British sociologist: support for gender equality in family roles peaked in the 90s

by on August 11, 2008  •  In Social science

Cambridge survey shows new doubts over working mothers | Society | The Guardian

John Carvel

Support for gender equality appears to be declining across Britain and America amid concern that women who play a full role in the workforce do so at the expense of family life, research from Cambridge University suggests today….

The conclusion was based on analysis of social attitude surveys over the past three decades by Jacqueline Scott, the university’s professor of empirical sociology. She said the "shine of the super-mum" was wearing off.

"While British attitudes are more egalitarian than in the 1980s, there are signs that support for gender equality may have hit a high point some time during the 1990s," said Scott. "When it comes to the clash between work and family life, doubts about whether a woman should be doing both are starting to creep in."

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equal rights for men and women, said the study showed how "attempts to shoehorn women into workplaces made by men for men have failed"….

Scott’s analysis is based on data from the international social survey programme and other polls of public opinion in Britain, the US and West Germany since the 1980s, each with sample sizes of between 1,000 and 5,000 people.

In 1994, 51% of women in Britain and 52% of men said they believed family life would not suffer if a woman went to work. By 2002 those proportions had fallen to 46% of women and 42% of men. There was also a decline in the number of people thinking the best way for a woman to be independent is to have a job.

Scott said: "The results are even more extreme in the US, where the percentage of people arguing that family life does not suffer if a woman works has plummeted, from 51% in 1994 to 38% in 2002."

She added: "The notion that there has been a steady increase in favour of women taking an equal role in the workplace and away from their traditional role in the home is clearly a myth….

It found that women and men in West Germany are bucking the Anglo-American trend. Until the 1990s a large majority of West Germans believed that men should be the family breadwinners while women stayed at home. In 1994, only 24% thought family life would not suffer if a woman worked. This proportion rose to 37% in the 2002 survey.

Scott suggested the three countries may be at different stages in "a cycle of sympathy for gender equality". Germans had been slower to abandon traditional gender roles and may not yet have encountered the reaction against working mothers.

"In Britain and the US, however, where support for equal opportunities for both sexes is much longer-standing, some people are now starting to have second thoughts," she said. "In most cases, this appears to revolve around concerns that the welfare of children and of the family are being compromised the more women spend their time at work and find themselves lumbered with the double burden of employment and family care."…


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