Multidimensional Masculinities and the Gender Divide:
A New Comparative and Intergenerational Study 


In the second half of the 20th century, post-industrialized societies witnessed a massive increase in gender equality, predominantly driven by increases in women’s college attainments and paid labor (Goldin, 2006). This change was labeled in the media and scientific outlets as the Gender Revolution. However, the second part of this gender revolution (i.e., men’s participation in unpaid labor) continues to lag well behind (Cano, 2019; Goldscheider et al., 2015). The fulfillment of only the first part of this gender revolution – without the corresponding increase in the involvement of men in the domestic sphere – has been termed The Stalled Revolution (England, 2010). One key way to understand why the gender revolution has stalled, is to analyze the changing conceptions of masculinity and gender attitudes.

Analyzing changing conceptions of masculinities is of particular relevance in understanding why gender inequality persists, and what the likely consequences are for the social reproduction of gender inequality. This is because the conception of masculinity (as with femininity) shapes behaviors that work to widen – or reduce – socio-economic inequalities between men and women (Farré & Vella, 2013). The social availability, or unavailability, of differential preferences, beliefs, attitudes, and identities by gender can ultimately be seen to result in the disproportionate number of men in positions of power across societies. The study of masculinity and gender attitudes is also key to improving men’s health and children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. Men who adhere to traditional gender roles are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors (Courtenay, 2014), and are more prone to acts of violence (Stoudt, 2016). Further, children exposed to gender-egalitarian forms of masculinities have been shown to develop better cognitive skills (Cano, Perales & Baxter, 2019) and more gender-equal beliefs (Cano & Hofmeister, 2022).

Research has found that gender equality (in terms of both belief and behavior) increased massively during the 1970s, and up until the mid-1990s. Theories of modernization posit that the progressive equalization of men and women is coherent and predictable (Inglehart, 1997). However, contrary to the modernization theory, progress slowed in the 2000s, even stopping altogether in some countries. Charles and Grusky (2004) consider this to be the result of increasing gender essentialism—the notion that men and women are equal, but different. That is, that men and women deserve similar rights to power in society, but that women are more capable of some tasks (such as taking care of others) than men. This differentiation of women’s and men’s skills, preferences or emotions has led to a revival of research challenging the unidimensional approach to gender attitudes. While the unidimensional approach suggests that gender attitudes range in a continuum between two opposed dimensions (traditional and egalitarian), recent studies argue that gender attitudes are multidimensional (Knight & Brinton, 2017; Pepin & Cotter, 2018; Grunow et al., 2018; Scarborough, Sin & Risman, 2019; van Damme & Pavlopoulos, 2022). These studies show that gender traditionalism (i.e., the belief that women should take care of the home and men should provide economically) has waned, but that gender parity (i.e., the belief that men and women should have equal responsibility for both care and provision) has not increased. Rather, new dimensions of attitudes toward gender have emerged through recent research, for example, “liberal egalitarianism”, “egalitarian familism”, or “flexible egalitarianism”. Each of these illustrates variations in egalitarianism under the label of “gender-egalitarian attitudes”.

These studies on the multidimensionality of gender attitudes do however have several important limitations. Firstly, they are primarily quantitative, and are limited to a relatively short period of time (i.e., from the 1980s to 2008). They are therefore unable to capture the effects of recent relevant events (the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of right-wing political parties, and the Covid pandemic) on gender attitudes. Another constraint of particular relevance is that this research is limited by survey questions that are biased toward a traditional view of gender, mainly focused on attitudes toward women’s paid and unpaid labor, and are therefore not able to capture multidimensional masculinities. Lastly, the consequences of new forms of masculinities and gender attitudes for participation in unpaid labor, and for children’s outcomes, is still not well understood. The project proposed here aims to fill these three key gaps in knowledge.

The aim of this project is to study multidimensional masculinities and gender inequalities, focusing on the causes, trends, and consequences of changing attitudes toward men’s involvement in paid and unpaid work, using newly available comparative quantitative data on gender attitudes and masculinities from 40 countries, together with qualitative data from focus groups and household panel comparative data. This project will advance the knowledge on masculinities and gender stratification in four key ways. First, it will represent a mixed method approach through its consideration of how narratives about masculinity and gender attitudes emerge in several socio-economically stratified focus group settings. Second, it will be the first international comparative study on multidimensional masculinities using attitudinal survey questions. Third, by using longitudinal comparative data from the Comparative Panel File (CPF) together with the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), this project will be able to disentangle period-cohort-age effects on behavioral gender inequalities, as well as being the first study to determine how masculinity cultures affect the social reproduction of inequality.


Research proposal submitted for funding to the Spanish Ministry of Science
Total requested funds: 123,000€  
Participating researchers: 14
Project duration: 2024-2028
PI: Tomás Cano  (UNED)