Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The UK’s NatCen 2013 Results on Women & Work

I ran across the UK’s NatCen survey this week, and thought I would pick out those trends which most related to women and work, and relay them verbatim for our readership to digest. While I am not suggesting that the UK is the same as Aotearoa, some of the trends they are experiencing are similar to New Zealand’s; some are diametrically opposed.

Read and enjoy!

Less traditional views about gender roles
Attitudes towards the role of men and women have changed considerably […]. In the 1980s there was still considerable support for 'traditional' gender roles. In 1984, for instance, 43 per cent agreed with the view that "a man's job is to earn money; a woman's job is to look after the home and family", but now only 13 per cent take this view. And while in 1989 42 per cent thought that "family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job" and two-thirds (64 per cent) that "a mother with a child under school age should stay at home rather than go out to work", by 2012 the proportions agreeing with these views had fallen to 27 and 33 per cent respectively. However […], actual behaviour at home has not caught up with changing attitudes. Women still report undertaking a disproportionate amount of housework and caring activities, spending an average of 13 hours on housework and 23 hours caring for family members each week, compared with eight and 10 hours respectively for men.

Conflict between work and family life
If more women are doing paid work and they remain primarily responsible for family care and household chores, we may find that there has been an increase in the conflict between balancing work and family life. British Social Attitudes includes four questions that tap into people's perceptions of work-family conflict, by asking how often they have had four different experiences in the past three months. Two of these questions address the spillover from work to home:
I have come home from work too tired to do the chores which need to be done

It has been difficult for me to fulfil my family responsibilities because of the amount     of time I spent on my job
The other two questions look at how family responsibilities can make paid work difficult:
I have arrived at work too tired to function well because of the household work I had done
I have found it difficult to concentrate at work because of my family responsibilities
The responses of working people in couple relationships are presented in Table 5.8. 

Again, the key message here is that there appears to be little change in work-life conflict, for either men or women, between 2002 and 2012. This reflects the fact that, over this period, there has been little change in women's labour market participation rates and in their division of labour within the home. In 2012, as in 2002, women are more likely than men to say that they come home from work regularly (weekly or several times a month) too tired to do the household chores (52 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men in 2012). They are also significantly less likely than men to say they have found it difficult to fulfil family responsibilities (20 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men in 2012). What is striking is that neither men nor women admit to family chores or family responsibilities getting in the way of their work. In the case of arriving at work too tired to function, in 2012 two thirds of men and women say this has never happened in the last three months, with a further one in five saying it has happened only once or twice. And, on the issue of whether family responsibilities have interfered with work concentration, half of men and women say this has never happened and a further three in ten in each group say it has only happened once or twice. 

Thus there is a gap between people's perceptions of how work can interfere with family life, and how people report family life interferes with work. It could be that people are wary of admitting to underperforming at work, or it could be that they feel they must prioritise work over family life. What is missing from our data, are the people for whom the conflicts proved too much and who gave up their jobs. Thus, if anything these responses might underplay the extent to which jobs can cause difficulties for family life. However there is enough evidence of tensions between work and family life to be a cause for concern.

Participation in the labour market
Changes in women's participation in the labour market over the past 30 years give important context to our later findings on the general attitudes of the public and the personal views of couples about their own circumstances. Behavioural and attitudinal changes often flow in both directions. Thus, more women enter employment as female participation is viewed as more acceptable, and more acceptance follows in the wake of women's increased labour market participation.
Since the early 1980s (when our British Social Attitudes questions on gender roles were first asked), there has been substantial change in the extent and ways in which women have participated within the British labour market. In Figure 5.1 we present data from the Office for National Statistics' Labour Force Survey to show how men and women's participation in the labour market has changed over the past three decades to 2012.

