The economic crisis has impacted the economies of most European countries. Those whose standard of living has grown in recent decades were faced with the complexities associated with a change in the situation on the labour market. Many people ended up either unemployed or were forced to seek additional sources of income. There was no way this could not affect gender attitudes, Natalia Soboleva said during a presentation of her study, ‘Gender Attitudes in Post-crisis Europe,’ at a conference held by the International Scientific-Educational Laboratory for Socio-Cultural Research at the HSE.
Well-known sociologists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel have noted in their work that economic and political crises, as well as the collapse of political regimes and social systems, lead to a shift in values from emancipative values to values of survival. This also leads to a lower level of subjective well being, making life less safe and less predictable. In such circumstances, as Soboleva noted, conservative views on gender equality may increase.
The study used data from the results of Eurobarometer surveys for 2011, which covered 27 European countries. Respondents were between the ages of 18 and 65. The index of gender values in the study were based on respondents’ reactions to the following statements:
The researcher paid particular attention to vulnerable groups of the population – women, single parents and people with low levels of education. These are the categories that were most affected by the crisis.
The paper took into account the effect of both micro-and macro-figures, including such variables as change in GDP per capita, the unemployment rate compared with pre-crisis figures and a respondent, or his or her partner, losing a job.
According to modernization theory, mass values and attitudes are phenomena that change slowly within a state. In addition, short-term ‘shakes’ on the social and economic level cannot trigger a global transformation in values. The results of the study confirmed this.
Macroeconomic figures that show crisis trends, such as a decline in GDP or increased unemployment, do not significantly affect gender attitudes within the state. This concerns the average level of commitment to the ideals of gender equality. ‘The transition of values in Europe has quite a long history, and therefore, the values themselves have a rather stable character,’ Soboleva says.
The crisis had a different impact on the standards and quality of life for certain social groups in different European countries.
Soboleva compared the gender attitudes of individuals classified as vulnerable (women or single parents) in different countries. It turned out that the representatives of the groups being studied that have faced serious difficulties amidst the challenges in the economy caused by the crisis have more conservative views.
This makes one begin to think because whatever the crisis, women and members of single-parent families generally differ from other egalitarian groups in their gender attitudes. As the researcher explains, this is due to the fact that they have to overcome more difficulties and be more active in the labour market.
In countries whose economies were affected more by the crisis, the gap between the gender attitudes of women, single parents and other groups was less pronounced than in countries whose economies did not suffer as severely.
As concerns the impact of the level of education, the initial hypothesis was not confirmed. Contrary to expectations in the countries most affected by the crisis, the gender attitudes of people with low levels of education differ to a lesser extent from the gender attitudes of people with higher levels of education. Perhaps this is the result of the fact that the crisis affected gender attitudes irrespective of education level, the study's author suggests.
The final conclusion is that people who were severely affected by the crisis tend to ‘fall back’ towards conservative gender attitudes. ‘So long as value systems are in the formation process and modernized values have not yet been well established, regressive value shifts can find themselves under the influence of external shocks,’ the researcher says. For that reason, it is specifically the values of the vulnerable groups whose position was shaken that are inclined to be more traditional.