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Imagining a gendered future: combining qualitative and quantitative approaches to the analysis of children’s essays

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  1. Imagining a gendered future: combining qualitative and quantitative approaches to the analysis of children’s essays Dr Jane Elliott Centre for Longitudinal Studies, March 2007 Project Funded by the Nuffield Foundation

  2. Aims of the presentation • Present preliminary findings from a project to analyse a subset of essays written by 1958 cohort members at age 11 in 1969 • Focus on understanding gender using both qualitative and quantitative approaches to research • Think through how gender may be constructed differently when we use qualitative and quantitative approaches • Demonstrate the value of the British Birth Cohort Studies for both qualitative and quantitative research • Discuss methodological issues • Criticisms of quantitative research • ‘Narrative’ features of cohort data • Possibilities for combining qualitative and quantitative methods

  3. British Birth Cohort Studies • Existing UK/GB National Studies: 1946: MRC National Survey of Health & Development 1958: National Child Development Study 1970: 1970 British Birth Cohort Study MCS: Millennium Cohort Study - the first national birth cohort study for 30 years (2000-1) British Birth Cohort Studies

  4. 1958 Birth Cohort Study • Sample of over 17,000 infants born in March 1958 (perinatal mortality study) • Sample followed at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, 42, 46 (prospective study) • Multipurpose study: family life; education; employment; skills; housing; health; finances; citizenship • Focused bio-medical study at age 44 (MRC funded) • Over 10,000 individuals are still participating • Sample of children of the cohort members measured in 1991. • Now funded by ESRC with data collected every four years

  5. NCDS 11-year old Essays • At age 11, in 1969 NCDS Cohort members completed a short questionnaire (at school) about leisure interests, preferred school subjects and expectations on leaving school • They were also asked to write an essay on the following topic: ‘Imagine you are now 25 years old. Write about the life you are leading, your interests, your home life and your work at the age of 25. (You have 30 minutes to do this).’ • 13669 essays completed, mean length 204 words • Copies of the original essays (in children’s handwriting) are available on microfiche at CLS and are currently being digitised.

  6. Existing research on the essays • A small sample of 521 essays have been coded for word count • Boys 180 words • Girls 228 words • All essays have been coded for employment aspirations, over 90% give a classifiable occupation • No other systematic coding and analysis of the essays has been carried out to date

  7. Research project funded by the Nuffield foundation March 2006- February 2007 (Elliott and Morrow) • Project is intended as a pilot study to explore the potential of the age 11 essays as a research resource • Aim to type up and code a sub-sample of 560 essays & conduct preliminary descriptive analyses • Sample stratified to reflect: gender; ability; social class; family structure • Essays are being coded for themes such as: • family life; leisure; employment; housing expectations; contact with parents; pets; transport and travel; aspirations • Both qualitative and quantitative analysis are being carried out using NVIVO and SPSS to help organize, code, and analyze the data • Main research questions: how do gender and social class shape children’s aspirations?

  8. Combining quantitative and qualitative methods • Historical/cultural information provides a context for both qualitative and quantitative analyses • Analysis of quantitative data collected in 1969 provides a description of the context in which the essays were written • Large sample and quantitative variables allows for the creation of a stratified sample for in-depth/qualitative investigation • Qualitative – close reading of essays enables development of a coding frame that emerges from the text • Coding of essays using new coding frame produces a quantitative description of a sub-sample of the essays • Extracts from the essays accompanied by a quantitative summary of frequencies provides a more detailed description of the content and style of the essays • Quantitative variables van be used to identify a very specific sub-sample of essays for more in-depth qualitative analysis (and also provides the context for the essays analysed)

  9. Historical context: being eleven in 1969 • Films and TV – cultural reference for children, discourses around gender and social class • Popular toys, games and activities • Family life: living conditions, housing, role of mother and father • School life: type of school, class sizes, gender of teacher & head teacher.

  10. Popular toys of the 1960s • The ‘Toy of the year’ Awards began in 1965 • 1965 James Bond Aston Martin Die cast Model car • 1966 Action Man • 1967 Spirograph • 1968 Sindy • 1969 Hot Wheels Cars

  11. 1969 & 1970 Action man dolls 1969 & 1970 Sindy dolls

  12. Home experiences • 46% of the eleven-year-olds were living in owner-occupied accommodation while 42% were in council housing • At age eleven, 44% of children had their own bedroom • When the child was eleven, 19% of girls and 16% of boys shared a bed with another member of the family • When the child was eleven, 54% of mothers and 51% of fathers were reported to take the child for walks, visits or outings ‘most weeks’ • When the child was seven, 48.5% of mothers and 34.6% of fathers were reported to read to the child every week • When the child was aged sixteen, 58% were in families with only a black and white TV, 41% were in families with a colour TV, 65% of families had a car and 16% of these had two cars.

