Woman 'can be head of house': Sex bias removed from questionnaires

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The Independent Online
WOMEN sometimes earn more than their husbands or partners. It sounds obvious, but for market researchers, it is a startlingly new concept.

Until recently, a woman could be chief executive of ICI, but market researchers would class her as a D (working class, semi or unskilled manual worker) because her live-in boyfriend worked as a garage mechanic.

Now market research companies are dropping the assumption that the social grade of all people in a household should be based on the occupation of the person considered 'head of household' - the man. From this month, researchers will ask who is 'chief income earner'.

John Samuels, managing director of BMRB International, a leading market research company, admitted: 'We found that wives were getting upset.'

BMRB, Gallup, MORI and other market researchers are following the lead of RSL, which carries out the National Readership Survey. RSL introduced the 'chief income earner' definition last July.

Mr Samuels said: 'There's no formal mechanism for determining social class, but there is great pressure on all market researchers to follow the lead of the NRS.'

RSL changed its classifications because the definition of head of household was becoming increasingly objectionable to informants and interviewers.

Steven Finch, group head of RSL Media, said the company would use 'gender neutral terms' in its questionnaires.

Another casualty of last July's rethink by RSL is the housewife, replaced henceforth by 'main shopper,' defined as the person who personally selects half or more of the items bought from supermarkets and food shops.

However, market researchers are still reluctant to follow the NRS lead by pronouncing the death of the housewife. Mr Samuels at BMRB said: 'We haven't made that decision yet. It's under investigation.'

At Gallup, the housewife is still very much in business. Bob Wybrow, director, said: 'We have three sexes: men, women who are housewives, and other women. That's what our clients want. Even our clients abroad wouldn't accept men as housewives.'