Gender Role Research Misrepresented (again – yes I know we shouldn’t be surprised).

// 28 August 2008

First off, hat tip to the readers who flagged this to us, thank you.

The Yorkshire Building Society (well know gender activists there) did a survey about customers attitudes to gender roles. Now if you believed the first Telegraph article on this you’d think that “Women ‘are happy to be housewives’ ” (which was their headline). But wait, what’s that, a misleading portrayal of research results? No you do surprise me….

First off the research did not ask, contrary to the representation of it, whether women should return to the home completely. It asked what things were valued by a (heterosexual) man or woman in a partner.

The top three things most valued by men in their partner [were] domestic tasks, namely, taking care of the home (44%), cooking (39%) and cleaning (33%).


Now it seems to me that restrictive choices might have a role to play here because if I were asked what I value in my partner it’s not ability to earn money or to iron a shirt – it’s much more esoteric things like ability to understand me, make me laugh or talk sense when I’m stressed. However, to continue with the wierd mismatch between research and reporting….

Yorkshire Building Society questioned 1,527 people to find out what they most valued in their partners. The research shows that 38% of women value the financial stability that their partner provides. Conversely, when looked at from the other perspective, this number is halved with only 16% of men valuing financial stability in their partner. Only 9% of men surveyed thought they would not be able to cope financially if their partner were unable to work. However, this number rose to 15%, when women were asked the same question. Worryingly, only 29% of people had discussed with their partner how they would cope financially if either of them were unable to work despite the evidence of the invaluable role their partner can play in their life.


Ah OK so here’s the rub – basically, if we turn this around 91% of men and 85% of women thought they would financially cope if their partner was unable to work. Given the differential levels of homemakers and long-term disabled in women and men that is actually pretty good result. Lets me cheerful, the vast majority of people felt they could cope if disaster befell and a partner had to stop work. But lets also remember that this only asked seemingly heterosexual people with partners – it didn’t ask the single parent family or the single widowed pensioner how they were coping.

Meanwhile, and also according to YBS:

“the typical adult would earn an extra £8,000 a year on average if he or she was paid for the housework and other chores done week in, week out for free.

From MGM Advantage

Now the gender neutrality of this is somewhat amusing and misleading, because we know from other surveys (see here and here and here for example) that housework still tends to be done by women even when they are working. (And The Telegraph has previously covered an argument that women’s lower market earnings (i.e. outside the home) are directly linked to their greater domestic burden in the home which is also the basis of this paper here). £8,000 seems quite a low figure, after all ONS study of time use has estimated that unpaid domestic labour contributes around £700 billion to the economy and the Wages for Housework campaign is advocating a wage of £500-600 per week (£28,000 approx pa) for unpaid domestic workers.

The Telegraph did at least publish an alternate view, Ceri Radford argues choice is the important thing. I think I’d aver that it’s actually representing the research correctly, but then I’m an unusual woman (seemingly, if the Telegraph coverage is to be believed) as both I and my partner want me to work.

Comments From You

Audrey // Posted 28 August 2008 at 2:29 pm

You will be pleased to see that nearly all the comments on the Telegraph think the survey is a)bonkers b) out of touch and c) insulting.

Breath of fresh from the usual trolls really.

Qubit // Posted 28 August 2008 at 2:43 pm

“Women, on the other hand, most value good listeners (41%), financial stability (38%) and their partner being a great parent (27%).”

I am not sure how many of the companionship aspects of a relationship were listed, my guess was very few. However for some reason it seems worrying that a good listener (which is similar to someone to talk to) wasn’t in men’s top three. I guess it is do with the way the survey was phrased.

Ruth // Posted 28 August 2008 at 7:07 pm

If they paid £28,000 a year for being full time homemaker, I’d do it: that’s £7,000 pa more than I earn for a job with a degree!

orlando // Posted 29 August 2008 at 9:57 am

It would be an unbelievably depressing thought that all those men value their wives most as a servant. I’m just going to hope that it came from the questions being really badly worded.

naath // Posted 29 August 2008 at 2:57 pm

Paying for housework. That’d be a nice idea. But how is it to work?

8000 is c. 1600 hours @min. wage or c. 30 hours/week – that’s rather a lot more housework that I do… or 15 hours/week at a rate of 10pound/hour (close to my salary at present)… still more housework than I do. I guess people do more housework than me, but I’m not sure where 28K comes from; that’s a pretty decent wage for a full time (40 hours/week) job and w/o kids I have no idea what I’d spend 40 hours/week on at home (or are they counting childcare? that would make a LOT more sense).

On the other hand… if I lived alone I would still have to do pretty much the same amount of housework I do now (vis – not very much), but I’m guessing that many women have partners who don’t do any and would do maybe 1/2 as much housework if living alone. Who is supposed to pay me for doing housework in a house I live in alone?

Also for a woman who is a houswife/SAHM how what value are we supposed to put on the “benefits in kind” she receives from the husband/wife/partner who is working outside the home? By which I mean the accommodation (use of the house in which she is a housewife), bills, food, clothing etc. etc. informs me that only *accommodation* can be counted towards the minimum wage (however other benefits might be *taxable*) .

Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams // Posted 1 September 2008 at 11:05 am

Considering the potential of the media to influence public opinion and beleifs, this makes me wonder if it might not serve the cause if feminist organisations diverted some resources and effort (particularly regarding legal know-how) to the pursuit of these incidents of misguided or woeful mis-reporting of studies? Newspapers hate to print retractions (it so messes up their column inches) and if it happened enough – perhaps it might make them re-concider – or at least take a second thought before throwing out mis-reported facts or indeed even re-consider stances when reporting of other things?

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds