My peanut gallery comments on Chatelaine's survey of Canadian women at 40ish years old

Am I normal? I think this is a question that a lot of people ask themselves. Women especially. I've never really felt like I was normal, but I am still always curious how I compare to others. So when Chatelaine released a survey of Canadian women aged 35 to 45, I was keen to check out the results. After all, I turned 40 just a few months ago, making me exactly the demographic they were looking at in their "40(ish)" survey.

Before I talk about the results, let's take a closer look at who was surveyed.  Here is the methodology from the fine print at the bottom (emphasis is mine):

The survey, commissioned by Chatelaine and conducted by Abacus Data, was conducted online with 1,000 Canadian women aged 35 to 45 from September 2 to 7, 2015. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians, recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading provider of online research samples.
The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.2%, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population of women aged 35 to 45 according to age, educational attainment, household size, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

I was glad to see that this was a representative panel of Canadians and not just a panel of Chatelaine readers. I liked the weighing of data according to certain demographic characteristics. On twitter, I asked Chatelaine about race/ethnic background and language. They told me that 19% of respondents identified as a member of a visible minority (this matches the Canadian population overall) and that the survey was conducted in English and French (so it isn't just a sample of English speaking Canadian women). All of those factors give the survey a lot more credibility than your average online poll or reader survey.

So let's look at some of the interesting or surprising results (and questions).

Money and Employment

The survey asked Canadian women about their employment status and how much money they make. The numbers seemed odd, so I asked whether all survey respondents were asked how much money they make or if only the employed respondents were asked the second question.  Chatelaine said all survey respondents were asked that question.

Take a look at the answers to the two questions.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that more than 30% don't really have paid employment (16% are not working right now, 15% are full-time moms) and others likely have limited earnings (12% are working part-time, 1% are students), yet only 21% are earning less than $30,000 per year.  I don't understand how people who aren't working or aren't working much could be earning so much.  Some of the full-time moms could be on paid maternity leave, but most of them would not be earning more than $30,000 per year.  There are also many women with full-time minimum wage jobs in Canada, which would not add up to more than $30,000 per year (working full time at minimum wage in Canada yields an annual salary of between $20,000 and $23,000). Based on all those factors, I have trouble believing the results for how much money Canadian women make.

Sex and Relationships

Over 80% of Canadian women are very (51%) or fairly (31%) satisfied with their relationship and they stay in that relationship primarily for companionship (60%) or for the kids (21%).  But Canadian women aren't having a lot of sex and seem generally okay with that.

Maybe that has something to do with the fact that these are the six sexiest Canadian men according to the survey (Really, Canada?).

Or maybe it is because we're so exhausted from all of the things on our plate (building our career, taking care of the kids, doing the chores). Not to mention the fact that we don't get to the gym as much as we should (29% feel the most guilty about this), don't feel good about our bodies (73% don't feel good about the way they look naked) and are depressed (61% have experienced depression or anxiety). Not exactly a libido enhancing combination.

The mom judgment isn't getting to us too much

There is a lot of hype about how much moms are judged by other moms, by the media and by society as a whole. That is either more hype than reality or we're doing a pretty good job of ignoring that judgment most of the time. When asked how good they are at various things, women were more likely to say they are good at taking care of the kids (30% gave themselves a score of 10/10 as a mom and 46% said they are doing pretty well) than building their careers (8% say 10/10, 39% say pretty well) or being an amazing friend (13% say 10/10 and 49% say pretty well).

Do we lie about our drinking?

On social media, there is a lot of "mommy needs a cocktail" and "wine-o-clock". But is that just a saying or are women actually drinking a lot to help get through their day-to-day challenges? Here is what the survey said about how much we drink.

I can understand that there are a lot of women who don't drink at all. This probably includes recovering alcoholics, people who don't drink for religious reasons, pregnant women, and people who just don't like alcohol. I was surprised, however, at the distribution among women who do drink. To me it seems normal to have a glass of wine at dinner and another one once the kids are in bed and then perhaps another one or two on a weekend. I know that is slightly above the maximum recommendations for women (10 drinks per week, no more than 2 per day), but it doesn't strike me as excessive or something people would be embarrassed to admit. 

