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Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research

Positivism and Interpretivism are the two basic approaches to research methods in Sociology. Positivist prefer scientific quantitative methods, while Interpretivists prefer humanistic qualitative methods. This post provides a very brief overview of the two.

 

positivism-interpretivism

Positivism

  • Positivists prefer quantitative methods such as social surveys, structured questionnaires and official statistics because these have good reliability and representativeness.
  • Positivists see society as shaping the individual and believe that ‘social facts’ shape individual action.
  • The positivist tradition stresses the importance of doing quantitative research such as large scale surveys in order to get an overview of society as a whole and to uncover social trends, such as the relationship between educational achievement and social class. This type of sociology is more interested in trends and patterns rather than individuals.
  • Positivists also believe that sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches to study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to investigate the physical world. By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be able, eventually, to uncover the laws that govern societies just as scientists have discovered the laws that govern the physical world.
  • In positivist research, sociologists tend to look for relationships, or ‘correlations’ between two or more variables. This is known as the comparative method.

Interpretivism

  • An Interpretivist approach to social research would be much more qualitative, using methods such as unstructured interviews or participant observation
  • Interpretivists, or anti-positivists argue that individuals are not just puppets who react to external social forces as Positivists believe.
  • According to Interpretivists individuals are intricate and complex and different people experience and understand the same ‘objective reality’ in very different ways and have their own, often very different, reasons for acting in the world, thus scientific methods are not appropriate.
  • Intepretivist research methods derive from ‘social action theory
  • Intereptivists actually criticise ‘scientific sociology’ (Positivism) because many of the statistics it relies on are themselves socially constructed.
  • Interpretivists argue that in order to understand human action we need to achieve ‘Verstehen‘, or empathetic understanding – we need to see the world through the eyes of the actors doing the acting.

Positivism and Interpretivism Summary Grid 

Positivism and Interpretivism

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle

Theory Methods Revision CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

Related Posts 

Links to more detailed posts on Positivism and Social Action Theory are embedded in the text above. Other posts you might like include:

Positivism in Social Research 

Max Weber’s Social Action Theory

The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, A Summary

Links to all of my research methods posts can be found at my main research methods page.

 

 

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Is Childhood Disappearing?

There is an argument that childhood as we know is disappearing; that the distinction between adulthood and childhood is narrowing. Neil Postman (1994) argued that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’.

As supporting evidence he looked at the trend towards giving children the same rights as adults, the growing similarity of adult and children’s clothing and even cases of children committing ‘adult crimes’ (murder, rape).

Postman’s theory is based on the view that communications technology is the primary thing which shapes society.

Following Aries, he suggested that in the middle ages most people were illiterate (they couldn’t read or write) and speech was the main form of communicating, thus there was hardly any distinction between adults and children.

Postman argues that childhood emerged along with mass literacy. This was because the printed word created a division between those that could read (adults) and those that couldn’t (children). This division emerged because it takes several years to master reading and writing skills.

HOWEVER, he argues now that things like television and the internet blur this separation and that children are now much more able to access the ‘adult world’. As a result, childhood as we know it is disappearing.

Three pieces of supporting evidence for the disappearance of childhood –

  • Growth of the Internet/ Social Media means parents and children are becoming more equal
  • The ‘Learner Voice’ in education – and children being used on interview panels for some new teachers
  • Children having the same rights as adults (UN’s rights of the child)
  • ‘Kidults’ – adults becoming more like children!

Criticisms of the theory that childhood is disappearing

  • It’s more complex than just ‘disappearance – several trends going on at once
  • E.G. Children are more protected (labour and welfare laws)
  • E.G. Children are more controlled (cotton wool kids)
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Criticisms of The March of Progress View part 2: Inequalities between children 

For Part 1: Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting click here

Conflict theorists such as Marxists and Feminists criticise the ‘March of Progress view’ because it is too rose tinted. The March of Progress View ignores the fact that not all children have benefited equally from the protections and services put in place.  We can point to at least the following significant inequalities among children.

