Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 3/4, February 2005 (
Gender Role Stereotyping of Parents in Children’s
Picture Books: The Invisible Father
David A. Anderson
and Mykol Hamilton
Previous studies reveal the reinforcement of gender stereotypes by picture books children
read during the formative years. In these books, boys tend to be portrayed as active leaders,
and girls as passive followers. Women and girls are under-represented. Men often exhibit
career skills, and women perform traditional tasks in the home. Even when careers are
nontraditional, personality characteristics and other qualities and behaviors are often stereo-
typical. Previous researchers emphasized the narrowly deﬁned roles of women and children
in picture books. In this study, we focused on the representation of mothers and fathers, and
examined whether men are stereotyped as relatively absent or inept parents. A content anal-
ysis of the gender roles exhibited in 200 prominent children’s picture books demonstrated
that fathers are largely under-represented, and, when they do appear, they are withdrawn
and ineffectual parents. Further research could establish whether seriously deﬁcient models
of fatherhood in children’s literature affect the incidence of present, caring fathers in society.
KEY WORDS: gender stereotypes; parents; children’s literature.
“Are you my mother?,” repeats the baby bird,
who never bothers to inquire about a father. P. D.
Eastman’s (1960) Are You My Mother? is among
other children’s books that assist with literacy but
may reinforce undesirable parental stereotypes at the
same time. Picture books provide prolonged and re-
peated exposure to parenting techniques and related
gender roles. Are the fathers present in the stories?
Are they integral parts of families? Do they care for
and nurture their children? Given the nearly $1 bil-
lion worth of children’s books purchased every year
(Children’s Book Council, 2002) and the nightly ritu-
als of reading them, their representations of parental
roles may inﬂuence the socialization of both children
Although the labor force participation rate for
mothers with infants rose from 38% in 1980 to 55% in
2002 (Downs, 2003), mothers in dual-earner families
Anderson is in Economics. Hamilton is in Psychology. Centre
College, Danville, Kentucky.
To whom Correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Psychology, Centre College, 600 West Walnut Street, Danville,
Kentucky 40422; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
still perform about one-third more housework than
fathers do, and they shoulder the majority of cook-
ing and child care responsibilities (Bond, Thompson,
Galinsky, & Prottas, 2003). Inequities in household
duties, including childcare, are cited as major sources
of conﬂict and depression within families (Bird, 1997,
1999; Ross & Mirowsky, 1988). What factors inter-
fere with a broader role for fathers that includes
more nurturing and housework? One variable that
stands in the way of gender equality in parenting is
the gender socialization of children and parents that
perpetuates traditional divisions of household labor.
One avenue for this socialization is children’s litera-
ture. Diekman and Murnen (2004) found that even
books praised as nonsexist in their portrayal of fe-
male characters seldom portray male characters in
traditionally feminine gender roles.
Data from various studies suggest that gender-
stereotypic portrayals in children’s literature can in-
ﬂuence the readers’ attitudes and behaviors. For
example, Trepanier-Street and Romatowski (1999)
found that when books were selected with atten-
tion to the presentation of gender roles, the result
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.