From the mid-1990s, full-time employment for both women and men continued to grow steadily and the gap between men and women's employment is narrowing. The dip for men in the 1980s and early 1990s partly reflects an increasing number of men over 55 taking early retirement (Guillemard, 1989). More recently from 2009 onwards, the dip in both men's and women's full-time employment is associated with the global economic crisis. (The rise in the relatively small numbers of men in part-time employment reflects, in part, increased numbers in higher education, with students supplementing grants with part-time jobs). For women, the growth in full-time employment from the mid-1990s onwards was stronger than the growth in part-time employment. As part-time work is often used by women - and mothers in particular - to juggle family and work responsibilities, it is worth looking more closely at the statistics associated with the work-patterns of women, with and without dependent children.
Women's participation in paid employment has been encouraged by UK and EU policies aimed at reducing barriers to work caused by conflicting work and family life responsibilities (Lewis, 2012). Such policies have gone hand-in-hand with a marked increase in the proportion of mothers in the labour force and a narrowing in the gap between the employment rates of women with and without dependent children such that, in 2010, there was less than one percentage point difference in the participation rates of mothers (66.5 per cent) and women without dependent children (67.3 per cent) (Office for National Statistics, 2011). In 2010, a higher proportion of mothers still worked part-time (37 per cent) rather than full-time (29 per cent), sharing their time between work and looking after the family.

[…]For mothers in couple families, where there are increased opportunities to share childcare responsibilities, employment rates were higher (72 per cent in 2010) than for mothers in single-parent families (55 per cent) (Office for National Statistics, 2011). And, unsurprisingly, the Labour Force Survey statistics also show that, as the age of the youngest child in the family increases, so does the proportion of mothers in work.

Attitudes have changed, but have behaviours?
[…] There has been little change in the gender division of unpaid work across the past decade. Both men and women agree that women spend much more time each week on average - both on household work and on looking after family members. In 2012, according to self-reports, men spend an average of eight hours on housework per week, while women spend 13 hours. The comparable figures for care of family members are 23 hours a week for women and 10 for men.
[…] When we combine self-reported involvement in household work and looking after family members, we find that men in 2012 report spending an average of 19 hours a week on these activities, compared to the 36 hours reported by women. A similar magnitude of difference is found when we consider the reported time spent by fathers and mothers specifically; while fathers report an average of 24 hours per week spent on household work and looking after family members, the comparable figure for mothers is 49 hours.
[…] Within couple households, there is little sign of a gender role revolution in terms of who does what around the home.

Public support for a traditional division of gender roles within the home and the workplace has declined substantially over the last three decades, a change that goes hand in hand with the marked increase in the labour force participation of women and mothers. Changes in attitudes have been driven in part by generational replacement, indicating that we might expect a continuing decline of support for the traditional gender division of labour, in the future. However, even if dual-earner households are now the norm, it is wrong to think that the gender role revolution is anywhere near complete.
Gender equality in terms of who does the bulk of the chores and who is primarily responsible for looking after the children has made very little progress in terms of what happens in people's homes. Men's uptake of unpaid domestic work is slow, and women continue to feel that they are doing more than their fair share. Whether women's 'double shift' - both doing a paid job and the bulk of family care and housework chores - is sustainable is an important question for the future.
Gender inequalities in the home undoubtedly make it difficult to achieve gender equality in the workplace. This is a cause for public concern. The state has an important role to play in reducing work-family conflict for both men and women. However, the public is likely to be cautious about specific policy changes because opinions are shaped by existing practices and constraints. We have seen, for example, that there is almost zero support for any gender role reversal when it comes to preferences for juggling work and family responsibilities. However there is a non-trivial minority who support a more equitable divide of parental leave between mothers and fathers.
The literature depicts two extremes when discussing trends in gender equality. On the one hand we have suggestions that there is a 'rising tide' of support for gender equality (Ingelhart and Norris, 2003); on the other hand we are told that there has been an 'incomplete revolution' (Esping-Andersen, 2009). On balance, the findings from this chapter are more equivocal. The British public perceives a mismatch between depictions of gender-neutral 'adult worker' families and the practical realities of the gender division of paid and unpaid labour, especially when children are young. Is the gender role revolution stalled? Or are we seeing what can be called a 'structural lag' - whereby men and societal institutions (parental leave, childcare, employment, and so on) have to catch up with the realities of changing families and women's new roles? Only time will tell.


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