  1. Children have not benefited equally from universal education – Rich children on average benefit a LOT MORE than poor children.

Free school meals are generally held as a reliable indicator of poverty. In 2012/13, 64.8% of pupils not eligible for a free school meal obtained at least 5 A*-C grades including maths and english. But that percentage drops dramatically to just 38.1% among pupils who are eligible for free school meals. The difference – 26.7 percentage points has been dubbed the ‘attainment gap’ by the think tank Demos.

At the other end of the class spectrum – Half of all A and A* grades at A level in the UK are secured by the 7 per cent of students who are privately educated, and 4.5 times as much is spent on teaching them as on the average state-educated student.

2. Child Protection services fail to protect many children from harm.

The most horrific example of this is from the town of Rotherham where gangs of Asian men groomed, abused and trafficked 1400 children while police were contemptuous of the victims and the council ignored what was going on, in spite of years of warnings and reports about what was happening.

A recent report commissioned by the council, covering 1997 to 2013, detailed cases where children as young as 11 had been raped by a number of different men, abducted, beaten and trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England to continue the abuse.

It said that three reports from 2002 to 2006 highlighted the extent of child exploitation and links to wider criminality but nothing was done, with the findings either suppressed or simply ignored. Police failed to act on the crimes and treated the victims with contempt and deemed that they were “undesirables” not worthy of protection.

  1. Girls suffer more problems in childhood than boys

One example of this is that girls have to negotiate the psychological pressures of ‘objectification’ much more than boys – Evidence below

  • A 2007 survey of Brownies aged 7-10 were asked to describe ‘planet sad’ – they spoke of it being inhabited by girls who were fat.
  • A 2009 survey found that a quarter of girls thought it was more important to be beautiful than clever. – Youngpoll.com
  • 16% of 15 -17 year old girls have avoided going to school because they were worried about their appearance
  • One further consequence of objectification is that girls face sexual abuse from boys. (nspcc)

A second example comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities. One report from 2008 suggests that there are up to 3000 third and fourth generation Asian women who are subjected to forced marriages. However, the actual numbers may be far greater…. Full fact reported that in 2011 the Forced Marriage Unit in the UK had taken up 400 live cases of forced marriage, but the site also reports that one expert in the field suggested that there might be up to 10 000 forced marriages or threats of forced marriage per year in the UK.

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Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting: Criticisms of the March of Progress View of Childhood

The common sense view is to see the above changes as ‘progressive’. Most people would argue that now children are more protected that their lives are better, but is this actually the case? The ‘March of Progress’ view argues that yes, children’s lives have improved and they are now much better off than in the Victorian Era and the Middle Ages. They point to all the evidence on the previous page as just self-evidently indicating an improvement to children’s’ lives.

Conflict theorists argue against this view – they say that in some ways children’s lives are worse than they used to be. There are basically three main criticisms made of the march of progress view

1. Recent technological changes have resulted in significant harms to children – what Sociologist Sue Palmer refers to as Toxic Childhood.

2. Some sociologists argue that children today are too controlled. Sociologists such as Frank Furedi argue that children today are overprotected, or too controlled – We live in the age of ‘Paranoid Parenting’.

3. There are significant inequalities between children, so if there has been progress for some, there certainly has not been equal progress.

Toxic Childhood – Toxic Childhood is where rapid technological and cultural changes cause psychological and physical damage to children

toxic-childhood-bookOne argument against the March of Progress View of Childhood comes from Sue Palmer, who argues that children today are experiencing a ‘toxic childhood’. She argues that a toxic mix of technological and cultural changes is having a negative impact on the development of a growing number of children. On her web site Sue Palmer outlines SIX WAYS in which childhood is toxic.

