Do bad exam results matter?

Results day tomorrow, and I predict that Social Media will be full of comments by celebrities telling students that exam results don’t matter that much because ‘I failed my exams, but I still found success’.

This happened last year during The Guardian’s live chat following the release of  the 2016 GCSE results. The chat even supplied a link to a list of ‘famous school flops‘, which include the big three examples of ‘success despite educational failure’ – Alan Sugar, Richard Branson and Simon Cowell, but I can’t really see the relevance of these examples to today’s youth – all they demonstrate is that white men born before 1960 had a chance of being successful if they failed their exams, hardly representative.

There are a few comments from younger celebrities who claim that getting bad exam results are not the end of the world, because despite bad exam results, they have managed to build successful careers. 

From radio presenter Darryl Morris (no, I’d never heard of him either, although I do recognise him):

Daryll Morris.jpg
Darryl Morris – with 10 year’s of hobby-experience, a cheeky-chappy personality and a lot of luck, you too can be successful, even if you failed your exams!

I missed out on my desired GCSE results because I spent most of my revision time practising at the school radio station. I have no English qualifications and dropped out of a college that reluctantly accepted me to pursue a radio career – now I am a presenter and writer….You don’t need anybody’s permission to be successful – it comes from your passion, commitment and ambition.

From Ben Fogle, presenter of every outdoor program the BBC has made this century:

‘Exams left me feeling worthless and lacking in confidence. The worse I did in each test, the more pressure I felt to deliver results that never came. When I failed half my A-levels, and was rejected by my university choices, I spiralled into a depression.

The wilderness rescued me. I have been shaped by my experiences in the great outdoors. Feeling comfortable in the wild gave me the confidence to be who I am, not who others want me to be… it strengthened my character and set me back on track.’

Ben Fogle.jpg
Ben Fogle – If you’re independently schooled, screamingly middle class and very lucky, then you could also network your way into a TV presenting career, even if you fail your exams

Finally, Jeremy Clarkson tweeted: “If your A-level results are disappointing, don’t worry. I got a C and two Us, and I’m currently on a superyacht in the Med.”

The problem with the above is that every single one of the above examples may well be talented and passionate about what they do, as well as hard-working, but IN ADDITION, they either exploited what you might call ‘alternative opportunity structures’, they networked their way to success, or they were just plain lucky, in the sense of being in the right place at the right time: 

Morris was presenting radio from a very young age, so already had lots of experience by the time he was snapped up by the BBC at 16 – so this guy’s ‘alternative opportunity structure’ was through school and local community radio – a very niche way to success.

TBH I don’t know whether Clarkson networked himself onto Top Gear – but he went to the same fee-paying private school (Repton School) as the executive producer of the program, so even if the old-school tie wasn’t part of it, he would’ve oozed cultural and social capital because of his class background.

As for Fogle not only was he independently schooled (so culturally well prepared for his future at the BBC which is chock-full of the privately schooled), -he was also lucky enough to have been at the right age/ fitted the profile for the BBC’s Castaway 2000 series, which catapulted him into fame, he’s also quite charming, which no doubt helps!

So all these case studies show us is that if you want to be successful, then exam results don’t matter IF you have alternative opportunity structures to exploit, AND/ OR you have sufficient social and cultural capital to be able to be able network your way into a job. 

This important qualification (excuse the pun) to the ‘exam results don’t matter argument’ is backed up by Frances Ryan who points out that such comments tend to come from upper middle class adults, for whom as teenagers, poor exam results mattered less because their parents’ wealth and their higher levels cultural and social capital opened up other opportunities for them.

However, Ryan argues that for teenagers from poorer backgrounds, getting good exam results may well be the only realistic opportunity  they have of getting into university and getting a graduate job, which, on average, will still pay you more over the course of a life time than a non-graduate job.

A classic way in which this inequality of opportunity manifests itself is that wealthy parents are able to support their 19-20 year old teenagers to either do another year of A levels, or an access course, or an unpaid internships for a few months or a year to give them a second chance, poorer kids don’t have these options, not unless they want to go into crippling levels of debt.

