A new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg shows that young Swedish women are more prone than men to perceive situations as risky. However, there are no gender differences in actual risk-taking behaviour.
In her doctoral thesis Music and Risk in an existential and gendered World, Margareta Bohlin studies risk-taking behaviour among 15-20 year olds. Previous similar studies in several countries have shown that males generally take more risks than women. However Bohlin's study indicates that this is not the case in Sweden today.
'Girls have been given increased access to the public sphere, so they both want to and are expected to behave like boys, and they certainly do,' says Bohlin.
At the same time, however, they tend to perceive risks as more dangerous, which corresponds to traditional gender role patterns. Although girls are expected to take risks to the same extent as boys, there are unwritten rules that apply to girls but not to boys. For example, while they are allowed to drink alcohol and have sex, they may not drink too much or have too many sex partners. In one of the studies included in the thesis, Margareta Bohlin used interviews and group discussions to assess adolescents' reasoning about risks.
'They talked a lot about how boys have difficulties to show vulnerability. For example, hearing protection and helmets are for wimps, and it's uncool to think that the music is too loud,' says Margareta Bohlin.
The introduction of music in this type of risk studies are new, and Bohlin says that it turned out to be very fruitful.
'It helped me understand the other types of risk behaviour much better.'
The adolescents said that they are aware of the risk of hearing damage at concerts and clubs. Yet at the same time they talked about how much they love music. They discussed how they can feel the music engulfing them and that the music takes them to a different existential level. Bohlin concludes that the existential dimensions must be included in research on risk-taking and preventative work. Risk-taking is more than a matter of risking one's health - it also has an existential meaning.
'Information campaigns focusing on catastrophic death don't work. The kids just turn off. I think that adults must realize and communicate that risk-taking also give meaning to the adolescent life. That may motivate them to try to balance their risk-taking so that they don't risk their health.'
The thesis was successfully defended on 27 May 2011.