Ann Dowsett Johnston, an expert quoted in the Chatelaine survey said that women experience a lot of shame and blame when it comes to alcohol and that there's "no public acceptance of a women who's slurring, so no one's going to admit drinking too much." However, for most women, there is a long way between two drinks spaced out over an evening and slurring and falling over.

I wonder whether women were simply hesitant to put a check in the 11+ category because it was the highest category. If the categories had been 0, 1-3, 4-10, 11-20, and 20+, I wonder if the numbers would have been higher in the 11-20 category than they were in the 11+ category.

We're depressed and anxious

Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said they had experienced depression and anxiety. The survey then asks "have you taken anything for it" (56% said yes) and "have you ever been in therapy" (35% said yes).

But then I asked Chatelaine whether everyone was asked the questions about medication and therapy or just those who indicated they had experienced depression or anxiety and their answer surprised me. They said only those women who had experienced depression or anxiety were asked whether they had taken anything for it, but all respondents were asked whether they have ever been in therapy.

At face value, it looks like a lot more women are taking medication than using therapy, but with that explanation of the approach that was used, it is clear that the numbers are actually similar (35% therapy, 34% medication).

What about the men?

This survey tells us a lot about Canadian women at around 40, but what about the men? I see a lot of couples breaking up at around this age and wonder how big the chasm is between how women see themselves in the world and how men see themselves in it. 

If a survey of this sort was going to go out to men, I would also want to see questions on things like childcare and household chores. Do they feel like they are pulling their weight? How much of the burden are they taking on. Does that include both the physical burden (being there with the kids, doing household chores) and the mental burden (knowing when the kids need a vaccine, knowing the names and e-mail addresses of the kids' friends' parents, knowing when the kids have tests at school and when their assignments are due, knowing what shoe size the kids wear)?

I think we would see a big difference between the burden women carry at this age and the burden that men carry.

But despite that, more than 2/3 of Canadian women at this age don't consider themselves feminists. I don't really know what to say about that, but my friend Natasha does. Go read her blog post feminist: especially on the hard days.

Your turn

What did you think when you read the Chatelaine survey? Did you feel like it was an accurate representation of you and your peers or were you surprised by the results?

Introducing @CenturyBea

One hundred years ago, the Montreal Gazette was full of news from World War I. As Canadian troops fought through heavy rain and fog while battling Germans in the trenches in France, a sixteen year old named Beatrice arrived at Stanstead College boarding school in southern Quebec.

A little over a week after she arrived at Stanstead, Beatrice started a diary, "recounting the daily occurences of her first year at Boarding College." She started writing on November 22, 1915 and went far beyond that first year at boarding school. In impeccable handwriting and grammar, she continued writing in her diaries at varying frequency until October 26, 1925.

The diaries sometimes recount rather bland details of a school day, but are sometimes full of parties, dates, and teenage crushes. There are moments of wondering about her future and times when she struggles with her mental health. There are glimpses into the personal impact of major historical developments like World War I, the introduction of the first automobiles in the Montreal area, and spread of deadly diseases.

Beatrice was an incredibly accomplished woman. I came across her diaries in a box of papers and photographs that she left behind when she passed away. I may at some point reveal her identity and more about her life after school, but for now she'll just be Bea.

Starting on November 22, 2015, I'll be transcribing and live tweeting her diary from 100 years ago @CenturyBea.  I hope you'll follow along.

Take your university student to vote on Thanksgiving weekend

There are close to a million full-time university students in Canada. Many of them are young people who have moved temporarily to a university town to pursue their degree. A lot of those students will be traveling home for the Thanksgiving holiday.  For a lot of parents, it will be a weekend of reconnecting with their kids, filling them with turkey and pumpkin pie, and possibly doing a load of laundry or two.  But this Thanksgiving is different. 

