Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



Since the 1960’s men and women’s gender-role attitudes have become increasingly nontraditional. The shift in attitudes has been attributed greatly to changes in women’s educational attainment and labor force participation. This thesis builds upon this line of work by exploring the effects of returning to school on women’s gender-role attitudes. Specifically, I use quantitative and qualitative data collected on 44 married mothers across a ten-year period beginning with their return to school in the early 1980s, focusing on the way in which women’s gender-role attitudes were affected by their increased educational attainment and their post-enrollment labor force experiences. As part of the exploration of the effects of changes in educational attainment, I also explore how educational similarity to members of the women’s social networks affected gender-role attitudes. The combination of quantitative and qualitative data showed women who completed their Bachelor’s Degrees were more likely to develop liberal gender-role attitudes than were women who dropped out of school after the initial return. The analysis also revealed that employment experiences affected the women’s gender-role attitudes. In particular, taking nontraditional career paths appeared to result in less traditional attitudes, as did continuous labor force participation, albeit to a lesser extent. Finally, women whose networks were composed primarily of individuals who had not attended college were substantially more likely to retain or develop traditional gender-role attitudes, while highly educated networks had remarkably little influence in moving women toward liberal attitudes. Analysis of the qualitative data revealed that the effects of educational attainment, labor force experiences, and network structure were through both changes in the women’s self-perceptions and adaptations to pressures from both their new and preexisting foci of activity.



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Committee Chair

J. Jill Suitor



Included in

Sociology Commons