So – do bad exam results matter? Judging by the analysis above, it matters more if you’re from a working class background because education and qualifications provide the most likely path way to social mobility…..but less so from an upper middle class background.

Having said all of that, if you’ve woken up to the idea that a normal life is basically just a bit shit, then exam results don’t really matter at all. Trust me, jobs aren’t all that! Why not try one of the following alternatives instead:

  • Do voluntary work
  • Become an eco-anarchist
  • Become an artist
  • Go travelling
  • Go homeless
  • Become a monk
  • Live with your parents for the rest of your life.
  • Learn to live without money.

For more ideas about alternative career paths, you might like this post: alternative careers: or how to avoid working for a living.

Should we be Concerned about the Gender Pay Gap at the BBC?

The BBC recently revealed the salaries of stars earning more than £150,000, and two-thirds of them are male, only a third female. So the very high income earner male-female ratio at the BBC is 2:1.

BBC gender pay gap

Where the highest incomes are concerned, there is an enormous disparity between the highest earning male and the highest earning female: Chris Evans is the top-paid male, earning between £2.2m and £2.25m, while Claudia Winkleman is the highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £500,000.

A recent edition of Radio 4’s Moral Maze explored some of the moral arguments for and against this pay gap, focusing on the following questions:

  1. Do these pay inequalities, between elite men and women at the BBC, actually tell us anything about gender pay differentials in wider society? Or is this sample of very high earning celebrities just so unique that it tells us nothing at all?
  2. Why do women earn less than men? To what extent is the biological fact that women are the child-bearers explain the differences? To what extent is it sexism in wider culture?
  3. What more could or should companies, government and society reasonably do about gender disparities?
  4. Finally, is viewing society through the prism of gender an unhealthy obsession and an unhelpful distraction from the job of tackling wider inequalities in wealth, health and education?

In case you’ve never listened to it, the format of the moral maze consists of a panel who e start off by briefly presenting their views on topic under discussion, and then listening to evidence from a number of witnesses and critically questioning them, before summing up their views at the end of the show. 

Michael Buerk
Michael Buerk – old, white, male, privately educated and host of the BBC’s Moral Maze

I thought it was useful to provide a detailed account of this episode of the moral maze because it includes summary of views of some of Britain’s best known contemporary Feminists and their critics on the issue of the pay-gap in the UK, an issue which is obviously highly relevant across the A level sociology syllabus. 

It’s also probably quicker to read this rather than listen to the pod cast, and I thought it’d be useful to link it up too. 

A summary of the views of the four person panel

Priest and Guardian pundit Giles Fraser – thinks that the fact that BBC appears to value men more than women is a moral outrage

Claire Fox, from the Institute of Ideas – describes Giles Fraser’s moral position as ‘tone deaf’ arguing that it’s ludicrous for a very high income earning women to see themselves as victims of Patriarchy, even if men in similar positions earn more them. She also says she finds it insulting to the memory of what fighting for women’s rights was all about.

Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter-Religious Studies at Edinburgh University – disagrees argues that we should be comparing ‘like for like’ – if men and women are in a similar environment, they should be receiving the same pay and those women are right to fight for it.

Historian and Blogger Tim Stanley – elite celebrity presenters are all grotesquely overpaid and this issue is a distraction from the e world and serious violence women face in other parts of the world and the UK, and also some of the systemic problems facing young men today.

The Four Witnesses

The Witnesses are Emily Hill, Nikki Van De Gaag, Sophie Walker and Dr Joanna Williams – below I summarise their views on the gender pay gap at the BBC and more widely in the UK, along with their responses to the various questions asked of them by the panelists. 

Dr Joanna Williams

Dr Williams is author of Women Versus Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars

  • women versus feminismShe argues that the pay of 96 elite people tells us very little about the issues of pay and inequality in wider society, because these 96 people are not doing jobs in which the pay is determined by standardised promotion and pay-scale procedures
  • She also points out that they are doing jobs which are not comparable – even where presenters co-present on the same show, one of them might well be doing additional presenting work elsewhere which could explain their higher pay.
  • The moral outrage over the gender pay gap at the BBC misses the point because the gender pay gap overall in the UK is at an all time low.

