Cultural Influences on Gender Roles

Updated July 20, 2017

Culture and society has an enormous impact on gender roles in America. Americans receive thousands of cultural messages each week concerning gender roles, including advertisements, movies, TV, music, magazines and family influence. People evaluate these messages to understand expectations for their gender and how they should operate within society. While many people and organisations challenge these traditional gender roles, the influence of mainstream culture remains evident.


From an early age, children learn expectations about gender-appropriate occupations. Girls play "house" or "teacher" while boys play "war" or "firefighter." Children learn these tendencies from family and social media. These early introductions to careers set the groundwork for a way of thinking about future jobs. Traditional occupations for women include secretaries, housewives, teachers, waitresses and nurses. Traditional male occupations include police officers, construction workers, truck drivers, factory workers and bosses or CEOs of businesses. While gender distribution in certain jobs is slowly changing, traditional gender roles run deep in the work force. In 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 90% of nurses were female while only 10% were male.

Family Relations

Women are traditionally the caregivers of children and homemakers. They traditionally do more housework, including laundry, washing dishes, cleaning and cooking. Movies, TV and other forms of media often reinforce these traditional roles within their characters. According to a self-reported study from USA Today, men reported doing 37.3% of the housework. Women in the study reported that men do even less than that percentage. Women also report spending more time taking care of children than their male partner, according to a study conducted by the New America Foundation. From the same source, women are also more likely to serve as a caregiver for an elderly parent.

Social Behavior

Women are traditionally considered to be more "gentle," "passive," "emotional," "dependent," "patient" and "communicative" than their male counterparts. Adjectives such as "tough," "independent," "powerful," "inexpressive" and "straightforward" are used to describe men. These cultural expectations can influence people's behaviour towards each other and how they view themselves. The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy is a theory in psychology that predicts the consequences of a person's beliefs about his own ability. For example, a woman who believes that she is "dependent" may continue to be dependent for her entire life. A woman who sees herself as strong and capable may be more inclined to strive for advancement in the workplace.


Culture influences how men and women think about themselves within their gender role. Advertisements, movies and TV often depict the female as being promiscuous or vulnerable, a message that can influence how women view their body and their abilities. According to a study conducted by Kenyon College, around 30% of clothing that is marketed toward young girls is considered "sexualising." These expectations for physical beauty can have an effect on self-esteem and confidence of girls and women. Men receive cultural cues about the expectation to be tough and unemotional, a message that they can reflect inward and use as a measuring stick for evaluating their level of success.

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About the Author

Pauline Lovingood began writing professionally in 2011. She writes about health, fitness, medicine and travel for various websites. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts in health and human Sciences.