1. The decline of outdoor play – linked to increased childhood obesity

2. The commercialisation of childhood – linked to children being exploited by advertisers

3. The ‘schoolification’ of early childhood – reduces independence

4.The decline of listening, language and communication skills – because of shortened attention spans

5. Screen saturation – reduces face to face interaction

6.Tests, targets and education – increases anxiety amongst children.

Criticisms of the view that childhood has become increasingly toxic

  • This could be an example of an adult ‘panicking’ about technological changes.
    Children are better off today as consumers rather than producers (child labourers)
  • Children are still very protected today – this view assumes children are delicate and in need of protection rather than resilient.
  • This article by Catherine Bennett is worth a read – it reminds us that ‘in the good old days we just had to endure beatings’, although in fairness to Sue Palmer I don’t think she actually romanticizes the past, she’s really just pointing out the new and different problems children now face in a post-modern age.

 

Are Children Today Too Controlled? Paranoid Parenting

A second set of criticisms of the March of Progress View and The Child Centred Society is that children’s lives are now too controlled, that children have too little freedom, and that children are effectively oppressed by adults.

Conflict theories argue that many laws introduced in the name of ‘child protection’ are really about the oppression and control of children. Dianna Gittins uses the term ‘Age Patriarchy’ to refer to adult domination over children. Adult control over children takes a number of forms –

Control over resources – Labour laws and compulsory schooling make children financially dependent on adults. Shulamith Firestone sees protection from paid work as forcibly segregating children, making them powerless and dependent.

– Control over children’s space – There has been an increase in surveillance of children in public spaces. Take school as an example – Children are monitored more than ever through electronic registration systems, constant testing and nearly every school in the UK has surveillance cameras, with up to 10% of them having them in the toilets. Children are even more controlled in terms of their journey to and from school – In 1971 80% of 7-8 year olds when to school on their own, this had reduced to 10% by 1990.

– Control over children’s time – Parents restricts children through daily and weekly routines. Children today are given less time to themselves, with parents scheduling in more activities for them to do in evenings and weekends.

– Control over children’s bodies – Parents control how children dress and how they interact physically with other children and over their own bodies (don’t pick your nose, don’t slouch etc.).

– Evidence that children childhood as oppressive comes from the strategies they use to resist the status of child and the strategies that go with it. Two of these strategies are ‘acting up’ and ‘acting down’. Acting up is where a child acts older than they are in order to rebel. Acting down is where a child acts younger than they are as an act of rebellion.

Related Posts 

Toxic Childhood in The News

More Evidence of Toxic Childhood

Inequalities between children

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The March of Progress View of Childhood – Children’s lives have got better over time

A related view here is that  both the family and society have become more child centred over time. 

Childhood in Britain used to be much closer to how it is amongst more, traditional, tribal societies today. This section looks at what childhood used to be like in the Victorian era and how and why children’s lives have ’improved’ in recent years. Most people take a ‘march of progress’ perspective on this, arguing that children’s lives are better today than they were 200 years ago.

Changes to Childhood since Victorian Times

Since the Victorian era, childhood has gone through many changes. There is general agreement that these represent improvements to childhood.

1. Child Labour has been restricted…..

Children aged 13-14 may work a maximum of 25 hours per week,
Children aged 16-17 a maximum of 35 hrs per week Full Employment rights only at 18.

2. Schooling has become compulsory and extended 

In 1880 Education became compulsory up the age of 10
1944 – Increased to 15
1973 – Increased to 16
2015 – Increased to 18

3. ‘The rights of children’ have become more central to society

4. There has been an increase in child protection and welfare services

5. Parents spend considerably more money on children and spend more time parenting than in the past.

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The reasons for and consequences of changing patterns of migration

Trends in migration

  • From 1900 to the Second World War the largest immigrant group to the UK were Irish, mainly for economic reasons, followed by Eastern and Central Europian Jews, who were often fleeing from persecution.
  • Before the 1950s very few immigrants were non-white.
  • By contrast, during the 1950s, black immigrants from the Caribbean begain to arrice in the UK, followed during the 1960s and 70s by South-Asian immigratnts from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
  • Since 2001 the main sources of immigration to the UK have been as follows:
    15% UK citizens returning home-ownership
    30% from the European Uniion (mainly Polish)
    30% from New Commonwealth countries such as india

To what extent is migration responsible for UK population growth?

