Women less politically engaged during and after pregnancy
During pregnancy and their children’s infancy, women's political participation and political information-seeking decreases significantly more than that of their male partners. This often leads to lasting gender differences in political engagement. This can be seen in research from the University of Gothenburg.
The study used an online panel to track the political engagement of over 2,000 first-time parents from before the start of pregnancy until the child's fourth birthday. Engagement was defined by how often the first-time parents sought political information, attempted to influence politically, discussed politics, or shared political messages online. But it was also about how interested they were in politics, and how important they thought politics were in society.
‘Although some individual effects are small, it is clear that they are all pulling in the same direction, confirming the picture that pregnancy and early parenthood is a period in life when women take a step back from their engagement in society,’ says Elin Naurin, the study’s head of research.
Women already lose engagement during pregnancy
Compared to before they became pregnant, all female first-time parents lose engagement right from the beginning of pregnancy, and in most areas this reduced engagement persists until measuring ceases when the child is around four years old. This clear effect of a completed pregnancy is confirmed when comparisons are made with the control group.
‘It is clear that the women's political engagement is affected. It's mainly about the time they spend reading about or discussing politics, but pregnant women also tend to think politics are less important,’ says Elin Naurin.
Risks leading to long-lasting gender inequality
Male partners of pregnant women also report spending less time absorbing information on local, national and world politics during and after pregnancy, although to a lesser extent than the women. By the time the child is two to four years old, however, this reduction in partner engagement has almost been recouped, while the women's engagement continues to decline.
By the time the child reaches the age of four, the partner has completely made up for the reduction in political participation, how often they have political discussions, and how important they consider politics to be, while the previously pregnant women remain at a lower level than before they became pregnant.
‘The only indicator where pregnant women have returned to their previous level of political engagement within four years is the behaviour of trying to affect political change, and here too, parenthood is clearly reflected in the fact that it usually concerns childcare or school,’ says Elin Naurin.
Previous research has shown that women are more strongly affected by parenthood than men. This new study shows that the change takes place as early as during pregnancy. It also confirms that for most of the indicators, the partner who was pregnant is more affected than their partner, and that the gender differences persist at least until the child is four years old.
Article The Effect of Pregnancy on Engagement with Politics. Toward a Model of the Political Consequences of the Earliest Stages of Parenthood was recently published in the American Political Science Review (APSR). Read the full article.
The study is part of the Pregdem research project at the Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, which studies how pregnancy and children affect people at the societal level.
Contact: Elin Naurin, telephone: +46 31–786 1243, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Using the SOM Institute's Swedish Citizens' Panel
- Follows 2,108 first-time parents from before pregnancy until the children are 2 – 4 years old
- Also includes a control group of 11,022 people without children during the same period.
- The article was published on the 17th of May 2022 in scientific journal APSR