Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Northern Irish Attitudes toward Gendered Family Roles before and after the Good Friday Agreement 1

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Northern Irish Attitudes toward Gendered Family Roles before and after the Good Friday Agreement 1

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Northern Ireland has been the focus of extensive scholarly analysis related to political conflict and its consequences (Hargie and Dickson, 2003; Ruane and Todd, 1999). Surprisingly little research, however, has investigated dimensions of everyday life in the region. The current study examines Northern Irish attitudes about women and men's roles in families across a period of significant social change. Several factors unique to Northern Ireland make the study of gendered family roles particularly compelling. The first is the unusually salient role of religion, where the conflict has been defined along the lines of religious community membership. While the meaning of religious affiliation in Northern Ireland is complicated by its associations with ethnicity and political orientation, several aspects of religiosity have been strongly linked to gender ideology in previous research (Denton, 2004). A second factor that makes the study of gender ideology in Northern Ireland compelling involves the association between gender relations and violent conflict. Researchers have documented connections between violent political conflict and family behaviors in domains that include childbearing (Agadjania and Prata, 2002; Caldwell, 2004; Lindstrom and Berhanu, 1999), marriage (Randall, 2005), domestic violence (McWilliams, 1998), and care of the elderly (Zimmer et al., 2006). Gender relations may also be transformed in various ways during violent conflict (Aretxaga, 1997). Men may be away from home fighting, imprisoned, or at a high risk of unemployment. Women may voluntarily or involuntarily find themselves in more visible roles within the local community, and may take on greater responsibility for the household economy as well. At the same time, ideological dimensions of conflict may reinforce gender inequalities by emphasizing links between women's roles as mothers and reproduction of the ethnic community or nation. Drawing on two waves of data and a cross-national comparative framework, the current study examines changing gender ideologies in Northern Ireland during the years surrounding the "Good Friday" peace agreement that is commonly understood as marking the end of the region's conflict.

The current study makes several original contributions to our understanding of gender and family life in Northern Ireland. First, Northern Irish attitudes toward gendered family roles are compared with those of residents from a number of other European countries or regions, including the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. The comparative component of the analysis contributes new evidence about how gender ideology in Northern Ireland aligns with attitudes in a range of larger European countries. Second, using two waves of survey data, the study investigates the extent of attitude change in the region across time. The survey waves cover a particularly interesting period in Northern Ireland's history, spanning an interval four years prior to and four years after the signing in 1998 of the Good Friday Peace Accords. This 8-year interval roughly corresponds with a substantial subsidence in levels of violence. Third, by comparing the attitudes of Protestants and Catholics, the study tests several hypotheses about the relationship between religious community identity and gender ideology. This includes a careful focus on the patterns of change in the two groups' attitudes across the study period. In combination, the analyses provide multiple insights into attitudes about family life and gendered roles in a region exiting a period of violent social conflict.

The analyses make use of data from the Northern Ireland component of the International Social Science Programme's (ISSP) gender and family roles modules. Nine separate countries or regions in Europe that participated in the 1994 and 2002 waves of the ISSP are compared. The comparison countries analyzed represent a range of welfare-state regime types within Europe (Esping-Andersen 1990; Orloff, 1993). …

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