Monday, October 11, 2010

Bad Research on Bad Mothers: Part II: The BBC Education News

This post is a continuation of the one below and needs the information given in that one. I'm going to continue peeling away the biases which contribute to popularizations of bad studies and incorrect data when they somehow allow the blaming of women in general and mothers in particular.

As a summary of the previous post, I showed that a non-scientific survey of child-rearing and gender opinions has been misinterpreted, misunderstood and given the kind of regard only true scientific studies should have. In this post I want to look at the assignment of certain characteristics to female parents when the characteristics should be applied to both female and male parents. I will also continue to point out misuses of the original Internet survey.

The BBC provides the following summary about the survey:

Mothers are more critical of their daughters than their sons and let boys get away with more, a poll suggests.

The survey by the website Netmums found mothers were twice as likely to be critical of their daughters than their sons (21% compared to 11.5%).
Remember that fathers are more critical of their sons (28.5%) than their daughters (13.2%)? That's twice as critical of their sons than their daughters! What a coincidence. They also let their daughters get away with more:

11. If you have children of both genders, which of the following statements do you agree with?


* I let my son get away with more - 15.3% agree
* I let my daughter get away with more - 36.8% agree


* I let my son get away with more - 21.5 agree
* I let my daughter get away with more - 17.8% agree
So why don't we have the BBC report on fathers being more critical of their sons and letting their daughters get away with more?
Now, it's always possible that the dad survey was so small nobody cared about the findings. But given that both surveys are based on a non-random sampling scheme, nobody should care about any of the findings.

Next part of the BBC summary:

More than half of the 2,672 mothers questioned (55%) said they had formed a stronger bond with their boys.
Um. Read the first post on this to see how blatantly and horribly wrong that assertion is. The correct percentage 15.3% of mothers who had children of both sexes, and the corresponding percentage for fathers is 16.17%

Back to the BBC summary:

The findings also suggest 51% thought it was wrong to treat boys and girls differently
The survey results tell us that 49.4% of mothers thought it was right to treat daughters and sons differently and 50.6% thought it was wrong. These numbers add up to 100%.

It also tells us that 53.8% of fathers thought treating sons and daughters differently was right, too. What the percentage of fathers might be who disagree is unclear because the survey results have the percentage of 14.7% for that answer. Which doesn't make sense and happens also to be the percentage answer to another question right above this question. It looks like 46% of fathers think treating boys and girls differently is wrong. That's a smaller percentage than the one for the mothers.

What that means, within the survey, is that the fathers were more comfortable with treating their sons and daughters differently than the mothers.

More from that summary:

Almost half of mothers questioned (48%) said their sons were mummy's boys
The percentage should be 47.2%. And almost half of fathers questioned (46.7%) said their daughters were daddy's girls! The survey didn't offer questions about sons being daddy's boys or daughters being mommy's girls! Sorta biased, don't you think? Even without that total focus on mothers' answers?


The poll found mothers were more likely to attribute positive personality traits to their sons than their daughters.

Boys were more likely to be described as funny, cheeky, playful and loving, while girls were more likely to be described as stroppy, eager to please, serious and argumentative.
Actually (I'm getting tired of saying that), the poll asked the respondents to answer the following question:

12. Of the following adjectives, which do you think best describes girls or boys?
Note that this is NOT the same as asking it about the respondents' daughters or sons, and this question appears to be open for all parents, whether they in fact have children of both sexes or not. Note, also, that respondents could not pick the alternative "both" which means, for example, that you could NOT state that both girls and boys are industrious or loving. You had to choose one gender. I discuss the consequences of that in the first post.

But let's see how fathers and mothers agree and differ in the way they assign adjectives to boys and girls in that biased question.

First, they mostly don't differ. The percentage of both mothers and fathers who assign "funny", "cheeky", "naughty" and "playful" to boys is in the range 70-80%, as is the percentage of both mothers and fathers who assign "caring" to girls. The majority of both mothers and fathers also agree that the adjectives "cute", "serious", "thoughtful", "argumentative" and "eager to please" belong to girls, while the adjective "industrious" belongs to boys, though some of these percentage differences come closer to the fifty-fifty point.

The negative adjective "stroppy" (which really appears to duplicate "naughty" and "argumentative" and perhaps even "cheeky" if one flavors similar behavior differently by gender) is assigned to girls by 83.9% of the mothers in the survey and by 78.7% of the fathers.

All this tells us that if the mothers assign boys positive characteristics so do the fathers. But then that's what the British culture does, overall.

The only large difference between mothers and fathers in the survey had to do with the assignment of the adjective "loving": 63.2% of fathers assigned it to girls, whereas 58.1% of mothers assigned it to boys.

This concludes my writing on a survey which really didn't deserve any writing but required it after it became viral in that usual look-at-how-awful-mothers-are way.
Thanks for DR for the link to the BBC EDUCATION! article.