  • In short, it’s not all about increased immigration, it’s more complex!
  • For most of the 20th century, the growth of the UK population was the result of natural increase (more births than deaths). Until the 1980s the numbers of people emigrating was greater than the number of people immigrating
  • More recently, however, and especially since the turn of the Millennium (around the year 2000), there has been an increase in net migration, reaching a peak in 2011 of just over 250, 000. However, this recent increase in net migration is mainly due to the decrease in emmigration, rather than an increase in immigration.
  • Finally, there has been a mini baby boom in the UK since the year 2000 which is responsible for about a third of the increase in recent population growth. However,

Explaining the reasons for immigration to the UK

In order to explain immigration, you have to look at both push and pull factors.

  • Push factors are things llike escaping poverty, unemployment or persecution.
  • Pull factors include things like better opportunities for jobs, study, a higher shtandard of living, more political and religious freedom and joining relatives.

The main pull factors to the UK in recent years have been:

  • To study at university (and also resulting in short term immigration only)
  • For employment – NB historically this is the major reason, and yes this does explain Polish immigration to a large extent but it’s also worth noting that many early migrants from the Caribbean and South-Asia were recruited by the British government to fill labour shortages in the UK – so quite literally pulled to the UK.
  • To be with family members.
  • The most significant push factor has been to seek asylum from Persecution. The most significant recent wave of this type was when 30 000 East African Asians escaped racist persecution by Iid Amin in Uganda in the 1970s. More recently Britain has accepted thousands of refugees fleeing persecution from several countries.
  • Another significant push factor is the high levels of unemployment in some southern and eastern European countries – Spain for example has youth unemployment of around 50%.

Explaining the reasons for emmigration from the UK

Historically the UK has been a net exporter of people. Two of the main reasons for emmigration include:

  • To take advantage of better employment opportunities
  • To have a higher standard of living – To benefit from the lower cost of living abroad in retirement.
  • If we go back into long term history, we could even add ‘colonial conquest’ to list – much early emigration was linked to the British Empire’s desire to control resources in other parts of the world.

The consequences of immigration for the United Kingdom

To follow!

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Issues of Power and Control in relationships

The Radical Feminist viewpoint is that relationships are the primary means through which men control women and maintain their power over them in society.

Probably the most shocking evidence which supports this view is the continued prevalence of domestic violence. According to the BCS (2007) this accounts for a sixth of all violent crime and nearly 1 in 4 women will experience DV at some point in their lifetime and women are much more likely to experience this than men.

The radical Feminist explanation for DV is that it is an inevitable feature of a patriarchal society and it is part of a wider system that helps maintain male power over women, they key division in society.

Just to demonstrate that this Radical Feminist views didn’t disappear in the 1980s – Here is a recent Radical Feminist view on domestic violence…

“Domestic violence against women by men is “caused” by the misuse of power and control within a context of male privilege. Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children. Domestic violence by men against women can be seen as a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners.”

(Women’s AID Domestic Violence Fact Sheet, 2009)

Criticisms of the Radical Feminist view on Domestic Violence

1. Wilkinson criticises Feminists by arguing that it is not so much Patriarchy, but poverty that causes stress which leads to DV, so this is much less common in more equal, middle class households.

2. Men are also victims of DV with some statistics suggesting that men are the victims in as many as 2/5 cases of DV.

Other issues relating to power, control and sexuality in relationships

  • In general, women have more freedom and control over their sexuality than in traditional societes.