Giles Fraser responds to the above by suggesting that, irrespective of what’s going on in the wider society, where women are paid less for men in comparable jobs, this is a basic moral outrage. In response Williams says:

  • The real moral outrage is that other workers at the BBC (male and female alike) such as cleaners, editors, even producers, are earning so much less than these 96 ultra high-income earners.
  • These wealthy women have more in common with their wealthy male colleague and the focus on the ‘elite gender pay-gap’ is a distraction from the wider issue of social class.
  • She finds it nauseating that these elite women are calling for equal pay at the BBC, and claiming to do this for ‘all women – a campaign to equalize elite pay is going to nothing to help women lower down the pay scale – because at minimum wage level, there is no gender pay-gap.

Giles Fraser criticizes this view because it sounds like it’s blaming the victims of unequal pay. 

Mona Siddiqui tries to make the point that what is going on at the top of the BBC does in fact reflect a problem found in workplaces across Britain – which is that if women don’t kick up a fuss about it, they will be paid less than men. In response to this Williams says:

  • The average pay gap at the BBC is 10% compared to 18% in the country as a whole, suggesting the BBC is actually a relatively good on equal pay where gender is concerned.
  • Where you look at men and women in comparable ‘ordinary’ jobs, the gender pay gap is practically zero.
  • Women in their 20s earn more than men in their 20s.

Mona Siddiqui wonders what we’re aiming for in all of this – do we want equal pay by gender, or a world of work in which women race ahead of men, in which case we just end up with another pay-gap issue. In response Williams says:

  • the real issue is social class – people at the bottom need to be paid more
  • by focusing on the gender pay gap, we distract attention away from the real problem in society which is pay inequality more broadly – and to get better pay, women in lower paid jobs need to work alongside their male colleagues.

Sophie Walker 

Sophie Walker is leader of the Women’s Equality Party and argues that:

  • What’s interesting about the BBC Explodes the myth that if women try harder they can have equal pay. This list demonstrates that even the wealthiest, white, privileged  women are still paid less men, and if they’re being paid less
  • One of the main aspects of the pay gap is occupational segregation which starts with boys and girls in school making gendered subject choices -because we teach boys that they are good at science and engineering and we value and pay those jobs highly; while we teach girls that they are good at caring and teaching and we value and pay those jobs lesson.
  • The ‘care burden’ within family life falls disproportionately on women – women in their 20s may well earn more than men, but later on in their working lives, women pay a ‘motherhood penalty’ – within 12 years of having children women’s pay is about 30% lower than the men they work with.

Tim Stanley rejects Sophie Walker’s analysis arguing that the pay gap is generational and is disappearing for the young. He cites a recent report by the Resolution Foundation found that the gender pay gap baby boomers is 16%, among women born between 1981 and 2005, it is 5%, and for women in their early 20s, the pay gap doesn’t exist, in fact women in this age bracket earn more than men. He also points out that women outperforming men in education, especially at university.

Ultimately, the two talk at cross purposes – they disagree about how we should be comparing men and women – Tim Stanley wants to take generations as the base for comparison and measure the pay gap by comparing what the same aged men and women earn doing the same jobs, while Sophie Walker wants to make a broader comparison, factoring in use the ‘typical jobs’ men and women do and the even how the social roles men and women fill influence the amount they earn.

Another reason they talk at cross purposes is that Stanley just sticks to the stats on pay for men and women in their 20s, Walker is imagining what’s likely to happen to the pay gap in later life, based on past evidence. 

