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Chauvinism by the Numbers

Loreto Cox
Economista y socióloga PUC y PhD(c) Ciencia Política MIT. Investigadora del Centro de Estudios Públicos. Fotografía portada: María José Pedraza Santiago, Chile Á - N.2

Is it a man’s job is to earn money and a woman’s job is to look after her home and her family? So reads one of the questions asked of Chileans (and citizens of 40 other countries as well) by ISSP pollsters, working, in the former’s case, with the Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP). The purpose of this question is to measure how prevalent a particular vision of gender roles is. In an extreme version of the belief in clearly differentiated gender roles, men not only have economic independence, which women lack, but are also allowed to participate in civic life, and take on decision-making roles in society, while women are not. Ergo, money and power, two of the most consequential forces in the world, are more easily obtained by men than women. And since cultural norms, ideas, means of communication, and even language are all built largely outside the domestic sphere of life, in male-dominated spaces, all of these institutions are likely to reproduce biases that favor men over women—such as the belief that a man’s job is to earn money, while a woman’s job is to to look after her home and her family.

But how many people really have such a simplistic view of gender roles? In Chile, 24 percent, according to the most polling done by CEP (2017). Is that a lot or a little? It depends. One fourth of the population is significant. We are inarguably light years away from Scandinavia in this regard, where only between five and nine percent of the population view gender roles that way (it is noteworthy, however, that even there, at least one in twenty people hold said belief). But we are also light years ahead of nations such as China, Russia, India, and the Philippines; where 34, 53, 53, and 80 percent of the population believe the same, respectively. And compared to other Latin American nations, we don’t look so bad: in Argentina, Venezuela, and Mexico, the percentages in agreement are 38, 41, and 49 percent, respectively.[1]

What stands out is that just five years earlier, 28 percent of Chileans believed that it was the man’s job to earn money and the woman’s job to look after her home and her family. Fifteen years ago, in 2002, no less than 44 percent believed the same—that is to say, almost half the country. This shift in opinion within Chilean society is extraordinary, and it represents the biggest change in opinion of any nation polled by the ISSP during the ten years between 2002 and 2012. What’s more is that this change is not an outlier, Chilean attitudes on a number of issues regarding gender roles have changed dramatically in the last few decades. Female participation in the labor force went from 31 percent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2018. (INE) The number of children born out of wedlock went from a bit more than 30 percent in 1990 to more than 70 percent today.[2] And according to another poll conducted by the CEP, in 1995, 63 percent of Chileans believed men were better suited than women to carry out the role of president. Only eight years later, the country elected Michelle Bachelet to that very position.

To better understand the belief that men and women have such different roles in life, we need to consider who it is that actually believes this. First off, men do. 29 percent of them believe that it is the man’s job to earn money and the woman’s job to look after her home and her family, while only 19 percent of women feel the same. Ergo, it does appear to be the case, as is sometimes claimed, that it is mostly women themselves who deem their proper role to be a domestic one—or at the very least, women are not explicitly saying this. The second group upholding this view are the elderly. There is clearly a generational component to this: 34 percent of people over the age of 55 believe in this more traditional view of gender roles, while only 16 percent of people under the age of 25 do.

The third group is citizens with the least amount of education. Of those without a high school degree, 40 percent believe in more traditional gender roles. In the case of those with a high school degree but nothing more, the number is 28 percent. For those with a college degree, it is 16 percent—the trend is clear. The fourth group is people of the lowest socioeconomic status. While the wealthiest members of society believe in traditional gender roles at a rate of 18 percent, 30 percent of the poorest believe the same. As such, belief in traditional gender roles is, for lack of a better term, a largely proletarian belief, and not one imposed upon the general populace by the upper classes.

The fifth group upholding these beliefs is religious people, especially Evangelicals. While 16 percent of those who do not identity with any religion believe in traditional gender roles, 25 percent of Catholics, and 32 percent of Evangelicals do. Finally, and perhaps contrary to what many might think, there is not a statistically significant difference in opinion on this matter between those who identify with the Left, those who identify with the Center, and those who identify with the Right. In other words, the leftist claim that feminism is correlated with progressivism appears to be more of an elite opinion than anything else.

Of course, a more sophisticated analysis is needed to understand why and how each of these factors influence an individual’s belief in traditional gender roles. But given that men believe in these roles more than women (ten percentage points more), we can estimate that around one in ten families suffer from tensions caused by differences in opinion regarding this: manifesting in women being pressured to stay at home because of their husband’s beliefs more than because they have independently decided to do so. This situation is made worse given that the belief in traditional gender roles is decidedly more common amongst those with the least education and the least economic independence, which is exactly what people thinking about ending a marriage need. We need more studies to corroborate all this, of course, but this scenario, in which a couple disagrees over the woman’s role and the woman is not financially independent, coupled with the physical superiority of men, may well be a breeding ground for domestic violence. In 2017, there were 131,000 cases of domestic violence in Chile.[3]

Furthermore, there is empirical evidence that beliefs in gender roles and the likelihood of a woman working are highly correlated,[4] and we know that households where the woman works are less poor than those where the woman does not.

Taking all of this into account, we know that opinions about gender roles—whether or not it is the man’s job to earn money and the woman’s job to look after her home and her family—have both varied and consequential implications. To all this, some will say, “Who cares? Everyone has a right to their opinion.” And of course, freedom of thought and freedom of expression are fundamental values for liberal societies—and no one should be punished for what they think or say about the role of women in society. But the government, by way of school curricula, should present the public with female role models who actively participate in civic life, and the media should do the same. At least that way, if people believe that women should stay in the domestic sphere of life, it will not be because they have never been presented with an alternative view. This should be done in addition to the state facilitating female participation in the workforce through flexible work schedules, childcare, etc.

Regardless, the good news is that all the data suggests that as the young and the educated replace the old and the less educated, the belief that a woman’s role is at home with the kids will become less and less common.
[1] Data for each country is from 2012, except for Chile, which is from 2017. As noted in the next paragraph, the percentage of Chileans with a traditional view of gender roles in 2012 was 28 percent.

[2] Díaz, José, Rolf Lüders & Gert Wagner. 2016. Chile, 1810-2010. La república en cifras. Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Católica de Chile.

[3] Boletín Estadístico Anual 2017, Ministerio Público de Chile.

[4] Contreras, D. y G. Plaza (2010). “Cultural Factors in Women’s Labor Force Participation in Chile”. Feminist Economics.