In many traditional tribal societies, there is little notion that women should gain any satisfaction out of sex. As one British witness to sexuality amongst the Himba of Namibia put it ‘when the husband wants sex, the woman just opens her legs, he gets on with it, and when he’s finished, he just roles over and goes to sleep, there’s no sense of pleasure in it for the woman’. Moreover, in some societies, especially in East Africa, women’s sexuality is tightly controlled, in extreme cases through Female Genital Mutilation, which removes much of the pleasure associated with sex, and sex remains very much about reproduction only.

The above example stands in stark contrast to modern notions of female sexuality. Since the heyday of Feminism and the sexual revolution in the 1960s, and helped by modern contraception, we now live in the age of what Anthony Giddens calls ‘plastic sexuality’ – where sex is primarily about pleasure for both sexes rather than just being about reproduction.

Today, women increasingly demand sexual satisfaction as an ordinary part of their relationships, and cultural products such as the recent best-selling novel – ‘50 Shades of grey’ and programmes such as ‘The Joy of Teen Sex’ certainly suggest that there is much more open and honest discussion about sex between partners in relationships.

Further evidence that suggests modern relationships are equal and that women are more empowered lies in the proliferation of advice and discussion sites about relationships – Advice magazines such as seventeen.com certainly suggest that women, and even girls, are more empowered in their relationships than they used to be. Such magazines even have quizzes so girls can assess whether their boyfriend’s up to scratch.

Also, blogs such as the good men project suggest that men are more prepared to discuss ‘what it means to be a man’ and ‘modern relationships’, further suggesting more equality between the sexes where intimate relations are concerned.

  • However, there is evidence against the view that there is equality in sexual relations

Women experience less sexual satisfaction than men….

Indiana University’s comprehensive survey found that while 91% of men had an orgasm the last time they had sex, but only 64% of women did. These numbers roughly reflect the percentage of men and women who say they enjoyed sex “extremely” or “quite a bit”: 66% of women and 83% of men. Only 58% of women in their ’20s had an orgasm during their latest sexual encounter.

30-40% percent of women report difficulty climaxing and 33% of women under 35 often feel sad, anxious, restless or irritable after sex, while 10% frequently feel sad after intercourse.”

The mainstream media refuses to advertise vibrators

According to one Feminist blog…“Vibrators still are such a big taboo. The media and films (ie. American Pie) glamourize women’s sexuality, but then refuses to run ads for vibrators which are very useful tools for helping women understand their sexuality. Yet Viagra ads run on all of these platforms with no problem.

  • All of this serves to reinforce ‘heteronormativity’, or the idea that women need men to give them sexual satisfaction. The problem with this is that the evidence suggests that men are failing to provide this…. many women report a lack of satisfaction in the bedroom.”

    Thirdly, there is evidence that men and women are becoming more equal where decision making is concerned in relationships

Pahl and Volger (1993) found that ‘pooling’ of household income is on the increase – where both partners have equal access of income and joint responsibility for expenditure

50% of couples pooled their income compared to only 19% of their parents, showing a movement away from ‘allowance systems’ in household expenditure’

Feminist criticisms that decision making is becoming more equal

While some decisions concerning money are made jointly, these tend to be less important ones – such as what clothes to buy while, some recent research suggests that men still tend to have the final say in more important decisions such as changing jobs or moving house

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The Social Construction of Chilhoood

This post examines childhood as a social construction looking at the work of Jane Pilcher and Philippe Aries among others.

Is Childhood Socially constructed

There seems to be near universal agreement that there are some fundamental differences between adults and children. For example people in most societies seem to agree that

1. Children are physically and psychologically immature compared to adults
2. Children are dependent on adults for a range of biological and emotional needs – Children need a lengthy process of socialisation which takes several years.
3. In contrast to adults, children are not competent to run their own lives and cannot be held responsible for their actions

In contrast to the period of childhood, one of the defining characteristics of adulthood is that adults are biologically mature, are competent to run their own lives and are fully responsible for their actions.