Claire Fox – asks if focusing on 96 elite women isn’t a distraction away from the the more significant problem of social class inequalities. Sophie Walker responds by saying that:

  • The advantage of looking at inequalities through the lens of gender shows that all women, of all classes, are underpaid compared to men.
  • She also argues that exploring class through the lens of gender is an effective way of analyzing pay injustice in society.
  • She also points out that there are different reasons for the pay gap at different class levels – for example at the top end, it’s maybe something to do with how men and women are treated differently by their agents; while at the bottom end, the fact that we have nurses (a female dominated profession) reliant on food banks is more to do with us not valuing women’s caring roles highly enough.

Claire Fox now turns to the question of why women earn less than men. She asks whether Sophie Walker thinks women are deliberately treated like second class citizens in today’s labour market. Walker suggests there isn’t conscious bias, but the following things might explain the pay gap:

  • Unconscious bias by white men who, when looking for the best candidate for a job, end up choosing not the best candidate.
  • Structural barriers, particularly lack of access to decent child care.
  • Ultimately Walker argues that such gender stereotypes and structural barriers harm men just as much as women, by effectively denying men the opportunity to spend quality time with their children – so closing the gender pay gap should benefit both men and women.

Emily Hill

Emily Hill is the commissioning editor of the spectator and responsible for an article entitled ‘The end of Feminism‘.

  • End of FeminismShe starts off by pointing out that she may have wrote that article, but someone else was responsible for the title, and that she does actually regard herself as a feminist.
  • Emily Hill subscribes to kind of Feminism developed by Germaine Greer and Camille Paglia
  • She has however have a problem with some younger, trendy columnists who have changed the agenda of feminism.
  • She suggests that what used to fight for equality and freedom has now become a fight for censorship and special treatment.
  • Women have won key battles such as they are doing better in school and university, and when they grow up she believes they will earn equal to men.
  • She does not believe that women today are victims of Patriarchy, which is thanks to previous Feminists having fought to overcome this.

Mona Siddiqui thinks the above view only applies to middle class white women, and women lower down the social class ladder are still victims of Patriarchy. 

Giles Fraser backs up the idea that women are still disadvantaged through ‘everyday sexism’ – such as waiters handing the bill to men rather than women as default, and such things as harassment on the street, and especially social media abuse.

  • Emily Hill’s response to this is that women just need to get over these things, and she seems to be suggesting that these aren’t really systematic structural barriers to women’s progress.
  • Women need to stand up to men harassing them, and tell them to ‘F off’, knee them in the balls or just simply tell them their not taking it.
  • She suggests young women read Feminism and recommends looking at Germaine Greer putting down Norman Mailler.
  • In response to the view that women are more likely to get abused on social media, she cites research which suggests men are just as likely to suffer abuse, and stands against censorship, suggesting that satirizing offensive comments is the best way to deal with them.

Nikki van der Gaag

Nikki van der Gaag is Director of Gender Justice at Oxfam and author of No Nonsense Feminism: Why the World Still Needs the F Word.

  • Van der Gaag starts off by arguing that even in the UK structural discrimination against women still exists.

Claire Fox asks Van der Gaag what she thinks of the view that contemporary Feminism is ‘victim feminism’ – casting women as hapless, hopeless and in need of protection. Fox has a problem with the kind of Feminism that suggests that women in particular can’t cope with offensive words and ideas and demands that women have ‘safe spaces’ from offensive ideas and which no platforms (or censors) ideas they find offensive – she argues this kind of Feminism constructs women as people who simply can’t cope. 

Fox suggests that when women in the west say they need protecting from offensive words in order to protect their mental health, this trivialises the much more serious problems some women in the west face, and which many women in developing countries face – such as being victims of violence and being treated like second class citizens. 

  • In response Van der Gaag suggests that Claire Fox is the one trivialising  mental illness, pointing out that women suffer severe abuse online, such as death threats (Even female MPs) and the effects on mental health are very real.

Giles Fraser now simply asks whether Van der Gaag thinks the disparity between men and women is a product of nature or nurture. 

  • Van der Gaag responds by pointing him in the direction of two books – one by Cordelia Fine – Delusions of Gender and the other by Lise Elliot – Pink Brain Blue Brain
  • Together these two books suggest that about 95% of gender differences are explained by nurture, the other 5% by nature.