  13. School experiences (1969) • The majority of children were in primary schools when they wrote the essays • Only 4% of children were at independent schools • At age 11 the median class size was 36 pupils (mean 34.3), while at age 7 the median class size had been 37 with a mean of 35.25 • 82% of children were in a school with a male head-teacher • 45% of children had a female class teacher

  14. N=13,669

  15. Summary of influences on aspirations • Boys and girls have rather different occupational aspirations • Ability, gender and social class are all associated with occupational aspirations at age 11 • There are significant interactions between gender and ability and between gender and social class • ability is more important for girls than boys in predicting professional aspirations • Social class is more important for boys than girls in predicting professional aspirations

  16. Qualitative results: themes in boys’ and girls’ essays

  17. Social class differences: themes within the essays • Social class differences were much less marked than gender differences • Children with non-manual fathers were more likely to write about… • their father (32% vs. 20%) • a home in the country (18% vs. 9%) • car ownership (36% vs. 23%)

  18. Results: Marriage and family life in boys’ and girls’ essays • 57.3% of girls wrote about being married • 51.4% of boys wrote about being married • 48.6% of girls wrote about having children • 40% of boys wrote about having children • Strong association between writing about children and writing about marriage for boys and girls • Gender differences are relatively minor here but this only gives a very broad quantitative overview of the themes included in the essays and not how the children wrote about these topics

  19. Gender within quantitative and qualitative approaches to research • Gender (sex) within quantitative analysis is relatively unproblematic • It is one of the easiest variables to code, use and understand • There is an assumption that gender is constant over time (for individuals) • Cross-cohort comparisons can be used to start exploring whether the meaning of gender is changing within British society • However it is only by adopting a qualitative approach that we can problematise gender and explore the individual’s role in establishing their own gendered identity • Qualitative analysis needs to acknowledge that individuals can only act within the constraints of a gendered society and have access to specific resources with which to construct a gendered identity • Also need to be aware that social class and ethnicity are key components of identity and interact with gender

  20. The essay task: creating a narrative identity? • Striking that children all took the task of writing an essay so seriously • Children understood that they were part of a special longitudinal study • They had already taken part at age seven (medical, parental interview, reading and maths tests) • Only one or two children at each school would have been part of the study • Essays were written at school and children had already completed ability tests • Essay task demands a capacity and willingness to imagine the future • future society • individual future • Children are also being expected to imagine an adult identity but to maintain a continuous sense of their own selfhood (Ricoeur: Ipse and Idem) • The main resources that children use successfully to complete the task are the binary oppositions of adult/child and male/female

  21. Selecting case studies for more detailed qualitative analysis • Of the 495 children whose essays have been transcribed • 271 (55%) stated they will be married at 25 • 219 (44%) stated they would have children • 192 (39%) wrote about content/skills of their occupation • 60 essays included all three of these themes • Focus additionally restricted to those in the middle 50% of the ability range and those whose essays were 200-300 words long • Sample of 16 essays • Eleven written by boys • Five by girls • Case studies on 4 essays, • boy with non-manual father, • boy with manual father • Girl with non-manual father • Girl with manual father

  22. Case study 1

  23. Case study 2

  24. Case study 3

  25. Case study 4

  26. Features within the essays • Children have been very skillful in demonstrating their competencies in the context of the essay writing task • Although girls are slightly more likely to write about husbands and children both boys and girls frequently write about an imagined future family life • Although there are some examples of companionship the main emphasis is on men and women having different roles within the family • Children also demonstrate their understanding of the gendered adult world with reference to working hours, pay, responsibility for household tasks, gendered friendships • The binary divide between men and women and between adults and children is much more in evidence than social class distinctions

  27. Further analysis of writing about husbands and wives- using NVIVO to analyse text • Among the boys’ essays, 87 used the word ‘wife’ and in total the word wife is used 141 times across all the boys essays (1.6 times within each essay) • Among the girls’ essays, 94 used the word ‘husband’ and in total the word is used 205 times (2.2 times within each essay) • Girls tended to provide more details about their husbands than the boys did about their wives, but important not to overplay the gender differences here • Both boys and girls use wives/husbands to emphasize different roles and arguably to cement their own gender identity

  28. Further analysis using NVIVO – the possession of a husband or wife • Research by Swain on children in the last year of primary school suggests that there is an important discourse around having a girlfriend or boyfriend that does not necessarily translate into an actual friendship or relationship • In particular for boys the possession of a girlfriend is a means for asserting masculinity • NVIVO can be used to identify the occurrence of phrases such as ‘I have a husband’ or ‘I have a wife’ as distinct from ‘I am married’ or ‘I live with my husband’… • Among the 252 girls essays there were just five examples of the phrase ‘I have a husband’, compared with twenty two examples among the boys’ essays.

  29. Examples of having a husband or wife • ‘I will have a husband who is a manager of somewhere.’ • ‘I then have to make a dinner for them all, and I usually have a hungry husband on my hands after him being at his job all day ‘ • ‘… I have a wife and 2 children’ • ‘I have got a wife named Dorothy’ • ‘I am 25 years old I own a shop it is running well I have a beautiful wife and 3 children they are call Peter Michael Paul’ … I have a wife and 2 children

  30. Conclusions: children doing gender • Different approaches to analysis of the essays provides a rather different understanding of gender • Gender as a fixed attribute • Gender as constructed and performed within a specific social context • Important not to overplay the differences between the content of the boys’ essays and the girls’ essays • Both boys and girls write about an imagined future in which they will be part of a nuclear family • Both boys and girls place themselves at the centre of the narrative about their future family life • Both boys and girls use gender to structure their vision of the future

  31. Conclusions: the essays as a resource • The essays provide a very rich resource for researchers interested in children’s perspectives on adult life • The essays must be understood in their historical context and it would be very interesting to be able to compare them with essays written today • There is some tension between using qualitative material to create a quantitative indicator and performing a more wholehearted qualitative analysis of the essays

  32. Original sample of boys (N=6210)

  33. Stratified sample of boys (N=280)