US and Chinese preschoolers normalize household labor inequality. Academic Article uri icon


  • Across many cultural contexts, the majority of women conduct the majority of their household labor. This gendered distribution of labor is often unequal, and thus represents one of the most frequently experienced forms of daily inequality because it occurs within one's own home. Young children are often passive observers of their family's distribution of labor, and yet little is known about the developmental onset of their perceptions of it. By the preschool age, children also show strong normative feelings about both equal resource distribution and gender stereotypes. To investigate the developmental onset of children's recognition of the (in)equality of household labor, we interviewed 3 to 10-y-old children in two distinct cultural contexts (US and China) and surveyed their caregivers about who does more household labor across a variety of tasks. Even at the youngest ages and in both cultural contexts, children's reports largely matched their parents', with both populations reporting that mothers do the majority of household labor. Both children and parents judged this to be generally fair, suggesting that children are observant of the gendered distribution of labor within their households, and show normalization of inequality from a young age. Our results point to preschool age as a critical developmental time period during which it is important to have parent-child discussions about structural constraints surrounding gender norms and household labor.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

author list (cited authors)

  • Midgette, A. J., Ma, D., Stowe, L. M., & Chernyak, N.

complete list of authors

  • Midgette, Allegra J||Ma, Danyang||Stowe, Lucy M||Chernyak, Nadia

publication date

  • September 2023