Sexist sampling procedures
The 1972 Oxford Mobility Study (Goldthorpe, 1980; Halsey et al., 1980) sampled only men in England and Wales. The Oxford Mobility Study was based on data collected in 1972, when it was entirely normal to draw an all-male sample for a study of social mobility. By the time it was published in 1980 the climate had changed, and many reviewers queried or criticised the all-male sample. The Oxford team in 1972 were operating in the same way as other British researchers on social mobility such as Richardson (1977), Coxon and Jones (1978, 1979a, 1979b) Stewart et al. (1980), Hopper (1981), Payne (1987a, 1987b). Payne was the only author to deal with women and mobility, as a topic, compensating for an all-male sample drawn by the sociologist who had originally designed the study. Feminists (including Roberts, 1986 and Delamont, 1989a) criticised the all-male sampling, and the way in which it was often not defended and sometimes not even mentioned. Hope (1984) for example, re-analysed data from the 1947 Scottish Mental Health Survey. The original survey was of 1,208 11 year olds, of whom 590 were boys. Hope focused only on the boys in his re-analyses, but never explained or justified his decision. Similarly, Hopper (1981) never explains or justifies drawing an all-male sample to test his hypothesis about the subjective effects of social mobility.
Helen Roberts (1986: 56) criticised Coxon and Jones for choosing an all-male sample. In fact, they had applied to the SSRC for a grant to study the occupational cognitions of both men and women, but the SSRC rejected the idea. The sum awarded was half the amount applied for, and Coxon and Jones were instructed only to study men. It is a comment on the time that they did not ‘go public’ and invoke the support of other sociologists to challenge this decision by the funding body – instead they did the research on men only. Most feminists did not object to all-male samples when explicitly justified by the investigators, because that allowed a debate. It was the all-male sampling left unexplained, unjustified, and undefended by the investigators that aroused criticisms.
Alongside the feminist criticisms of the sampling in quantitative, especially statistical survey research, were parallel objections to the choices of field sites in qualitative studies. Lyn Lofland’s (1975) critique of urban sociology, a classic of its kind, has been described in Chapter 3. McRobbie and Garber (1975) produced a critique of the British research on adolescence which made similar points about the sites and sampling in the obscure and famous qualitative studies of teenagers. Ward and Grant summarise feminist position on single sex samples as follows:
In a few cases single-gender subjects were appropriate (e. g. analyses of
women’s adaptation to motherhood or men’s responses to impotence) or understandable (e. g. studies of professional football players or nursery school teachers). Occasionally single-gender subjects were logically related to the researcher’s institutional base: the staff of a man’s prison or the faculty of a woman’s college. Some authors also analyzed archival or longitudinal data collected on males only. (1985: 148)
In other words, no feminist objects to an all-male sample if the researcher has thought carefully about why it is sensible for the particular project. By 1985, therefore, single-sex samples were only acceptable in these types of research projects: otherwise, the use of a singlesex sample had to be defended if the investigators were not to be severely criticised. Alongside the criticisms of the sampling strategies were the objections to the sexist nature of the research instruments.