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Series: Irish Society

The last several decades have witnessed major changes in gender roles and family patterns, as well as a falling birth rate in Ireland and the rest of Europe. This book presents the results of the first major study to examine people’s attitudes to family formation and childbearing in Ireland; it also explores the effect of new family forms on well-being. The research was based on an in-depth qualitative study of 48 men and women in the childbearing age group, followed by a survey of a representative sample of 1,404 men and women. The study explored whether changes in gender roles impacted on family formation. The results showed that while women’s progress in the workplace has been welcomed, there is also a perceived threat of women’s advancement, as well as some ambiguity in the male role. Attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation are positive and cohabitation is seen as a step in the progression towards marriage. Attitudes towards being single are also positive, though in some cases ambivalent, but single women, particularly older and better educated ones are finding it more difficult to find a partner and this is impeding family formation on their part. Differences in women’s and men’s biological clocks were found to be important in relation to this, as were the lack of affordable childcare and flexible working arrangements. The findings were discussed in light of the demographic trends of later marriage, decreasing fertility and the increasing proportion of single people in the population.

Overview of key issues and previous research
Margret Fine-Davis

Chapter 1 presents an overview of the key issues and previous research relevant to changing gender roles and family formation. The chapter presents a review of the literature covering several inter-related topics. These include changing gender role attitudes and behaviour, as well as the relationship between women’s labour force participation and fertility. The effects of family policies on women’s labour force participation and fertility are also discussed. Special attention is paid to the demographic changes which have been occurring and the emergence of new family forms. Finally the chapter looks at the economic and social effects of these changes on society and the psychological effects of the changing nature of the family on individuals and on society. The approach is international, with a special focus on Ireland.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland
Abstract only
Margret Fine-Davis

This chapter outlines the methodology of the various aspects of the study. It describes the stratified sample employed in the qualitative study of 48 men and women of childbearing age as well as the other methodological aspects of this initial phase in the research. It then discusses the development of the questionnaire, based on the qualitative study, which was piloted on 150 respondents prior to the quantitative study. The main methodological aspects of the quantitative study, carried out on a nationwide representative sample of the 1,404 men and women in the childbearing age group are then outlined. Comparative data are presented which compare key demographic characteristics of the sample with those of the Census. Finally the main areas covered in the questionnaire are detailed.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland
Margret Fine-Davis

One of the prime questions which the present study addressed was whether or not changes in gender role attitudes and behaviour were affecting family formation. Because gender role attitudes and behaviour have been changing so rapidly it was necessary to develop new measures which adequately captured how people view these issues at the present time. With insights from the qualitative study we developed a new set of measures, which were empirically developed using factor analysis. This chapter presents detailed data on these measures including their prevalence in the population and differences among groups, particularly between men and women. In addition, the chapter presents selected data from the qualitative study which illustrate the attitudinal dimensions in people’s own words.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland
Abstract only
Attitudes and behaviour
Margret Fine-Davis

This is one of the central chapters of the book. It presents new measures of Attitudes to Family Formation. As in the case with Attitudes to Gender Roles, these were developed first on the basis of the qualitative study and next using factor analysis in the main study. Seven measures emerged which tapped Attitudes to Marriage, Attitudes to Cohabitation, and several dimensions of Attitudes toward being Single. Detailed results are presented for the measures including factor analytic results, percentage distributions for the representative nationwide sample and an analysis of differences among demographic groups. Selected quotes from the qualitative study are also presented to give nuance and an additional perspective to the attitudinal factors. This chapter also presents data on people’s previous cohabiting behaviour and perceptions of the facilitators and constraints to getting married.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland
Margret Fine-Davis

While the current Irish birth rate is still high by European standards, at approximately two children per woman, the total fertility rate has nevertheless fallen 50% over the last four decades from approximately four children per woman in 1970 to two children today. This chapter discusses the causes, significance and implications of this and presents results of new measures developed to explore current attitudes to childbearing. Four distinct dimensions emerged through factor analysis, including a Belief in the Necessity of having Children for Fulfilment, Perceived Economic Constraints to having Children, Belief in the Value of Smaller Families, and the Belief that Men want Children as much as Women do. The prevalence of these attitudes in the representative sample is presented as well as differences among groups. Respondents’ ideal, expected and actual family size, as well as discrepancies between these, are also explored.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland
Margret Fine-Davis

In order to better understand the determinants of family formation, we examined people’s values and priorities, as these undoubtedly contribute to people’s life choices. Taking into account social theory concerning the second demographic transition, increasing individualisation and post-materialist values, we developed measures of people’s priorities and values. We then explored the relative values and priorities of men and women and those in different family statuses, as well as their levels of satisfaction with various aspects of their lives. While men and women did not differ in terms of the importance of being in a relationship or having children, women – perhaps surprisingly – put a slightly higher priority on their freedom and independence and men put a higher priority on having a job or career. Married people, followed by cohabiting people, put a very high priority on having a relationship and having children, while single people were least likely to say a relationship and having children were was crucial to their well-being. The findings supported the notion that the relative importance of various values is associated with the likelihood of forming different kinds of unions or of remaining single.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland
Margret Fine-Davis

This chapter explores people’s attitudes to childcare, work-life balance and related social policies in relation to their attitudes to having children. New measures were developed to tap attitudes in this sphere. It is clear that choices regarding family size are being influenced by child care costs and the data suggest that if these were more affordable people would be inclined to have more children than they are presently having. Another important factor which impinges on fertility decisions is that the workplace as currently constructed is not viewed as conducive to work-life balance and flexible working policies are perceived as relevant to childbearing decisions. Results signalled a readiness for greater sharing of childcare between men and women. The findings underscore the need for social policy to address the dilemmas faced by young people who want to start families, while at the same time fulfilling their own needs for autonomy and development.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland
Margret Fine-Davis

Throughout the study we compared single people with cohabiting and married people and saw that they differed on a range of variables from attitudes to gender roles and family formation, to social policy. However, this did not tell us which variables or characteristics were most important in determining someone’s family status, i.e. if someone were single or in a cohabiting or marital relationship. In order to tease this out we examined a range of variables together to see which ones best predicted family status. These included attitudes to gender roles, to family formation and to having children; people’s values and priorities, including the importance of having a job, children, freedom and independence, etc., as well as characteristics such as autonomy and religiosity. Using stepwise multiple regression, we examined which variables optimally predicted whether one was single, cohabiting or married. Separate comparative analyses were carried out for men and women.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland
Margret Fine-Davis

Ireland’s fertility rate has decreased by 50% from an average of four children per woman to just two over the last 40 years. While it currently has one of the highest fertility rates in Europe, this may not continue, as Ireland continues to become more like its European partners. There are discrepancies between people’s ideal and expected number of children, demonstrating that people expect to have fewer children than they would ideally like to have. In order to better understand the factors contributing to people’s attitudes to having children, we examined potential predictors of ideal and expected family size. These included a wide range of measures including demographic characteristics and attitudinal variables. The results showed that the most significant predictors of both ideal and expected family size came from a range of attitudinal measures, which included Attitudes to Gender Roles, Attitudes to Having Children, Attitudes to Social Policies, and Attitudes to Family Formation, as well as measures of values and priorities, with only a single demographic characteristic a significant predictor, demonstrating the strong predictive power of attitudinal variables.

in Changing gender roles and attitudes to family formation in ireland