As social scientists, we know quite a lot about current trends regarding differential career and family outcomes for men versus women. The purpose of the current studies is to understand how ingrained cultural expectations regarding gender role distributions combine with efforts to view the self as competent and efficacious, fulfilling core roles that produce a sense of belonging and acceptance, to determine decisions regarding work and family. We argue that an asymmetry exists for the genders such that for men, fulfilling their role as a successful professional simultaneously fulfills the role of successful father. In contrast, for women the roles are in direct conflict. Performing the behavior required for mastery in the professional world necessarily detracts from performing that required for success as a mom. As a result, women who value both roles are required to shift their self-concepts when considering their goals in one role versus the other. We argue this shifting produces a sense of conflict that may contribute to women eventually choosing one identity over the other. The studies in this application examine the feasibility of this analysis by measuring implicit shifts in self- definitions and predicting these as a function of participant gender, identification with the roles, and the strength of implicit role associations pairing women with childcare and men with the professional world. Male and female students in the first two years of graduate and professional training are recruited from five different disciplines that vary in the proportion of males that make up the discipline. Men are argued to enjoy a more consistent definition of the self across the two roles and the more traditional the role associations held by an individual male, the more true this should be, perhaps resulting in even greater differences in experienced shifts in self-definitions by the genders in more male dominated fields. The greater shifts experienced by women are hypothesized to have immediate costs in cognitive functioning, state anxiety, and work-family balance self-efficacy, and over time to generate stress, depression, and lower life satisfaction, at least in the early stages of developing one's identity in the parent and professional domains. The dual roles may provide a buffer to women against threats to the self once a secure identity in each role has been established.

Public Health Relevance

The past 50 years have witnessed unprecedented changes in the organization of the family with the mass entry of women into the workforce, significantly smaller family sizes, soaring divorce rates, and an increased number of single parent families. Family structure has profound implications for the well-being of individual family members and consequently, public health more generally. Understanding efforts to balance career and parenting roles in the service of preserving a sense of self-worth is a fundamental component of constructing healthy family units.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
Program Officer
King, Rosalind B
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Colorado at Boulder
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Hodges, Allegra J; Park, Bernadette (2013) Oppositional identities: dissimilarities in how women and men experience parent versus professional roles. J Pers Soc Psychol 105:193-216