Reflecting on the 5% of natural differences Giles Fraser asks to what extent the biological fact of women being the child bearers explains gender disparities. Van Der Gaag responds by basically saying it’s got very little to do with it. 

  • The problem women are still expected all over the world to do unpaid work on top of their paid work, and this is an issue all over the world including in the UK.
  • The solution is to value unpaid work as much as paid work, to redistribute it so that men do more unpaid work (which is happening with the younger generation), and to reduce the unpaid care, which machines can help with.

In Summary 

Either the gender pay gap at the BBC is symptomatic of wider gender disparities in British society, or it’s a nauseating distraction. 

For Mona Siddiqui the real issue is how do we see women in terms of what value they bring to the work place?

Claire Fox finds the whole issue distasteful because the BBC gender pay gap took over some of the more socially relevant issues that we should be discussion – we should really be thinking about social class inequalities, not pay inequality between men and women at the BBC.

Giles Fraser thinks that The BBC gender pay gap touches a nerve because firstly we don’t think that people should earn that much, and secondly, we also find the idea of gender inequality unfair – the two things together – class and gender inequality offend our British idea of justice, and we can care about both at the same time (it is not a binary issue).

Tim Stanley reiterates his point that the gender pay gap in wider society is no longer really an issue – he argues that our whole take on it is 40 years old: male bosses no longer deliberately discriminate against women and technology has changed the nature of work, giving women more opportunities which they are taking.

Claire Fox points out that what no longer happens is that patriarchal bosses say ‘you’re going to have a baby, see you later’, but was does happen is that women take time off work when they have babies and go back to work part-time and lose income because of this.  The problem is that there is not enough child care provision for working people, and given that women are the primary child carers this disadvantages them more than men where pay is concerned.

She also argues that overstating the gender pay gap is not helpful, what we should be doing is focusing on positive solutions to overcoming it.

Mona Siddiqui points out that prejudice may play a role – in that male bosses are reluctant to hire women in their early 30s because of the increased possibility of them having children in the near future, and the ‘hassle’ this will cause.

Giles Fraser suggests that the stereotypical representations of men and women in higher and lower paid jobs remains a problem for parents bringing up children.

There’s general support for Emily Hill’s view that thanks to Feminism, there have been huge gains in gender equality, and for the fact that contemporary Feminists blackballing people like Germaine Greer is a problem.

The last word goes to Giles Fraser who suggests that ‘power looks after itself’ and so we cannot be complacent.

 

Gender Equality in Rwanda

Rwanda makes an interesting case study of a developing nation which appears to have atypically high levels of gender equality. It ranks no 7 in the Gender Empowerment Index, just behind the Nordic countries, and actually has a higher proportion of girls enrolled in education than boys (97% compared to 95%).

Given that East and North African nations typically have the lowest levels of gender equality in the world (take neighbouring DRC as an example, Rwanda not only bucks the regional trend, but it also bucks the general trend of the correlation between higher GDP and greater levels of gender equality.  So what’s its secret? I’m not exactly an expert in Rwandan history, but here are five things which might explain the high reported levels of gender equality in Rwanda.

Firstly, the genocide, may have (somewhat perversely) played a role in female empowerment.

In the aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda found itself a country composed of 70 percent women. The violence had been perpetrated by — and largely toward — men. There were simply fewer men due to death, imprisonment, and flight. Killings also targeted civic leaders during the genocide. Out of more than 780 judges nationwide, only 20 survived the violence. Not 20 percent, 20 total.

These skewed demographics resulted in a power vacuum. Prior to 1994, women only held between 10 and 15 percent of seats in Parliament. Out of sheer necessity, and a desire to rebuild their country, women stepped up as leaders in every realm of the nation, including politics.

