Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling Psychology & Community Services


After industrialization in the United States, men primarily moved from the farm to the workplace, leaving women responsible for the children and maintaining the household alone. This arrangement contributed to the so called "tender years" doctrine, which suggested that mothers were better caretakers of the children and should therefore receive sole custody. The preference for mothers continued until the 1960's, after the women's liberation movement, when a large portion of women moved from the home into the workforce. State statutes were later changed to establish gender-neutrality for the purposes of determining custody decisions and suggested the custody of children should be "in their best interests." However, the change of language in the statutes did not change the results of most custody decisions; custody continued to be granted to the mother in most cases. Research suggests there has been a small increase in sharing custody of children but no increase in the number of fathers being awarded sole custody. A prior notion of who should get custody and what defines a good parent is likely wrought with gender stereotypes and bias.

This study examined gender stereotypes related to parenting by sampling three occupational groups: judges, psychologists and college students. The significant discrepancy in the ratings of mothers versus fathers varied based on which occupational group was rating the vignette parent and what aspects of parenting were being rated. All three groups rated the vignette mother higher on overall parenting skills and empathic parenting behaviors, as compared to the father in the vignette. Also, as the age of the respondent increased, overall parenting skills ratings declined, indicating a more critical evaluation of parents. Evaluating parenting skills appears complex, individualized and partially influenced by sex-role stereotyping. Gender differences that are likely due to vignette characteristics were found, suggesting bias exists in the evaluation of parenting. However, it may not be an intentional bias for or against one gender, instead it is more likely personal perceptions entering into the decision-making process.