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Changing gender attitudes, one teenager at a time

Markus Goldstein's picture
I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my kids to do more household chores.   Luckily, help was forthcoming from a recent paper by Diva Dhar, Tarun Jain, and Seema Jayachandran.   They take to Indian secondary schools with an intervention designed to increase support for gender equality among adolescents.   And yes,  it does work, including getting boys to do more chores.  
 
The program takes place in the state of Haryana in India.   It is implemented by an NGO called Breakthrough and consisted of 45 minute discussion sessions every three weeks over 2 and a half years of school.    The discussions focused on gender equality and included gender stereotypes, roles, and women’s employment, as well as some communication skills.    The target population here was secondary school students.
 
Dhar and co. randomize the intervention at the school level and collect data from around 14,000 students who are in the 7th and 8th grades at the start of the intervention.    They look at three main types of outcomes.
 
First up are gender attitudes.   These are questions about roles and rights, e.g. views on whether women should work outside the home.    At the start of the program, things are fairly bleak.  As Dhar and co. note, 80% of boys and 60% of girls believe that a woman’s most important role is being a good homemaker.   But the program changes this.  Students who participated in the program have a 0.25 standard deviation higher (i.e. more progressive) gender attitudes index than those in the control group.    To put this in perspective, the effect is about one third of the girl-boy gap in attitudes.   
 
These are results on an index.  Dhar and co. look at the different components and the biggest effects seem to be coming from attitudes towards employment, gender roles and education.  
 
The second set of outcomes covers aspirations.   Here the questions look at things like what level of education they would like to achieve and what kind of occupation they envision having when they are 25.     The program has a small impact on this, moving the index by 0.05 standard deviations.  
 
The third set of outcomes is behaviors.   Here the index includes things like doing household chores, mobility (for girls), and talking with people of the opposite sex.   The intervention moves the needle by 0.2 standard deviations for girls and 0.46 standard deviations for boys.   Dhar and co. speculate that girls have a (significantly) smaller effect because they face more constraints translating changes in attitudes into practices.   
For behaviors, unpacking the index shows some interesting patterns.   Both boys and girls are interacting more with the opposite sex.   Girls also see an increase in mobility, but no change in their decision-making power.   For boys, there is a significant increase in the household chores that they do but this isn’t matched by a decline in what girls do.   Boys are also more likely to encourage female family members to pursue higher education and careers.   
 
So, this intervention changes individual attitudes and behaviors.  Does it change what these adolescents think the social norms are?   Dhar and co look at two norms:  women’s employment and women pursuing a university education.   As with the results above, they find that individual attitudes improve.  They also find a positive and significant improvement in what individuals think the community thinks.   Finally, they look at whether individuals hold the progressive attitude AND they think that society won’t oppose them if they act on it.   Here the effect is positive, but smaller than the holding of the attitudes alone.   So clearly there are a bunch of folks who are more progressive but do think it won’t be smooth sailing.   
 
Now given that a lot of these results are about self-reported attitudes and behaviors and the program tried to change this, a reasonable concern would be that there is some kind of social desirability bias coloring the answers.   To deal with this, Dhar and co. administer a Marlowe-Crowne set of questions.   These questions capture whether the respondent is inclined to give a (unrealistic) socially desirable answer (e.g. they always admit it when they make a mistake).     To test whether this is driving responses,  Dhar and co. interact this with treatment to look at all three main sets of outcomes.   And the results are encouraging – the interaction isn’t significant (and is quite small) for all of the indices.   Interestingly (and encouraging – in an empirical sense), the lower the respondent scores on social desirability in these questions, the lower s/he scores on progressive gender attitudes or behavior.  
 
All in all, this is a promising set of results and shows that we can move these norms, in line with a set of results from Norwegian boot camps that I blogged about awhile back.   Excitingly, Dhar and co. close with the promise that they’ll follow these folks as they graduate and settle in families.   It will be interesting to see how this plays out when folks get married.