Or in the words of one Rwandan woman….. “Many women were left as widows because of the genocide. Others had to work hard in the place of their jailed husbands for allegedly taking part in the genocide. So even young girls got that mentality to perform genuinely to access good jobs, and good jobs means going to school first,”

Secondly – (and no doubt related to the above) women’s rights have been rooted in the constitution for over a decade – The constitution stipulates that at least 30% of government positions should be filled by women. Rwanda now tops global league tables for the percentage of female parliamentarians. Fewer than 22% of MPs worldwide are women; in Rwanda, almost 64% are.

Thirdly (and probably a knock-on effect from point two) Rwanda spends huge proportions of its national budget on health and education, according to World Bank statistics. In 2011, almost 24% of total government expenditure went to health and 17% to education. High expenditure on the former has greatly improved maternal health and reduced child mortality, while high expenditure on the later has meant there is sufficient money to fund education for both boys and girls (as a general rule)

Fourthly (and probably a knock on effect from the above three points) – A relatively high proportion of women are employed in public sector jobs – In the education system – women have also outnumbered men as primary school teachers. Higher up the education system, things are not equal, but they are improving rapidly – At secondary school, however, fewer than 28% of teachers are women, up from 21% in 2001. In higher education, only 16% of teachers are women, but this is up from 10% in 1999 and 5% in 1990. In every local police station there is a ‘gender desk’ where incidents of gender related violence can be reported (something which I think is pretty much unheard of in most African countries.)

Fifthly, there is the role of women’s support groups in rebuilding the country after the decimation caused by the genocide. These groups initially just offered a place for women to talk about their experiences of being widowed and raped, but they morphed into workers co-operatives, which has, 20 years later, led on to a very high degree of engagement with women in local politics, which is increasingly integrated with national politics.

Limitations of Rwanda’s Gender Equality….

As with all statistics, they don’t tell the full picture, one of the posts below makes the following cautions – Firstly, 60% of Rwandans live below the poverty line, and while those women how have jobs in politics and education are on decent wages, there aren’t actually that many people in the population employed in these sectors and gender equality means very little to the vast majority of women when they can’t afford to eat. Secondly, DV statistics don’t make for pretty reading, with 2/5 women saying they have experienced domestic violence, with 1/5 saying they have experienced sexual violence – And you can imagine how low the prosecution rate of men is for such crimes.

A few thoughts on the meaning of all this….

Rwanda has experienced excellent economic growth compared to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which suggests that Gender Empowerment has a positive effect on development, but obviously this conclusion has to be treated with caution because there are so many other variables which need to be taken into account.

If it is indeed the prevalence of women and the absence of (certain types of?) men from a society which encourages development, there are some pretty challenging implications – Most obviously it raises the question of how we are to reduce (certain types of) male influence in developing countries?

Sources

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/datablog/2014/apr/03/rwanda-genocide-growth-political-repression-data

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/07/rwanda-women-empowered-impoverished

http://thinkafricapress.com/rwanda/women-gender-equality

http://harvardkennedyschoolreview.com/rwanda-strides-towards-gender-equality-in-government/

The radical feminist perspective on 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.

3. There is a historical trends towards women having more freedom and control over their sexuality, especially compared to traditional tribal societies, a point elaborated on below.

Women have more sexual freedom today…

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.

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.

Related Posts

This post covers the difficult topic of Domestic Abuse in more depth.

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Family diversity by ethnicity in the UK

How does family life vary by ethnicity in the UK today?

This brief update explores the extent to which family life and attitudes to family-life vary across some of the different ethnic groups in the UK. It looks at such things as marriage, divorce, birth rates, household types, equality and household structure.

It has been written mainly for the A-level sociology specification, families and households topic.

Data from the latest (2011) census shows that 86% of the UK population are classified as ‘white’, 7.5% as ‘Asian’ or ‘Asian-British’, 3.3% as’ Black’, 2.2% as ‘Mixed’ and 1% as ‘other’.

(NB – This represents a signficant increase in ethnic minorities compared to the 2001 census. In 2011, 14% of the population were non-white, compared to 9% in 2001.)

A brief history of South-Asian Family Life in the UK

Ballard (1982) noted that most South-Asian families had a much broader network of familial-relations than a typical white-British family and one individual household might be only one small part of a complex global network of kin-relations.