However, despite broad agreement on the above, what people mean by childhood and the position children occupy is not fixed but differs across times, places and cultures. There is considerable variation in what people in different societies think about the place of children in society, about what children should and shouldn’t be doing at certain ages, about how children should be socialised, and about the age at which they should be regarded as adults.

For this reason, Sociologists say that childhood is socially constructed. This means that childhood is something created and defined by society:

The social construction of childhood in modern British society

Part of the social construction of childhood in modern Britain is that we choose to have a high degree of separation between the spheres of childhood and adulthood. Add in details to the headings below

1. There are child specific places where only children and ‘trusted adults’ are supposed to go, and thus children are relatively sheltered from adult life.
2. There are several laws preventing children from doing certain things which adults are allowed to do.
3. There are products specifically for children –which adults are not supposed to play with (although some of them do).

All of the above separations between adults and children have nothing to do with the biological differences between adults and children – children do not need to have ‘special places’ just for them, they do not need special laws protecting them, and neither do they need specific toys designed for them. We as a society have decided that these things are desirable for children, and thus we ‘construct childhood’ as a being very different to adulthood.

The Social Construction of Childhood – A Comparative Approach

A good way to illustrate the social construction of childhood is to take a comparative approach – that is, to look at how children are seen and treated in other times and places than their own. The anthropologists Ruth Benedict (1934) argues that children in traditional, non-industrial societies are generally treated differently from children in modern western societies.

In other cultures children are seen as an ‘economic asset’ and expected to engage in paid work – In Less developed countries children are seen as a source of cheap (free) labour on the farm, in the home or in sweat shops where the wage can help boost the family income.
Sexual behaviour – In some cultures girls are sometimes married off at 14 or younger, taking on the duties of a wife or mother at a young age

 

Philippe Aries – A Radical View on The Social Construction of Childhood

The historian Philippe Aries has an extreme view on childhood as a social construction. He argues that in the Middle Ages (the 10th to the 13th century) ‘the idea of childhood did not exist’ – children were not seen as essentially different to adults like they are today.

  • Aries uses the following evidence to support his view…
  • Children were expected to work at a much earlier age
  • The law often made no distinction between children and adults

Works of art from the period often just depict children as small adults – they wear the same clothes and appear to work and play together.

In addition to the above Edward Shorter (1975) argues about parental attitudes to children in the Middle ages were very different from today…

  • High infant mortality rates encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants
  • Parents often neglected to give new born babies names – referring to them as ‘it’ and it was not uncommon to eventually give a new baby a name of a dead sibling.

Aries argues that it is only from the 13th century onwards that modern notions of childhood – the idea that childhood is a distinct phase of life from adulthood – begin to emerge. Essentially Aries is arguing that childhood as we understand it today is a relatively recent ‘invention’

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Related Posts

The March of Progress View of Childhood

The Social Construction of Childhood (from the Open University)

The Social Construction of Childhood (from the Junior University)

 

 

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Gender equality in the domestic division of labour

Do men and women do equal amounts of housework and child care today or is there evidence of a dual burden for women? What do the trends suggest about women’s empowerment? 

There is evidence that the domestic division of labour has become more equal over time, especially since the 1950s.

  • Numerous surveys carried out since the 1950s show a narrowing of the gender gap in the domestic division of laobur.
  • Liberal Feminists and Young and Wilmott would argue that this is because more women are in paid work and families become more symmetrical.
  • Another reason for this is the ‘commercialisation of housework’ – New technologies such as washing machines, hoovers and fridge-freezers (think ready meals) have reduced the amount of housework that needs doing and narrows the gender divide in the domestic division of labour.

