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Gender Roles and Statuses


Division of Labor by Gender. Gender roles assign homemaking, other domestic activities, and most unpaid labor to women. A man's sense of self is defined chiefly in terms of the paid work he can obtain. The impact of these constructions of gender is now much different than before, but is still felt in English society.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Although there is no equal rights amendment, in recent decades there has been a more noticeable commitment to equality of opportunity for men and women through bodies such as the Equal Opportunity Commission and laws such as the Abortion Act of 1967 and the 1969 Divorce Act. The rate of women's (especially married women's) participation in the workforce increased in the late twentieth century, as did the nature of that participation. In 1971, only 57 percent of women of working age were economically active, but in 1998 that figure was 72 percent, whereas men's participation declined from 91 percent to 84 percent. Despite their importance in the workforce, women earn only 80 percent of what men do. Women have been confined to lower-status work, are more likely to work part-time, and are under-represented in elite jobs. However, some women have obtained high-status, formerly male-dominated work, and the status of female-dominated work has risen. Women's increasing participation in political life and their progress in religious roles in society—the rise of women MPs in the 1990s and the Church of England's agreement to ordain women priests in 1994—may be an indication of this.

Women have probably made the least progress in the social sphere. They were the victims in 70 percent of cases of domestic violence in 1998, and women still perform most unpaid work, such as running households and raising children. Gender roles among particular subgroups, however, diverge from this picture. Some Muslim and Jewish women are more involved in the domestic sphere, and Afro-Caribbean community women are more likely to be employed and have a higher status than Afro-Caribbean men.



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