Monday, August 01, 2011

More on That Silly Survey: The Divorce And Status Questions

I wrote yesterday about a survey on men's and women's opinions which is so poorly done that it amounts to lying. (To make the statement that men care more about family than women when women were not even asked about family cannot be called anything but lying.)

Remember how I argued that giving men and women DIFFERENT types of questions to answer completely destroys the point of trying to find differences (which is what they are doing, of course) in how men and women would answer the SAME questions? The status questions are a very good example of that sabotage. Here they are, again:

Of the choices listed below, what is the ultimate male status symbol?
A family. (37%)
A high-profile career. (30%)
A beautiful wife or girlfriend. (21%)
A beautiful house. (6%)
A beautiful car. (3%)
A membership to an exclusive club (like a country club). (1%)

For women, which of the following is the ultimate status symbol?
A beautiful house (41%)
A very successful husband or boyfriend (26%)
A beautiful wardrobe (22%)
A huge engagement ring (7%)
An expensive car (4%)

Women were not asked about the family at all, as I pointed out below. But see how only one alternative in the two lists is the same? That's the beautiful house one. The rest of the alternatives are there to manufacture gender differences!

To see that, let's reverse these two sets of options by offering each to the other sex. This would be the men's list when offered to women (with suitable changes):

Of the choices listed below, what is the ultimate (FE)male status symbol?
A family.
A high-profile career.
A handsome husband or boyfriend.
A beautiful house.
A beautiful car.
A membership to an exclusive club (like a country club).

And this would be the women's list when offered to men:

For women, which of the following is the ultimate status symbol?
A beautiful house
A very successful wife or girlfriend
A beautiful wardrobe
A huge wedding ring
An expensive car

These reversals let us see how the answers are manufactured. We notice that women were not asked about their OWN career as a status symbol, only about their partner's career. We notice that men were not asked about their PARTNER'S career as a status symbol, only about their own career. And we notice that men were asked about their partner's looks, whereas women were not. On the other hand, women were asked about engagement rings and wardrobes. Women and men were both squeezed into the traditional man-the-breadwinner, woman-the-consumer framework.

It's pretty hilarious stuff.

Not so hilarious with the divorce effect questions, which were these:

Do men get screwed by the courts in divorce?
Do you think women get screwed in divorce court?

The first was asked of men, the second of women. The questions are not the same, though the differences can be subtle. But the questions lead one to think of either men OR women and how they are treated in the divorce courts. The answers are not comparable, because women and men were not asked exactly the same question. And, as was pointed out in the comments to the previous post, the question for women is more hesitant, asking about a woman's opinion. The question for men does not ask for opinion as much as for a "fact."

These should be kept in mind when the survey tells us that almost 80% of men stated that men (rather than women) get screwed in divorce courts, whereas roughly as many women think women get screwed in those courts as think that men get screwed in those courts.

All the sloppy and biased work is such a pity, because the answers to these questions would be interesting, assuming that we knew more about what the respondents thought about when they answered the questions.

But we don't know that. To see why it matters, consider that the verb "screwed" could mean lots of different things. It could mean "treated unfairly" in the legal sense or it could mean something different from that.

What that "different" might be is this: When a married couple has children and gets divorced, the traditional arrangement gives the children to the parent who has spent most time bringing them up. The other parent gets visiting rights and the duty to pay child maintenance.

Men are traditionally the parents who have not spent as much time with children. Thus, they are also traditionally the divorced parents who lose custody (or most often, agree not to have custody) of their children but get to pay child maintenance. This is in some ways very much like being "screwed", because the noncustodial parent loses on two fronts. It may not feel like being "screwed" if it is the man who wanted to end the marriage. But it certainly would feel like being "screwed" if he did not want the marriage to end but was kicked out.

Note that none of the above means that the courts are trying to treat men unfairly. These rules were not based on some preferential treatment of women as a gender, but on what was deemed best for the minor children in the family: continuity of both care and financial support.

That the traditional rules would not look good for men is because the traditional marriage left the child-rearing to women and also sometimes left the women themselves unable to earn a sufficient living after years of staying at home minding children.

Indeed, the traditional divorce arrangements hurt women, too. The income coming in after the divorce is rarely as much as the pre-divorce income, many noncustodial parents fail to pay altogether, and the woman is now a single-parent.

The survey questions don't let us learn if this is what the respondents are talking about or if they are talking about unfairness in divorce courts of the type that fathers' rights activist assert.