However, the gendered division of domestic labour is still very unequal

According to a 2011 survey by the Social Issues Research Centre, The Changing Face of Motherhood, there has been hardly any change in domestic division of labour over the last 20 years (since the mid 1990s):

  • In 1994 it emerged that for 79 per cent of couples the woman did most or all of the laundry, with the role being shared in only 18 per cent of cases. The latest survey (in 2011) showed that the proportion sharing the role has only risen by two percentage points. In 70 per cent of houses laundry is still seen as women’s work.
  • In the kitchen, there has been virtually no change in the last 10 years. Women still do the lion’s share of the cooking in 55 per cent of couple households.
  • When it comes to tasks such as shopping for groceries, women’s workload has increased slightly the early 1990s. The picture was similar when people were asked about cleaning and caring for sick family members.
  • By contrast, DIY is still seen as virtually the sole preserve of men in 75 per cent of households – exactly as it was almost 20 years ago

Source – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/10296812/Sexual-revolution-Not-when-it-comes-to-the-dishes.html

A 2014 survey by the BBC’s Women’s Hour has found women devote well over the equivalent of a working day each week to household chores – double the amount undertaken by men. The poll for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour suggests that women spend an average of 11-and-a-half hours doing housework by their own estimation, while men complete just six.

Similar findings were revealed in a survey of almost 1,000 users of the Mumsnet website.

  • Changing lightbulbs, taking the bins out and DIY were the only three of 54 common domestic tasks done in more than half of cases by men, with 15 roughly shared and the rest chiefly carried out by women.
  • Most often done by female partners were organising playdates, health appointments, childcare and birthday parties – as well as cleaning and laundry. Parents evenings, school plays and bedtime stories are most often seen as shared activities.
  • Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet said: “One in three working mums is the main family wage earner, a rise of one million over the last 18 years… But despite this, women are still busting a gut back home, responsible for the vast majority of chores and domestic responsibilities. It’s not surprising we still talk about glass ceilings and the lack of women at the top. Most of us are just too exhausted to climb the greasy pole.”

Source http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/06/women-housework-compared-men-poll_n_5937536.html

Source – Chore Wars Poll

 

Analysis

  • Looking at the above statistics it seems reasonable to conclude that Radical Feminist concepts such as the dual burden and the triple shift still apply.
  • We can also conclude that women going into paid work has not yet resulted in total equality in the domestic division of labour.
  • It also seems reasonable to assume that there may be social class differences in the gendered division of labour – the top 10% of households will be in a position to hire cleaners and child care thus reducing the dual burden on middle class, professional women.
  • Another way in which middle class women will be advantaged compared to working class is that because of their husbands’ hire earning power, they will be more able to take time off work to be full time stay at home mums – meaning that they may do more domestic labour, but at least they don’t suffer the dual burden and triple shift.

Related Posts

To what extent are gender roles equal?

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Are men and women equal in relationships?

Most Sociological theorising has stressed the fact that gender roles in family life have become increasingly equal since the 1950s

The 1950s – The Traditional Nuclear Family and Segregated Conjugal Roles

In the 1950s, Sociologists such as Talcott Parson’s (1955) argued that the ideal model of the family was one characterised by segregated conjugal roles, in which there was a clear division of labour between spouses. Parsons argued that in a correctly functioning society, there should be a nuclear family in which

  • The husband has an instrumental role geared towards achieving success at work so he can provide for the family financially. He is the breadwinner
  • The wife has an expressive role geared towards primary socialisation of the children and meeting the family’s emotional needs. She is the homemaker, a full time housewife rather than a wage earner.

The 1970s – The symmetrical family and joint conjugal roles

Based on their classic study of couples in East London in the 1970s, Young and Wilmott (1973) took a ‘march of progress’ view of the history of the family. They saw family life as gradually improving for all its members, becoming more equal and democratic. They argued that there was a long term trend away from segregated conjugal roles and towards joint conjugal roles

  • Segregated conjugal roles – where couples have separate roles: A male breadwinner and a female homemaker/ carer, and where their leisure activities were separated
  • Joint conjugal roles – where the couples share tasks such as housework and childcare and spend their leisure time together.

