“The participation of women in the labor market is popular as long as they have no children”, concludes a study

The Swiss consider that mothers are not women like others: this is in a way what the study entitled “Attitudes towards gender equality in Switzerland, 2000-2017”, published in the review shows. Social Change in Switzerland this week.

The researchers looked at tens of thousands of responses from the Swiss household panel which annually surveys all members of these households by tracking them over time. For their analysis, the researchers only considered the responses of adults. Four indicators were used to assess attitudes towards gender equality: attitudes towards paid work of women and mothers, those towards discrimination against women and those towards measures to promote women. Indicators on which everyone had to position themselves from 0 to 10 (from a very traditional vision to a very egalitarian vision). Christina Bornatici, researcher for FORS – Swiss Center of Expertise in Social Sciences – and co-author of the study, discusses her findings.

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Le Temps: Your analysis shows that the role of women is viewed differently whether they are mothers or if they are not. How does this manifest itself?

Christina Bornatici: Our results indicate that the traditional family model with a stay-at-home mother is still very much anchored in mentalities: the participation of women in the labor market is now popular, but only as long as they have no children. Many respondents still believe that a preschool child suffers if his mother works. The legitimacy of women’s work seems rather acquired, with an overall average of 8.3 for women and 8.0 for men (on a scale of 0 to 10), a high score indicating more egalitarian attitudes, so here more favorable to the participation of women and mothers in the world of work. But the legitimacy of mothers’ work is far from clear: with an average of 4.8 for women and 3.8 for men. This means that when a woman becomes a mother, it is this role that should take over for a large part of the population.

When it comes to equality, you would expect the younger generations to have less traditional attitudes than the older generations. However, it is exactly the opposite. Why?

It is indeed surprising to note that millennials are less likely than other generations to consider that women are still discriminated against in certain fields and that more measures promoting equality are necessary. One possible explanation would be that young people think that equality has already been achieved. Another hypothesis could be that they still lack experience. For example, those who are not yet in the labor market have had less opportunity to observe gender-related discrimination. Do young people consider the remaining inequalities to be legitimate? We will need the following surveys to determine this, but it should be noted that our analysis stops at 2017, before #MeToo, the feminist strike or even paternity leave. Maybe it will influence attitudes.

Also read:
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One of the conclusions of your study is also that mentalities are changing with regard to the social roles of women, but that is less the case with attitudes towards the achievement of equality. Isn’t this finding problematic?

Support for measures to promote equality and the perception of discrimination against women have indeed remained stable, at average levels. And once they become mothers, women are always expected in the private sphere. This observation shows us that progress towards more egalitarian attitudes is not straightforward and that concrete action must be taken. But it is in particular the stereotypes that make women still under-represented in key positions. Changing mentalities is therefore a condition for real equality.


C. Bornatici, J.-A. Gauthier & J. -M. Le Goff (2021). “Attitudes towards gender equality in Switzerland, 2000-2017”. Social Change in Switzerland, N ° 25. DOI: 10.22019 / SC-2021-00001

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