Gender roles and family changes: how they matter for ongoing gender inequalities in production and reproduction

Submitting Institution

University of Cambridge

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Sociology

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Summary of the impact

Research by Professor Jacqueline Scott and others involved in the Network on Gender Inequalities in Production and Reproduction (GeNet) has influenced policy makers, government commissions and charities. It has also served to foster greater awareness of these issues amongst the general public through pro-active outreach programmes, extensive media coverage, and use of knowledge-brokers to generate policy and public debate in the UK and internationally. The international impact of this research is evident in the award of a further grant from the European Commission to identify institutional `best practice' for the promotion of gender equality in science.

Underpinning research

The ESRC Research Priority Network `Gender Inequalities in Production and Reproduction' brought together a range of cross-disciplinary research using state-of-the-art quantitative analysis to investigate the processes of selection and exclusion that reflect and create gender inequalities in changing lives and structure. Starting in 2004 and spanning eight different HEIs, the network was co-ordinated by Professor Jacqueline Scott and funded 25 fte research posts (2004-2010). For further details see: The aim was to explore the changing dynamics of gender inequalities in contemporary society. The research included both quantitative and qualitative approaches to investigate the processes of selection and exclusion that reflect and create gender inequalities in changing lives and structures. To this end, the Network conducted new quantitative analysis of large and complex data sets such as the National Child Development Study (NCDS), the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) and the British Household Panel Study (BHPS). New qualitative studies were also conducted to gain a contextualised understanding of the mechanisms that maintain or challenge gender inequalities, within households, in different employment sectors and in different nations. The scientific quality of the Network as a whole was considered exemplary in the 2011 review commissioned by the ESRC.

The Network benefitted from a strong theoretical framework that emphasised the importance of the State in shaping family and individual life course trajectories and, in particular, the way social policies can support or undermine efforts to reduce gender inequalities including their manifestation in the perceived conflicts between work and family. In addition, one of the Network's explicit aims was to enhance the methodological rigour of empirical investigations of gender equality. Scott remains a strong advocate of combining quantitative and qualitative research (Scott 2010) and GeNet benefitted from this methodological eclecticism.

The scientific agenda of the GeNet research network, in part, built on prior work done by Scott et al (1996) on gender role attitudinal change and Scott (1999) on family change. The former emphasised the importance of unpacking the three component parts of societal change (period, cohort and ageing effects) because each has played a different role in gender-role change. The latter questioned whether family change is associated with a backlash in attitudes, arguing that the demise of traditional values has been exaggerated. One of the Network's main theoretical and methodological challenges was identifying the mechanisms of change. For example, the life course approach focused attention on how the gendering of paid and unpaid work perpetuates inequalities. In addition, we examined why the demise of the breadwinner family has brought more gender equality in paid work, than in unpaid domestic work and family care.

At Cambridge, research related to Scott's gender equality project was also undertaken by Research Associates Dr Jane Nolan, Dr Anke Plagnol, Dr Shireen Kanji (2004-2011) and Dr Pia Schoeber, British Academy Fellow (2009-2012). Also Prof. Simon Deakin (Law) led the GeNet project on `Addressing Gender Inequality through Corporate Governance', with Research Associate Dr Colm McLaughlin (Centre for Business Research, 2006-2007).

The Network's collaborative research was incorporated in a three volume book series on different aspects of gender inequalities: Scott et al (2008) Women and employment: Changing lives and New Challenges; Scott et al (2010) Gender inequalities in the 21st Century: New Barriers and Continuing Constraints; Scott et al (2012) Gendered Lives: Gender Inequalities in Production and Reproduction. In addition, Scott and Nolan (2007) were guest editors for a special issue of Equal Opportunities International on `New Technology and Gender Division of Labour: Problems and Prospects for Equality in Public and Private Spheres.

References to the research

Key publications

1. Scott, J., D. Alwin and M. Braun. (1996) "Generations and Changing Sex-Role Attitudes: Britain in a Cross-National Perspective" Sociology, vol 30: 471-492. Available on request.


2. Scott, J. Family Change: Revolution or Backlash in Attitudes in S. McRae (ed) Changing Britain : Families and Households in the 1990s, pp 68-99, Oxford: Oxford University Press

3. Scott, J., S. Dex and H. Joshi, eds. (2008) Women and employment: Changing lives and new challenges, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar (375pp) and, specifically: J. Scott `Changing gender role attitudes' pp.156-178; and, Deakin, S. and McLaughlin, C. 'The Regulation of Women's Pay: From Individual Rights to Reflexive Law?' pp. 313-328.

4. Scott, J. (2010) Quantitative Methods and Gender Inequalities ` International Journal of Social Research Methodology


5. Scott, J., R. Crompton, C. Lyonette, eds (2010) Gender inequalities in the 21st Century: New barriers and new constraints, Edward Elgar (297pp) and specifically: Scott, J. Plagnol, A. and Nolan, J. Perceptions of Quality of Life: Gender Differences Across the Life Course, pp 193-214


6. Scott, J., Dex, S and A. Plagnol (2012) Gendered Lives: Gender Inequalities in Production and Reproduction, Edward Elgar (231pp) and specifically: Scott, J and Plagnol A. `Work-Family Conflict and Well-Being in Northern Europe', pp 174-205 and Deakin and McLaughlin `Equality Law and the limits of the business case for addressing gender inequalities, p 153-173.

