MEN IN SERBIA: Changes, Resistances and Challenges
Results of Research on Men and Gender Equality , IMAGES Serbia 2018


About IMAGES studies

This study presents the findings of the survey done by using the methodology of IMAGES studies on men, which has been applied in more than 20 countries and territories in the world. IMAGES studies were launched in 2008 by Promundo and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). In our region, these studies have been carried out in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo (UNSCR 1244)[1]. The specificity of IMAGES studies is a standardised questionnaire used (70-80%) in all the surveyed countries, as well as a qualitative component of the research that varies across countries. In Serbia, the quantitative research was carried out on a nationally representative sample of 1060 men and 540 women 18-60 years old. The qualitative component of the research included 3 focus groups and 15 individual in-depth interviews with different groups of participants. Data collection was carried out in November and December 2017.

Socio-demographic characteristics of the sample

The sample consisted of men and women 18-60 years old. Over half of men in the sample have secondary education. About three-fifths of men live in cities. Only 45.3% of respondents 31-40 years of age have children, unlike those 51-60 years old, 86.5% of whom have children. On average, the respondents perform a paid job 45.5 hours a week. Over nine-tenths of respondents are Serbs and Orthodox Christians. The most educated generation of men is in the age group 31-40, including as many as 35.6% of men with junior college or university education. The most educated are also most frequently employed (72.9% of them). The largest share of the unemployed is among the men 25-30 years old – as many as 20.2%. Over 40% of respondents have never been married. In the youngest group (18-24) surveyed, as many as half of the men who said they were married lived in cohabitation. Every hundredth man in Serbia lives with his male partner, and over one-third of men live with their parents and sibling/s. The primary source of income is formal employment – in as many as 50.9% of cases, while agriculture is the second most important source of additional income for men. Men have 44.500 dinars of income on average. In over two-thirds of households, the main source of income is formal employment. The vast majority of men consider that their family/household belongs to the working class (43.5%), and only 1.5% of them believe to belong to the “social elite”. 36% of men would emigrate from Serbia.

Relationships in the primary family

Most respondents come from the families where both mothers and fathers have secondary education. In the growing up of both men and women, the most important father figure is their biological father. The dominant family model consists of two parents and children, which means that the father is present both in older and younger generations. The father is the most important figure for only 55.2% of the least educated men and as many as 80.1% of the most educated ones. The gender division of labour between the parents is very clear. In most cases, fathers had never performed the tasks of food preparation, house cleaning, clothes washing or bathroom and toilet cleaning. On the other hand, they “took care of children”, did some home repairs, took care of the yard and car. They also purchased food and paid bills. The most egalitarian division of labour was in the families of the most educated men. Over half of parents decided together about the education and activities of their children. Both men and women usually did not participate in family duties when they were adolescents. However, in cases where they did participate, the gender division of roles has spilled over from the parental families to younger generations.

Experience of violence in childhood and youth

The majority of both men and women answered that they had never experienced violence in their parental families. However, in one-fourth of the families of both women and men, in their childhood they witnessed physical violence against their mother by their father or mother’s partner. Somewhat less than one-tenth of boys were exposed to unwanted touching of their genitals or buttocks, while the share of girls exposed to such situations is even bigger. About one-tenth of respondents were forced into sexual intercourse by threats. As many as one-fourth of boys were victims of corporal punishment in school. Corporal punishment was even more common at home. Material deprivation occurred more often than physical violence, with only 61.9% of men stating that they have never lived in extreme poverty. Corporal punishment in school decreases with the age of respondents. Thus, 84.6% of the youngest men surveyed have never been punished, unlike 63.1% of men in the oldest age group. 73.1% of the youngest men and 46.2% of the oldest men were not beaten with “a belt or rod” at home. Nearly half of young men participated in school fights against rival groups, and only 81.4% of young men never took drugs, which indirectly indicates that nearly one-fifth of them took drugs at school.

Relationships in the present family

As in all other cases, the majority of male or female partners have secondary school education. Nearly every second man in the sample has a partner with secondary education, and the partner of every fourth man has junior college or university education. About two-thirds of female partners are employed, while about one-fifth of them are unemployed (and they are looking or not looking for a job). This means that a vast majority of women in intimate partnerships have their own income (including pensions, rentals, etc.) or contribute to the family budget (with monetary contribution, while non-monetary contribution provided through unpaid domestic work is not included here). As regards decision making related to children, a large majority of respondents answered that they participated in decision making “equally” (68.1%), with the frequency of this response increasing in younger age groups. In the age group 25-30, as many as three-thirds of answers were “together”. Unlike in the families of origin, in the families of procreation, that is – in the next generation, there is a shift towards a more egalitarian division of labour; the progress is rather significant and the sons are excluded from the division of labour to a much lesser extent. Satisfaction with the division of labour in the family and household varies in both women and men and in relation to education. Men with the lowest level of education are most dissatisfied with the division of labour, while women with the highest level of education are most satisfied. Satisfaction with marriage and partners is generally high in both men and women. As many as about 85% of men and about 75% of women are very satisfied and satisfied with their marriage/cohabitation. As many as four-fifths of men agree with the statement that after divorce both parents should assume equal responsibility in raising their children, and almost the same share of men believe that women who do not allow men to see their children after divorce should be punished.


Only a very small percentage of men attend the birth of their child (2.4%). Only one in 50 men takes parental leave for raising children. Also, four-fifths of men state that they accompanied their partners to medical controls during pregnancy (some or all). As many as over one-third of men would leave their jobs to take care of children, if their wives earned enough money. Four-fifths of men agree with the statement that their primary role is to earn enough money for their children. Parents usually perform together various child-related activities. Women usually prepare meals for children, change diapers and give children a bath. The only activity that fathers perform or performed more than mothers was related to physical exercises and playing with children outdoors. Corporal punishment of children is widely accepted in the population. Two-thirds of the youngest men and over 70% of the youngest women mainly or fully agree that corporal punishment of children is unacceptable, but such a level of disapproval mainly decreases in older generations.

