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More Brits disagree that a woman’s job is in the home, but no increase in support for mothers of young children to work

10 July 2018 | Tags: Gender, Gender roles, BSA, British Social Attitudes, Harassment, Sexism

Against a backdrop of government initiatives to help working families, such as shared parental leave and improved childcare provision, the British Social Attitudes Survey reveals that the proportion of people who think women should stay at home with their children has stayed the same since 2012.

The National Centre for Social Research questioned people about whether a mother should stay at home with her family and found that 33% of Brits think mothers of pre-school age children should stay at home, a figure that remains unchanged over the last five years. 38% of Brits think these mothers should work part time, down from 43% in 2012. 7% think full time is the best option compared with 5% in 2012. 

A similar picture is painted in attitudes to mothers of school age children- 2% of Brits think she should stay at home, with no change since 2012.  49% think she should work part- time (52% in 2012).  27% view full- time employment as the best option (28% in 2012).  Women (41%) are more likely than men (36%) to favour part- time work for mothers of school and pre-school age children and men (36%) are more likely than women (30%) to think women with pre-school age children should stay at home.  

This comes alongside a continued shift away from a traditional view of women as homemakers, and men as breadwinners.  72% of Brits disagree with the view that it is a man’s job to earn money and a woman’s job is to look after home and family, up from 65% in 2012 and 58% in 2008.

Older people, people without formal qualifications and lower incomes are more likely to hold traditional gender views but age and education divisions are narrowing.  In 2012 only 30% of people over the age of 75 disagreed with this view. This has increased to 47%. 

Brits are more supportive of shared parental leave in principle than in practice. Official forecasts on take-up of shared parental leave are as low as 2% to 8%, but the British Social Attitudes survey finds that the majority of people think both new parents should take at least some time off to look after a new baby. 

39% think new mothers should take most of the paid leave and the fathers should take some.  30% think the leave should be evenly split between parents. Only 15% think the mother should take all of the leave and the father none.

Men are more likely than women to think mothers should take the entire leave period- 19% against 11%. Young people aged 18 to 34 are more likely to think leave should be evenly split- 38% compared with 17% of the oldest group aged 75 plus.

For the first time, this year’s BSA survey assessed views on comments being made about a woman’s appearance in the street, namely commenting loudly that she “looks gorgeous today”.

57% of Brits think it is always or usually wrong for a man to make this comment, a view that is more common among men (61%) than women (52%).  45% say it is wrong for women to comment in the same way on a man’s appearance. 

An overwhelming majority of 93% say sexist online bullying towards women is wrong while 85% say the same about online bullying directed at men.

Deputy chief executive Nancy Kelley said: “The people of Britain are moving away from the idea that men should be breadwinners and women homemakers. 

"Yet when we asked people if they thought mothers of pre-school age children should work we found no increase in support in recent years, against a backdrop of several policy changes aiming to help working families manage work and childcare. 

"People are supportive of parental leave being shared between men and women but in practice very few actually do.  This suggests that government must look beyond the law if they are hoping to balance raising a child between mums and dads.”

Read the full British Social Attitudes chapter on gender here.