Wilmott and Young also identified the emergence of what they called the ‘symmetrical family’: one in which the roles of husbands and wives, although not identical are now much more similar:

1. Women now go out to work full time
2. Men now help with housework and child care
3. Couples now spend their leisure time together rather than separately
Relationships today – Are characterised by greater equality and choice

Anthony Giddens argues that in recent decades the family and marriage have become more egalitarian because:

  • Contraception has allowed sex and intimacy rather than reproduction to become the main reason for the relationship’s existence
  • Women have gained independence because of greater opportunities in education and work

Ulrich Beck puts forward a similar view to that of Giddens, arguing that the traditional patriarchal family has been undermined by two trends:

  • Greater Gender Equality – This has challenged male domination in all spheres of life. Women now expect equality both at work and in marriage.
  • Greater individualism – where people’s actions are influenced more by calculations of their own self-interest than by a sense of obligation to others.

These trends have led to the rise of the negotiated family. Negotiated families do not conform to the traditional family norm, but vary according to the wishes and expectations of their members, who decided what is best for them by discussion. They enter the relationship on an equal basis.

Evaluations – To what extent are gender roles becoming more equal?

Evidence of women going into paid work and the gendered division of labour

  • It seems obvious that women going into paid work has resulted in greater equalit. As most women are now in paid-work this means they have more financial independence than ever before.
  • Statistics (see the next topic, link below) clearly show that the gendered division of labour has become more equal since the 1950s

However, Radical Feminists argue that paid work has led to the dual burden and triple shift

One argument used to support this view is that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.

Evidence on gender roles and parenting

Some research suggests there is greater gender equality

Research by Gayle Kaufman consisting of interviews with 70 American fathers with at least one child under the age of 18 found that between 1977 and 2008 the average American man increased the amount of time spent on household chores and childcare by more than 2 hours per day on average each workday. Statistics suggest that increasingly men are performing a ‘second shift’ when they return home from work, spending on average 46 hours a week on on childcare and housework, which suggests that it is increasingly men rather than women who face the ‘dual-burden’.

Kaufman identified two new types of dad based on how they responded to the challenges of balancing work and family life.

  • ‘New Dads’ which were by far the largest category placed a high priority on involvement with children and made some minor adjustments to their work practices – such as getting to work later or leaving earlier, or ‘leaving work at work’ or bringing work home with them, and trying to juggle that and family duties.
  • Superdads actively adjusted their work lives to fit in with their family lives – by changing careers, cutting back work hours or adopting more flexible working hours. These dads saw spending time with their children as the most important thing in their lives, with money and career as less important.

However, we are a long way from actual equality

Focusing on the UK, ONS data reveals that at the end of 2012 there were just over 6,000 more full-time, stay-at-home dads looking after babies and toddlers than there were 10 years ago, which is hardly a significant increase

Also, although fathers always say they want to spend more time with their kids rather than working, the evidence does not back this up – a third of men don’t take their two weeks paternity leave, 40% say they don’t intend to take the 6 months they are now entitled to and 90% say they wouldn’t take more than 6 months if it was offered to them.

The Emergence of ‘Intensive Motherhood’ suggests things might even be getting worse for some mothers…

According to Sharon Hays (1996) it is still mothers, rather than fathers who remain the target of most parenting advice, and today all mothers are expected to live up to a new norm of ‘intensive mothering’ – a style of mothering that is ‘expert-guided’ and child centred as well as emotionally absorbing, labour intensive and financially expensive, requiring a 24/7 focus on the child.

Hays suggests that intensive mothering has become the taken for granted ‘correct’ style of mothering , and the the focus is typically on the mother and not on the father.

Radical Feminists also remind us that 9/10 single parents are female.

Related Posts

To what extent is the domestic division of labour characterised be equality?