Ballard argued that in order to understand South-Asian family life in the UK in the 1980s, you had to look at the ideal model of family life in Asia which is Patriarchal, being based on tight control of women, collectivist (the group is more important than the individual) and obsessed with mainting family honour (primarily through not getting divorced/ committing adultury or having children outside of wedlock) because maintaining honour was crucial to your being able to do business in the wider community.

Ballard also stressed the importance of Honour and its Patriarchal nature….. The complexity of the question of the asymmetry of the sexes is nowhere better illustrated than in the concepts of honour, izzat and shame, sharm. In its narrower sense izzat is a matter of male pride. Honourable men are expected to present an image of fearlessness and independence to the outside world, and at the same time to keep close control over the female members of their families. For a woman to challenge her husband’s or her father’s authority in public shamefully punctures his honour. To sustain male izzat wives, sisters and daughters must be seen to behave with seemly modesty, secluding themselves from the world of men.

One of the key questions A-level sociology students should ask themselves is the extent to which the above research is true today, or the extent to which things have changed!

Household type by Ethnicity, UK Census 2011

According to the UK 2011 Census, we had the following variations by ethnicity:

Some of the most obvious differences of ethnic minority households (compared to white) households include:

  • Asian households are three times less likely to be cohabiting, and have higher rates of marriage
  • Asian households have half the rate of Lone Person households compared to white households.
  • Black and mixed households have twice the rate of lone parent households.
  • Black, Asian and mixed households have incredibly low levels of pensioner couple households compared to White households, and much higher rates of ‘other households’ (could be ‘multigenerational?)

Source here.


British Asians have more conservative views towards marriage and sexuality.

According to a poll in 2018, British Asians are twice as likely to report that ‘sex before marriage’ is unacceptable than ‘all Britons’, they are also more likely to be against same-sex relationships.

Source: BBC News report, 2018

A previous UK National Statistics report showed that the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person. Demonstrating the importance of marriage for the Brit-Asian communities.


Divorce today is now much more common among Asian couples

Divorce has traditionally been seen as something shameful in Asian culture, with children under pressure to stay in loveless marriages in order to uphold the family’s honour and prevent shame falling on the family.

However, for today’s third and fourth generation Asians, things are much different.. According to this article there is a soaring British Asian divorce rate now that young Asian men and especially women are better educated and increasingly going into professional careers.


Forced Marriages are more common among Asian Families

There is also a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities.

In 2018 the British authorities dealt with 1500 cases of Forced Marriage, with there being over 1000 cases a year for most of the last decade.

Nearly half of all cases involve victims being taken to or originating from Pakistan, with Bangladesh being the second most involved country.

Only 7% of Forced Marriages take place entirely in the UK, so there’s an interesting link to (negative) Globalisation and family life here.

Source: ONS Forced Marriage Statistics


Immigrant women have higher fertility rates

The fertility rate for UK born mothers is 1.63, compared to 1.99 for non UK born mothers. This means the birth rate for non-UK born mother is about 25% higher.

The percentage of babies born to women from outside the UK has increased considerably over the last 20 years, but has recently leveled off and could now be declining.

Around 28% of births are to women who were born outside of the UK in 2018.

Source: ONS statistics: Births by Parents Country of Birth

The number of interracial relationships is increasing

The fact that interracial relationships are increasing might make it more difficult to make generalisations between ethnic groups in the future…..

Overall almost one in 10 people living in Britain is married to or living with someone from outside their own ethnic group, the analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows.


But the overall figure conceals wide variations. Only one in 25 white people have settled down with someone from outside their own racial background. By contrast 85 per cent of people from mixed-race families have themselves set up home with someone from another group.


Age is the crucial factor with those in their 20s and 30s more than twice as likely to be living with someone from another background as those over 65, reflecting a less rigid approach to identity over time.

Source: The Guardian, 2015

Other stuff

This is interesting: When will we stop blaming single black mother households.

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