Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's all (culturally) relative

Last week I put up a post regarding a study on sexism levels in men whose wives stay at home.  I argued that due to the diversity of that group of men, and the variety of reasons a woman might stay home, this study was essentially meaningless.

Another issue came up in the comments section that I wanted to touch on: cultural relevance of data.

Most studies that get press here in the US are from the US, performed on American subjects.  This is sketchy business.

In the study about stay at home moms, mothers who worked part time were lumped in with the stay at home mothers.  Interestingly, in the Netherlands, this would actually be 90% of the women.  Does that mean that nearly every Dutch man married to a woman is more likely to be sexist?  Or does it mean that part time work has different value in different cultures?

I took a look around for some other examples, and found that in China, many women see working as part of a new found freedom.  At a conference I attended a few months ago, I talked to a man from Shanghai who mentioned that his wife went back to work because she couldn't have handled trying to fight off the two grandmother's, both of whom wanted to watch the child.  Due to the one child policy, this was the only chance they would get to have a grandbaby.  In many ways, it was actually the hierarchical/patriarchal culture there that pushed his wife to go back to work, as opposed to having her stay home.  

As the world continues to flatten out, and as America continues to welcome new immigrants, we must be conscious of who studies are actually looking at and how generalizable the results are.  In the sexism study, even the authors admitted their findings were meant to be a commentary on the US only....but it should raise some questions that they seemed to be chasing after a structure that doesn't exist in some very liberal countries.

Something to consider, depending on the goal of the study.

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