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The Personal is Statistical: A not so modern man

Posted on 13 July 2017 .
Tags: British Social Attitudes, gender, racial prejudice, The Personal is Statistical

In our monthly series, The Personal is Statistical, we'll be talking about where statistics have interacted with our personal lives. They are a bit different from the blogs we usually post, but we hope you'll enjoy reading them. In this blog, Leigh Marshall reflects on how our attitudes and our actions can often be at odds with each other.


Leigh Marshall

I’ve always thought of myself as a modern man. A feminist even. And I think my wife would agree.

I believe in equality between the sexes. I definitely do. Sexism makes me angry. But as I try to come up with evidence of me putting it into action in my relationship with my wife I struggle a bit.

Here is what I could come up with: We make all the decisions about the big things in our life jointly; having children, how and where we live, what we spend our money on. After this the examples start to get a bit shaky... I do most of the grocery shopping. I let my wife know if I’m going to be home late (“let her know” are you kidding Leigh?); I clean the bathroom (or I did until I decided to get a cleaner, who is, yes, a woman); I do my fair share of the cooking (or I would if I didn’t get home after my wife most evenings… hmmm); err what else..?

Annoyingly it’s much easier for me to think of ways in which my relationship with my wife is not equal.

I do the DIY, my wife does the laundry. She vacuums, I mow the lawn. And, if I’m honest with myself, I know she spends more time tidying up after me than I do changing the occasional fuse. I deal with the money stuff, bills, insurance, and our subscription to Sky Sports. My wife is in charge of families, friends, birthdays etc. We’ve just had our first child; the prospect of shared parental leave didn’t come up in any meaningful way.

So, I’m a hypocrite.

A couple of years ago, NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey uncovered that I’m not alone in believing in equality but not living it. It showed attitudes to gender roles have changed dramatically in the last 30 years. In the mid-1980s half of people agreed “a man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family”. Only 13% said they agreed with this in 2013.

But, when it comes to putting it into practice in the home we are still a long way from equality. Among opposite-sex couples who live together, 70% of women report always or usually doing the laundry compared with 6% (yes, six) of men. 75% of men report always or usually doing the odd repairs around the home, compared with 7% of women. 

It’s not just odd jobs and laundry either where this divide exists. It’s caring for people, shopping for groceries (I’m happy to say I’m one of only 10% of men who usually or always do the grocery shopping) and preparing the meals.


Attitudes vs practice

The extent to which what we think influences how we behave is important because it raises bigger questions about how we change our society for the better, especially when it comes to equality.

And gender roles are not the only area in which public attitudes don’t seem to align with practice. For example, British Social Attitudes has shown a gradual decline in racial prejudice since the 1980s. In 2006 fewer people (8%) said that they would mind if a black man were appointed as their boss than in 1983 when 21% of people said this. In spite of this view belonging to a small minority we found in a study in 2010 that to secure a job interview we had to send out 74% more applications for ethnic minority candidates than white candidates.

Why then this difference between attitudes and practice?

Perhaps societal structures stop views becoming actions. For example, in spite of the change in the law I would have worried about the reaction of my work if I had asked to take shared parental leave, even though the NatCen culture is perhaps as open to this kind of thing as anywhere.

It’s also true that it is perfectly possible for us to quite happily hold two views that seem to contradict each other. So while the vast majority of us say we are not racially prejudiced, perhaps we still carry around racial stereotypes – whether we realise it or not – that stop us being completely objective.

I’m not going to get into how we get to equality here. But what is clear is that changing attitudes alone doesn’t seem to be enough. And if we recognise the problem we can all try to do things in our own lives to improve the status quo. As it happens it’s my wife’s birthday coming up. First thing on the list? A cordless drill. 

Follow me on Twitter: @LeighMarshall 

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