Attitudes to gender roles are changing, says survey

Women in STEM

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A growing number of British people are questioning traditional gender roles around work and family, with 72% disagreeing with the view that “it is a man’s job to earn money and a woman’s job to look after the home and family”,  according to a major survey.

The British Social Attitudes Survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, found that the percentage of people who disagree that men should be the main breadwinners was up from 58% in 2008.  A breakdown of the figures reveals clear age and education divides.  People aged 18 to 34 years (75%) and graduates (82%) are more likely than those aged 65 to 74 (67%), 75 or over (47%), and those with no formal qualifications (55%), to disagree with the statement.

Despite these differences in opinion by age and education, in some instances the gap between generations is narrowing at an accelerating rate, says the survey. The gap between young and old in their views on gender roles has reduced considerably since the early 1990s; in 1991 just 11% of those aged 75 and over disagreed with the view that men should be breadwinners and women homemakers, compared with 67% of people aged 18 to 34 years. By contrast, in 2017 47% of those aged 75 and over say this, compared with 75% of 18 to 34 year-olds.

Researchers questioned people about whether a mother should stay at home with her family and found that 33% of British people think mothers of pre-school age children should stay at home.  This figure remains unchanged over the last five years, against a backdrop of government initiatives to help working families, such as shared parental leave and improved childcare provision. 38% think these mothers should work part time, down from 43% in 2012. Just 7% think full time is the best option compared with 5% in 2012.   Those with no formal qualifications are twice as likely as graduates to say that a mother of a pre-school child should stay at home.  49% of those aged 75 or over think mothers of pre-school children should stay at home, against 30% of those aged 18 to 34.

The survey also found 93% of British people say sexist online bullying towards women is wrong, and 85% say the same about sexist online bullying of men. Researchers asked if it is acceptable for a man to make uninvited comments about a woman’s appearance in the street.  Just 8% of the population think it is rarely or never wrong for a stranger in the street to tell a woman that she “looks gorgeous today”.  57% say it is always or usually wrong and 27% think these comments are sometimes wrong.

A clear age divide was present in views on whether such comments are acceptable – 61% of people aged 18 to 34, compared with 49% of people aged 65 or over, think this behaviour is wrong. Men are more likely than women to say this.

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