Strange and Disturbing Statistics

From an improbable source (a NYRB article  on global warming), I’ve learned:

that between 1992 and 2004, the percentage of Americans who agreed with the statement “The father of the family must be the master in his own house” went from 42 to 52 percent. But at the same time, the percentage who agreed that “taking care of the home and kids is as much a man’s work as women’s work” rose from 86 percent in 1992 to 89 percent in 2004.   

What did I find so striking about this? Well, if I’d only seem the second set of figures, I might well have thought that 89% of Americans in 2004 had abandoned the idea of traditional gender roles within the family– it sounds great that 89% think “taking care of the home and kids is as much a man’s work as women’s”. And it is great. But the shocking thing is that at the very same time 52% still think the man must be “master in his own house”. If I’d read this one alone, I would have thought over half of Americans supported traditional gender roles in the family. So I found this quite an important lesson regarding how crucial it is not to just look at one set of figures and think we have the full picture. (In fact, it makes me want to go look at the rest of the study– who knows what might be in there?– but I haven’t had the chance.)

Another surprise: if I’d been told that there was a big difference in answer to the two questions, I would have guessed that more people would be willing to say that taking care of children is women’s work than would be willing to say that a man should be “master in his home”. After all, the first fits well with rather widely accepted claims about innate differences between men and women, and the second sounds (to me anyway) like a very obvious endorsement of male dominance. I would have expected the latter to be less socially acceptable and so less likely to be agreed to.

The final surprise: the number assenting to the “master of his house” claim went UP. Eek.

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