Take the Turkey Vote Challenge

This Thanksgiving there is one more thing you should add to your family plans: Going to vote in the 42nd Canadian federal election. Although the election takes place a week after Thanksgiving (on October 19), the advance polls are open all Thanksgiving weekend (Friday through to Monday) from noon until 8pm. So take a break from the baking and stuffing and take a walk or drive to the polling station.

Are young people apathetic? Not usually...

Young people in Canada are often described as apathetic. This is partly because they tend not to vote in elections.  In the 2011 election,  only 39% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the election. When you compare that to the much higher turnout rates for older voters (72% for ages 55 to 64 and 75% for ages 65 to 74), it is clear who is choosing the government in our country. 

Low voter turnout, however, doesn't mean young people are apathetic. In fact, a recent report found that millennials are actually more politically active than their parents. Angela, a Montreal-area photographer, made it a priority to ensure her kids felt like they had a voice. That resulted in them both being politically active, but in different ways. 

"We encouraged our kids early on to find the issues that interested them and then find the party that spoke to those issues, to personalize the political process for them. It has been a great way to generate an interest in politics for our kids.
My son was interested in politics from a strangely young age, touring the campaign headquarters of the local candidates during the 2008 federal election ( when he was 11 and of his own volition). His interest scored him an invitation to spend the day at Parliament Hill when our local candidate took office.
My daughter does not share my son's interest in federal/provincial politics, but she has grown into a solid little social activist when it comes to women's issues and racial inequality and white privilege."

Jane from Ottawa, who writes the Daly Beauty blog, says that making politics about the humans in our government and Parliament drew a direct line from dinner table conversations to the voting booth.

"From the time both of our daughters were little, politics were always discussed over dinner, from local to federal. I always drew a connection between what is happening in our community and society and who is in power. We talked about real issues over dinner, and the passion was contagious. To them, politics is as much about people as it about issues."

Jane will be going to the advance polls with her youngest daughter who is coming home from university this Thanksgiving.

Laurel, an Ottawa-based communications and social media consultant, emphasizes the importance of voting with her kids. 

"We have always encouraged our children to be part of the process when they can. If there's a problem or a negative aspect to something, don't just complain, offer a solution or positive suggestion. The same goes for voting. You can't complain if you don't vote. As well, I have always taught both of my children that their opinion matters and that every little bit counts (in many different scenarios) and I have used this same mindset when discussing voting and how it's important to voice your opinion through your vote."

Laurel is also encouraging her son, who will be voting for the first time, to research and learn something about each of the candidates so that he can make an informed decision.

If your son or daughter is not coming home for Thanksgiving, that doesn't mean that they can't vote. Students can vote wherever they consider "home", whether that is where they came from or where they live now.  Jennifer from Nova Scotia has a son who turned 18 after the most recent provincial election, so this will be his first chance to vote.

"I was a political science student when he was born so he has been learning politics since he was in the womb. Government, elections and citizenship are a frequent topic of conversation in our home so it's no surprise to me that he's keen to vote. He left the province for his first year of university and won't be home until Christmas so he's looking into how he can cast a vote by mail in his home riding."

To learn more about voting by mail, see the instructions from Elections Canada.

Make voting a habit and a family tradition

I don't always feel like my vote is making a difference, but I know that if most people don't vote, we give too much power to those who do.

Repetition is key to making habits stick. I was excited to vote when I first turned 18 and I had lots of opportunity right out of the gates. I voted in the 1993 federal election a few months after my birthday, the Quebec provincial elections in 1994, the Quebec referendum in 1995 (by mail from Germany), the federal election in 1997, the Nova Scotia provincial elections in 1998 and 1999, and so on. Every chance I had to vote, I did. I don't always feel like my vote is making a difference, but I know that if most people don't vote, we give too much power to those who do.

When your son or daughter comes home for Thanksgiving, talk them about their new responsibility as an adult. Help them understand why it is important to vote. Then go together to the advance polls and show them how easy it is. Make voting something that your family does together because it is important.

To learn more about registering to vote, voting at the advance polls, and voting by mail, go to Elections Canada's website.