Key Grants

1. Gender Inequality in Production and Reproduction Priority Network (GeNet), PI Prof Jacqueline Scott, Economic and Social Research Council 1st October 2004-31st March 2010, £3,226,281,

2. Practising Gender Equality in Science (PRAGES) , PI Michelle Palma, Department of Equal opportunities, Italy; European 7th Framework Programme, Jan 2008- July 2009; Six countries involved with Co-PI (UK) Prof J Scott, 998,418 Euros (in total).; PRAGES Report:

Details of the impact

Scott's core scientific research on family change, gender role inequalities, and work-family balance has sought to communicate the findings and their implications clearly and accessibly in order to facilitate take-up by non-academics. The accessibility of Scott's earlier research was testified by an unsolicited letter she received from David Willetts (16/12/04), the then Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions stating "I am trying to make sense of the debate about the extent to which attitudes are shaped by the cohorts to which people belong or alternatively shaped by the stage in the life cycle. Your essay `Family Change: Revolution and or Backlash in Attitudes' is one of the most interesting and valuable studies of the subject". He indicated that he would like further information. This led to a further correspondence and a meeting to discuss related research, which he acknowledged as influencing his own work in an interview for the BSA Network and by citations to Scott's research in his 2010 book `The Pinch' (Section V:i ).

The ESRC Research Priority Network on Gender Inequalities in Production and Reproduction (GeNet) had the critical mass to make a significant impact on policy makers, government commissions, NGOs and charities, as well as fostering greater awareness in the general public though media coverage and use of knowledge brokers. One of the things especially commended by the ESRC Evaluation report (2011) was the extraordinary interest that the purposive GeNet ( website attracted with over quarter of a million hits per year at its peak, and which is now archived for future generations through the British Library.

Scott as GeNet director co-ordinated efforts to ensure GeNet research was used by Government Commissions and NGOs. One of the key issues for evidence based research concerned the factors that underpinned the gender pay gap and what could be done to ameliorate such inequalities. For example Scott provided evidence in for the 2006 Women and Work Commission which emphasised the persistent constraints of childcare and domestic labour that impede gender equality in employment; the same issues were picked up in the 2009 Report on `Shaping a Fairer Future' which reviewed progress on the Commission's recommendations, three years on (Section 5:ii). Scott co-organised with the Women and Equality Unit a conference held at the Department of Trade and Industry on Women and Employment (over 150 participants) to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Women and Employment Survey in 2005, emphasising the overwhelming research evidence for the importance of mandatory pay disclosure. The subsequent impact and success of the cumulative research evidence on mandatory pay has been mixed, in part because of the change in Government. However, the Equality Bill (2010) does make provision for mandatory pay disclosure in Section 28 (albeit that this has still to be implemented by the Coalition government). It is an issue that the Equality and Human Rights Commission continues to press; EHRC reports cite various GeNet publications, including work that is relevant to the research evidence base that underpinned their inquiry into gender discrimination in the financial sector, where pay gaps are marked (Section V: viii).

GeNet was very successful in media dissemination and public engagement in ways that sparked new public debate. The University of Cambridge's External Communication team provide support to publicise the Network's research. After a press release on `Gender Equality on the slide' (2008), Scott gave interviews on the BBC World Service (with the current President of Liberia, Africa's first female elected president), BBC Radio 4 and over 15 local radio stations — several of which encouraged `phone-ins' and `bloggings' to debate `the changing gender roles of women and men' (Section V: iv). Scott also took part in a Cambridge Festival of Ideas seminar about the Long Term Legacy of the Recession which was recorded as a Guardian podcast; and discussed gender inequalities with a sold-out audience of 100 at the Guardian sponsored Hay-on Wye Festival (May 2010 and May 2012). Evidence that such outreach sponsors new public debate can be found in its reporting on Mumsnet blogs (Section V: v) and by reference in popular books on current affairs/parenting e.g. Shattered by Rebecca Asher 2011; Half-a Wife by Gaby Hinsliff 2012 (Section V: vi).

Another important way of reaching the public was through working with independent charity organisations. Scott was invited to give a plenary address to the Family and Parenting Institute's Annual conference at Church House (in 2009), along with Ed Balls the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families), stressing the social costs of gender inequalities in parenting. The address has been made available on Youtube, with 135 viewings (Section V: iii)

The international impact of the GeNet research is evident from the award of a further grant (2008-9) from the European Commission to identify institutional `best practice; for the promotion of gender equality in science. The grant led to identification of `best practice' guidelines to evaluate schemes whereby higher education and research organisations are seeking to reduce gender inequalities e.g. Athena SWAN awards (Section V:vii ).

Sources to corroborate the impact

i. Edited Network Interview with David Willetts MP for the British Sociological Association (Network, Spring 2010) where he nominates Jacqueline Scott as one of the contemporary sociologists who has most influenced his own work. Willett's (2010) book `The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Futures — and How They Can Give It Back' cites three of Scott's earlier articles, including Scott et al 1996.

ii. Women and Work Commission. The Commission's 2006 Report on Shaping a Fairer Future. London, GEO cites written evidence provided by Jacqueline Scott, University of Cambridge (on behalf of GeNet) see

iii. Family and Parenting Institute Conference details 2009 see Youtube links for Scott's talk on parenting

iv. John Carvel, The Social Affairs Editor the Guardian; Other media take up included:;;;;

v. Mandy Garner, Working Mums, reported on Scott's presentation at Hay-on-Wye book festival (2010) , see

vi. Popular authors who have made use of Scott's family and gender inequality research include Rebecca Asher, author of Shattered : Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality' (2011) see: and Gaby Hinsliff author of Half a Wife (2012), who was `in conversation' with Scott at Hay-on-Wye Festival 2013:

vii. Practising Gender Equality in Science (PRAGES) grant from the EU to identify best practice in gender equality in Science, see

viii. Research Manager for Equality and Human Rights Commission (contact details available)