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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- When this question was originally developed in 1984, it asked about "a husband" and "a wife" rather than "a man" and "a woman". This was replaced by a variant of the question using the latter terminology in 1994.
- In 2002 and later years, answer categories were framed with reference to the respondent - "always me", "usually me", "about equal", "usually spouse/partner" and "always spouse/partner". In 1994 and earlier years, response categories were framed with reference to the gender of the individual performing the specific task - "always the woman", "usually the woman", "equal or both", "usually the man" or "always the man". The data presented in Table 5.6 was re-classified for the later years, to reflect the format in which the question was asked in earlier years.
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