British politicians and political parties seem to believe that paid work is the heart of society. But how many ordinary Brits agree?
Normally it would be hard to tell. But the HERA TRUST added a number of questions on this to the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey in 2012 and so we can find out something, at least for that year.
The key question inserted was as follows:
‘Some people think that raising children generally makes a more important contribution to society than having a job. Others think that having a job generally makes a more important contribution. What do you think?’
Results show that most working-age people – 69 per cent – think that these realms are equally valuable. But, significantly, rather more – 139 out of 940, or 15 per cent – see the private rather than the public realm as valuable, whereas only 40 out of 940 – barely 4 per cent – see the public realm as the more valuable. What is impressive here is how few respondents, even men, say that having a job is more important.
Politicians would surely be less ready to attack full-time mothers if they realised how highly the public thinks of this chosen path.
But what is perhaps even more useful about this variable are the links in responses with other variables. The ‘raising kids’ variable explores issues of contribution to society often neglected by BSA. So it can therefore be used to help interpret responses to other questions – including in other survey years. For example, many commentators tend to assume that respondents who agree with traditional sex-specific roles are just seeking to exclude women from socially valued activities. But running agreement with ‘sex role’ against responses to this new social utility question produces a strong association for agreement with the idea that raising kids is the more important activity – suggesting that what may underpin support for traditional sex roles could often be the idea that women’s traditional work of raising children is in fact socially more valuable for society than participating in the labour market. This has very different implications!
A number of regular pro-family, traditional, gender role BSA questions show this sort of correlation with the proposition that raising kids is generally more valuable socially than having a paid job. There is repeated overlap between levels of agreement with a number of specific (conservative and pro-family) propositions and with the idea that raising kids makes an important contribution to society. Thus in ‘Sex role’ (A man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family). 35 per cent of the respondents who agreed with the sex role proposition also agreed that raising children is more important than having a job; more than twice the overall level of agreement (around 15 per cent) for this proposition.
In the second, ‘Famlife’, – ‘All in all, family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job,’ – 28 per cent of people agree with both; in the third, ‘A pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works,’ 25 per cent agree with both, and so on. Thus there is considerable over-representation of agreement in such cases, and under-representation for disagreement. For variables that reflect work-centred attitudes, the opposite applies.