’s picture books randomly selected from the Children’s Catalog (H.W. Wilson Company, 2001). The books were published in the United States between the years of 1902 and 2000. The list of texts was stratified by time periods before sampling. The impact of time of publication upon each of the five parental role constructs was assessed using cross-tabulations. Previous analyses suggest traditional parental role portrayals are commonplace, but by employing time of publication as an independent variable, the researchers questioned whether an evolvement of roles would be noted. By examining the father and mother role performances independently over time it was expected that some progression toward egalitarianism would be noted. Overall, mothers did outperform fathers in nurturing and caregiving, and fathers outperformed mothers in companion and providing behaviors. However, when these behaviors were cross-tabulated with time of publication, no significant role evolvement was found. For example, while not statistically significant, father characters were most likely to nurture, provide care, and act as a child’s companion in books published in the 1970s, but these behaviors declined in subsequent time periods. The role evolvement of mother characters also lacked statistical significance, suggesting that the traditional male breadwinner-female homemaker model has been consistently portrayed in children’s picture books.


Parents Children’s literature Father Mother Disciplinarian Caregiver Nurturer Provider 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy L. DeWitt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cynthia M. Cready
    • 2
  • Rudy Ray Seward
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyShepherdstownUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA

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