The days when a woman's place was "in the home" while a man was expected to bring home the bacon within a heterosexual family unit may be long gone – but the British population is less progressive than you may have hoped when it comes to working mothers, a survey has found.
The National Centre for Social Research's latest British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) gives an insight into what people in the UK think about gender today, with 72% of people disagreeing that a woman's job is to look after the home and family while a man's job is to earn money. This is up 14% from 2008, when just over half (58%) of people believed the same.
Older people are also becoming more progressive in this regard, with nearly half (47%) of over-75s disagreeing with the 1950s-style approach to gender roles, compared to just 30% who disagreed in 2012.
But the picture is less rosy when it comes to working mothers. Just 7% of British people believe women with children under five should work full-time, the survey found, with 33% believing they should stay at home and a further 38% saying they should only work part-time.
Attitudes towards working mothers have remained stable on this since 2012, whereas public opinion has shifted rapidly since 1989. Towards the tail end of the '80s, almost two-thirds (64%) said mothers of pre-school age children should stay at home.
This persistent, deep-seated cultural belief in the advantages of stay-at-home motherhood among a large segment of the population could explain, at least in part, why take-up of shared parental leave has been so low in the UK. Just 2% of the 285,000 eligible couples are estimated to have taken up the option each year since it was introduced in 2015, according to the Department for Business.
It also explains why so many mothers feel guilty for going back to work after having children. This is despite research pointing towards the benefits of working motherhood. A Harvard study in 2015 found that daughters of working mothers have better careers, higher pay and more equal relationships than those raised by stay-at-home mothers.
Unsurprisingly, many women are disheartened by the prominence still given to stay-at-home motherhood and the pace of progress, with many voicing their disquiet on social media.
It's ridiculous that mothers are still expected to leave the workforce or reduce to PT work. This leads to a loss of talent & fewer women progressing into senior management. It's up to employers to offer benefits like agile working & shared parental leave. https://t.co/EIFPV4fQEs— Ann Francke (@cmi_ceo) July 10, 2018
Interesting findings on gender roles from the British Social Attitudes Survey! Moving in the right direction but disappointing that the majority still think mothers should stay at home or work part time, and that women should take all or the majority of parental leave... #BSA35 https://t.co/svZwZl3b0G— Amy Smith (@ilovemaximo) July 10, 2018
The BSAS also investigated attitudes towards unsolicited comments on the street, or cat calling, finding that most people (57%) believe it's "always" or "usually" wrong for a man to comment on a woman's looks in the street. Perhaps surprisingly, more men (61%) held this view than women (52%).