A generational shift in attitudes?
In order to reflect on whether we are likely to see a further erosion of traditional values, and further progression of the 'gender role revolution', it is helpful to understand whether the trends in societal attitudes we report above are the result of generational change - with more 'traditional' generations being replaced by less 'traditional' ones as time goes on. If that is the case, we might expect to see a continued decline in support for traditional gender divides into the future.
To look at this, we focus on the proportion of the public who agree with the statement that "A man's job is to earn money; a woman's job is to look after the home and family" - a view which most clearly encapsulates a traditional division of gender roles. We first look at variations in the responses of people in different age groups. Because there is very little difference in the views of men and women on this issue, either in 1984 (when 45 per cent of men and 41 per cent of women agreed with the statement) or in 2012 (when levels of agreement were 13 per cent and 12 per cent respectively), we do not separate our analysis
Table 5.2 shows that, in 2012, support for a traditional division of labour is much more pronounced among older people (those aged 66 years and over) and least popular among the youngest age groups. Less than one in 20 of those aged 25 years and under and around one in ten of those aged 26-35 agree with a traditional division of gender roles, compared to three in ten of those aged 66 and over. More markedly, around three-quarters of those in the youngest two age groups disagree with a traditional division of gender roles, compared to just four in ten of those in the oldest age group. On the face of it, this might suggest that decreasing support for a traditional gender divide is due to 'generation replacement', with older generations, more likely to be supportive of traditional gender roles, dying out and being replaced by younger, less traditional, generations.
To explore this theory further, we looked at the responses over time of different age cohorts. So, in each survey year, we divided the respondents into people born in particular decades (those born between 1910 and 1929, between 1920 and 1939, and so on). In this way, in Figure 5.5, we can see the differences in the attitudes of particular age cohorts, and how these change over time. Within each cohort, with the exception of those born in the 1970s (and most notably among those born in the 1940s and 1950s) there is some decline over time in support for a traditional division of gender roles, suggesting that people are to some extent influenced by changing societal norms. However, the overriding story here is one of generational replacement, with each successive age cohort - or generation - being less likely to support a traditional division of gender roles, compared to the one that preceded them. The gap is narrowing between the differences of the most recent cohorts. This implies that, while we might expect to see further reductions in support for a traditional division of labour in coming decades, the speed of change in attitudes may slow down.
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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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