The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Gender Equality: Formula for Mental Illness

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

When parents embrace the ideal of gender equality, their children enjoy the best possible mental health. They must. All the progressive commentators say so. Unfortunately, empirical science has just delivered a rude shock to the progressive dreamers, as public-health officials in left-leaning Sweden established that gender-equality between parents fosters mental pathology in adolescent children.

This linkage was the last thing the researchers were looking for. Indeed, the researchers began their study with the understanding—fostered by their colleagues’ scholarship—that “gender equality between parents is good for the children.” Their interest was the impact of parental gender equality on the well-being of adolescent females. For as they surveyed professional literature indicating that “females generally suffer more from mental ill-health conditions than males,” the researchers understandably supposed that “the search for explanations should consider the gender system.”

Their attempt to understand adolescent psychopathology focused on data collected for 54,282 Swedish boys and 51,504 Swedish girls born in 118,595 Swedish homes between 1988 and 1989. The researchers’ concern for the effect of household gender arrangements on young females seems justified, as their data reveal that “girls consume around twice as much outpatient mental care in the ages 13–18 years, and drugs due to anxiety and depression in the ages 17–20 years, than boys.”

To assess the gender equality of these young Swedes’ parents, the researchers examined parental-leave data, discerning “gender equality” in households in which “each parent took at least 40% and at most 60% of the total parental leave” and as “gender inequality” in households in which they found “one parent taking less than 20% (and hence the other parent more than 80%) of the parental leave days.”

But the expectation that parental gender equality would foster mental health in children was not borne out by the data. Quite otherwise. When the researchers take the use of psychotropic drugs as their indicator of mental illness, they find—to their surprise—that “girls with very traditional, rather traditional and untraditional parents have lower risks than girls with gender-equal parents.” It may come as some consolation to progressive theorists that Swedish girls apparently enjoy good mental health when reared in “untraditional” households in which fathers are the primary care-givers. But what can these theorists say about the finding that Swedish girls growing up with gender-equal parents are far more reliant on psychotropic drugs than are peers growing up in “very traditional and somewhat traditional” gender arrangements?

The problems these findings pose for progressive theorists only grow more acute when the focus shifts to Swedish boys: in data for outpatient care for depression, “boys with very traditional parents are shown to have a 43% lower risk than boys with gender-equal parents.” The data for the boys do not indicate the same favorable outcomes of “untraditional” gender arrangements found for the girls. In other words, only “traditional” parental gender roles seem to protect the mental health of boys.

It is hard to imagine a more ideologically provocative conclusion than one establishing that parental “gender equality” puts the psychological health of both male and female children at risk. But that is exactly the conclusion that the researchers deliver:

The overall finding was that boys with gender traditional parents (mother dominance in childcare) have lower risk of depression measured by outpatient mental care than boys with gender-equal parents, while girls with gender traditional and gender untraditional parents (father dominance in childcare) have lower risk of anxiety measured by drug prescription than girls with gender-equal parents.

Nor is this a conclusion that progressive theorists will easily explain away. Labeling their findings as “robust,” the researchers report that they persist even in sophisticated statistical models that take into account numerous background variables, including household income, parental education, number of siblings, and foreign birth. What is more, the findings remain essentially unchanged in “a set of sensitivity analyses, such as excluding parents who had been in institutional care due to psychosis, depression, anxiety, and alcohol-related diagnoses instead of controlling for this information, and altering the reference group from equal parents to very traditional parents.” Even the most adept statistical dancers will find it hard to pirouette away from these findings.

Given the explosive and politically incorrect nature of their conclusions, it is entirely predictable that the researchers would “recommend that the study . . . be considered tentative while waiting for support or contradiction in future research.” But only the ideologically reckless will ignore these findings by exposing young people—male or female, Swedish or American—to the dangerous social experiment of so-called gender equality.

(Lisa Norström, Lene Lindberg, and Anna Månsdotter, “Could Gender Equality in Parental Leave Harm Off-springs’ Mental Health? A Registry Study of the Swedish Parental/Child Cohort of 1988/89,” International Journal for Equity in Health 11 [March 2012]: 19.)