Gender equality and quality of life: new research and new possibilities
Gender equality is a positive force in society, but still we need more research to understand “where men are going”, writes Øystein Gullvåg Holter, professor at Centre for Gender Research.
Are we seeing a backlash among men and in forms of masculinity, or a continued development towards gender equality? Or both tendencies, in different groups? The situation today is varied and confusing. We need better knowledge, better research. This can help create better policies and actions.
A new, more in-depth method of research on men, masculinity and gender equality was developed in Norway and other countries based on the “Gender equality and quality of life” survey in Norway 2007. This includes the International Survey on Men and Gender Equality (IMAGES), as well as a recent European project (Norway/Poland) with an improved version of the method.
Among the core results in the new research is the importance of gender equality as an independent variable, linked to practices as well as attitudes. For example, gender equality among parents approximately halves the chance of violence or punishment of children, in Poland 2015 as well as Norway 2007.
Main results are common across national contexts. Violence against children mainly follows a power pattern – the adult with the “final say” at home is also usually the perpetrator of violence. These trends appear in the IMAGES studies too. Men’s positive attitudes towards women and gender equality are associated with lower conflict and violence levels among adults, as well as children. The new Poland survey shows that most people care about gender equality, and gives a picture which is often surprising for a country commonly seen as gender-conservative. The response rate was 64 percent, showing engagement among respondents (it was 41 percent in Norway 2007). As much as 77 percent of men agreed that “gender equality is important”.
The idea that “gender equality has gone too far” is not common in today’s Poland – only 8 percent of the men fully agreed. And only 5 percent fully agreed that gender equality is a “threat to the Polish family”. Although barriers are visible – like the skewed work division in wage work and households - the survey shows progress and potentials among men as well as women.
Other new research confirms that gender equality is an independent variable. A study of European nations and US states 2010 (total sample 82) found a violent death rate at 5.6 per 100.000 population among the countries/states with little gender equality, 4.4 among those with medium, and 3.5 among those with fairly high gender equality.
In Europe, the three most gender equal countries had twice the proportion of people feeling happy, compared to the three least gender-equal countries. Depression and male suicide followed a similar pattern, and were highest in the least gender-equal nations and states, lower in medium cases, and lowest in the most gender-equal cases. These patterns were similar among men and women.
Although some of the variation can be explained by other variables, gender equality appears as an underrated dynamic or “force” on its own (Holter, Øystein Gullvåg 2014: "What's in it for Men?": Old Question, New Data, Men and Masculinities 17(5), 515-548.)
More research in this area is now very much needed, ten years after the original Norwegian survey in 2007. Norway should follow up. To better understand “where men are going”, we need better research.