Thinktank report shows majority of 16 to 24-year-old UK Muslims disagree that ‘a husband’s job is to earn money, a wife’s is to look after the home and family’
Most young British-born Muslims reject the view that married women should stay at home while their husbands go to work, marking a shift of attitudes from older generations of Muslims in the UK, according to a report by a thinktank.
The difference of views between younger and older British Muslims regarding the role of men and women in society is stark, according to new findings shared with the Guardian from the thinktank Demos, with more than half of 16- to 24-year-olds disagreeing with the statement: “A husband’s job is to earn money, a wife’s job is to look after the home and family.” Fewer than 24% agreed. In contrast, 50% of those respondents aged 55 or older agreed with the statement, while less than 17% disagreed.
The findings, taken from a sample size of 38,952 respondents from randomly selected households, builds on recent census analysis that shows there is a young and increasingly well-educated Muslim population in Britain. In the last census, there were nearly 330,000 Muslim full-time students in the UK, of which 43% were women. But analysis of the 2011 census shows that within the 16 to 74 age band, 18% of Muslim women are “looking after home and family”, compared with 6% in the overall population.
The question asked to respondents was “a robust and legitimate question” phrased in “everyday language” said Dr Richard Norrie, lead analyst of the Demos Integration Hub.
Duncan O’Leary, research director at Demos, said: “These are encouraging findings,” and added that ensuring the workforce is more representative of the country “would be a step forward for us as a society.
“It would be good for future generations in providing role models for young people to emulate. And it would be a boost for our economy too, if talented people find their way into the right jobs,”
He added that the government had a role to play in driving up educational achievement and eradicating labour market discrimination. “But as this study shows, generational changes in attitudes and outlook could be be the biggest factor of all,” he said.
Dr Sundas Ali, lecturer in politics and political sociology at the University of Oxford, said that while the new findings helped understand some of the “soft” factors – such as attitudes – behind the low economic participation of British Muslim women, they do not take into account factors such as provision for childcare services and perceived discrimination in the workplace.
According to the Demos findings, about 11% of respondents with no religion agreed that husbands should work while wives stayed at home, with nearly 63% disagreeing. For Christians who were asked, 18% agreed while nearly 52% disagreed.
Recent analysis of the labour force survey found that Muslim women were 71% more likely than white Christian women to be unemployed, even when they had the same educational level and language skills, with discrimination being a key factor according to Dr Nabil Khattab, lecturer of sociology at the University of Bristol.
British Muslim author Shelina Janmohamed said: “The way the question is phrased doesn’t really reflect the reality, although women may stay at home it does not mean they are economically inactive.
“Even those over 55, we know many of them did work. We know lots of young women are getting more professional and employable skills, and so are more likely to want to use those skills. Muslims often have very strong family values, and so many young Muslim women will want to work but perhaps think they won’t have the right flexibility.”
The research shows gender differences among all Muslim respondents. Nearly 42% of Muslim men agreed that husbands should work while wives stayed at home, while 26% disagreed. Nearly 35% of Muslim women agreed and about 38% disagreed with the same statement.
Halima Khanom, 25, a projects coordinator at the Imperial War Museum, said she was the first person in her family to go to university: “My mum was stay-at-home, as were most of her peers,” Khanom said. “She worked hard to create a home for us, that should be recognised as an achievement in itself.”
Khanom, who describes herself as a second generation British Bangladeshi, said Muslim women in the UK now had more educational options: “I’ve always been academic and loved school and so naturally saw myself as doing more, I think I was curious more than anything. I don’t know whether this curiosity was fostered by family or at school or through my friends, but university was probably where I was really able to explore it fully.”
She said that as more opportunities became available, some of the older women in her family were thinking of going back to education. “Change has happened as more services are becoming accessible.”
The findings show significant differences in views among Muslim women born in the UK and respondents from overseas, with fewer than 24% of British-born Muslim women believing that wives should stay at home, compared with nearly 45% of Muslims born abroad.