Blow to gender equality as more believe women’s place at home

August 6th, 2008 - 3:16 pm ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, Aug 6 (IANS) The shine’s wearing off Super Moms. It’s not just the men who say this, but a growing number of women too. Both are inclining to agree that a woman’s place is more at home, wiping the sheen off the notion of gender equality in developed countries, a Cambridge survey says. Women, already juggling between childcare and their careers, are being forced to contribute more to the home than men. 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. Both women and men are becoming more likely to believe the family will suffer if a woman works full-time, the survey reveals.

The conclusions are based on analysis of social attitude surveys over the past three decades by Jacqueline Scott, Cambridge University’s professor of empirical sociology.

Realisation that home duties were impeding their careers was the highest among women in the 1980s. The next decade saw a surge in women wanting to advance careers just as men, making gender equality the most contested subject in the developed world. The present decade is seeing the concept losing steam for the simple reason that gender inequality at home has remained unchanged, the Cambridge survey finds.

Surprisingly, the survey findings have gone down well even with vocal gender equality groups, perhaps vindicating the findings.

The Guarding quotes Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equal rights for men and women, as saying the study showed how “attempts to shoehorn women into workplaces made by men for men have failed”.

Kat Banyard, the campaigns officer, explains: “Women still shoulder the bulk of caring and housework at home. The long working hours culture and lack of flexible working means women are presented with impossible choices - forced to choose between caring for a family at home or maximising their career opportunities. The result? Motherhood carries a penalty and women and men are straitjacketed by gender stereotypes.”

Mary MacLeod, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, adds: “Many mothers tell us that in the first year of a baby’s life they want to stay at home, but often feel they have to return to work too early because of financial constraints. We need to do more to help mothers and fathers by increasing well-paid parental leave and changing how it can be shared between them.”

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

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

Scott says: “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 percent in 1994 to 38 percent in 2002.”

Scott, on the basis of her results, is ready with the verdict: “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. Instead, there is clear evidence that women’s changing role is viewed as having costs both for the woman and the family.”

The survey report says there should be further investigation into whether the attitude shift is occurring because caring for the family is seen as predominantly women’s work, or because people feel there is no practical alternative to a woman fulfilling the role.

Despite the startling results, Scott argues women should not conclude that “the game is up” on combining career and family life as there is not yet a level playing field for women and men and which is still aspired to be achieved by both genders. What she feels is a constraint is a finding that among young people there remains an expectation that women should perform more of the household chores. This attitude has to finally change, she says.

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