Sexuality, sex work and transactional sex

Over 90% of men identify themselves as heterosexual (92.6%). Men preferred not to answer the question about their sexual orientation more often than women and more rarely declared themselves to be homosexual. More than half of men are satisfied or very satisfied with sexual relations with their current partners. Nearly one-fourth of men 18-24 years old do not have a steady partner. Men with the highest level of education are most satisfied with their sexual relations. Over 70% of men in all age groups would neither feel offended nor angry if their partner asked them to use a condom. More educated men accept the use of condoms easier than less educated men. 25.6% of women from the sample had an abortion. However, men report that their partners had abortion in 16% of cases, which is less than reported by women. Particularly interesting is the fact that in the vast majority of cases male partners also participated in making a decision to undergo an abortion, and in only one-third of cases woman made such a decision on their own. Men far more often than women say that they feel uncomfortable in the company of homosexual men. Women more often than men agree that “homosexuality is natural and normal”. Almost every fifth man had sexual intercourse with a sex worker (18.7%). Less than 1% of men (0.8%) had sexual intercourse with a man who provided sexual services. A separate group of questions was asked to find out whether women provided sexual services to men in exchange for goods and services. Thus, 4.6% of women provided sexual services in exchange for means of subsistence, and 4.1% of them in exchange for a raise or employment.

Perpetration of violence and violent victimisation in the lives of adult men

The answers to the questions about the prevalence of various forms of partner violence [2]show that the most common form of violence are insults and humiliation, committed by nearly one-third of men against their partners, according to their own statements. In one-fourth of cases, men deliberately intimidated their partners. Slapping and throwing objects at the partner happened in one-fifth of cases. A very widespread form of violence is economic violence, in the form of prohibition to work. The least prevalent form of violence is the one that is physically most dangerous, i.e. inflicting physical injuries and threatening with weapons (93.2% of respondents answered “never”). Over the past 12 months, every fifth man who has committed violence in the intimate partner relationship threatened his partner with a weapon, while one in four of these men insulted his partner. About nine-tenths of men stated that they had not forced to sexual intercourse any girl/woman (90.5%), while one in twenty men did it once (5.4%). Every 50th man has participated in a group rape over the past 12 months. In general, about one-tenth of men in the sample have the experience of forcing women into sexual intercourse, under different circumstances. Thus, every eighth man was hit over the past 3 months, every twenty-fifth man was threatened with a cold weapon, while every fiftieth man was threatened with a pistol. As many as 22.3% of the youngest men (18-24 years old) were hit over the past three months, as well as 26.9% of man with the lowest level of education.


Over three-fourths of men are satisfied with their physical and mental health.

Satisfaction decreases with age and is less in lower educated men than in higher educated ones. Younger men engage in much more physical activity than men over 40 years of age. While four-fifths of the youngest men engage in regular physical activity (79.4% of them agree or fully agree), only 29.3% of 51-60-year-old men have regular physical activity. Approximately one-fifth of men sometimes feel depressed and lost, and this issue could be worked on in the future. Also, one-fifth of respondents are under stress or feel nervous and anxious. Men sustained injuries in 8.9% of cases, including as a result of violence – 1.8%, traffic or some other accident – 3.6% and disease – 3.5%. As many as 3.4% of the youngest men (18-24 years old) sustained injuries due to violence, while the percentage of the oldest men is 0.8%. 27.1% of men over 40 and 37.3% of men over 51 years of age went to prostate examination. 12.3% of men from the sample got tested for HIV, mainly those 25-40 years of age. Every fifth man with the highest level of education was tested for HIV, while 56.9% of men are smokers. When it comes to getting drunk (5 or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion), 31.2% of men “never” do that. Drugs have been used most often by men 25-30 years of age, while only 64.6% of men have “never” used any drug. 18.9% of the youngest men (18-24 years old) used cannabis and 5.1% of them used ecstasy.

 War experiences

Asked whether they participated in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, 15.9% of men from the sample answered affirmatively. However, if we disregard those under 40, who made up more than half of the entire sample, it means that nearly one-third of men over 40 participated in the war. With the exception of NATO air strikes experienced by the vast majority of all respondents, other negative consequences of wars and warfare suffered by men range from 1.1% (serious wounding) to 6.4% (death of a family member as a consequence of the war). Four times more men than women witnessed torture and beating up; four times more men were tortured and beaten up; and five times more men were seriously wounded in the war.


Men express a higher level of agreement than women with the statement that their ethnicity is important to them. The analysis of the responses related to agreeing with the statement “all human beings are the same, regardless of which nation they belong to” (group of answers “mainly” and “fully”) reveals that mostly 25-30-year-old men are xenophobic; this is the age group that grew up during the wars and could not avoid the exposure to war propaganda. However, the differences between the men of different generations are generally small.

 GEM scale and attitudes towards gender equality

The examination of attitudes by using the GEM scale shows that women have less conservative attitudes towards gender equality than men. On a 0-3 scale (0 – the most negative attitude towards gender equality, 3 – the most affirmative attitude), men scored 1.73, while women scored 1.99. The least educated men scored 1.57, while the most educated ones scored 1.88. 25-30-year-old men have the most egalitarian attitudes (1.84). Some interesting findings from this measurement of attitudes show the following: about 70% of men disagree with the statement that “more rights for women means fewer rights for men”; 46.5% of men disagree with the statement that “the equality of women and men has been reached in our society”; 53.1% of men disagree with the statement that the most important role of a woman is to “take care of her home and cook for her family”; nearly half of men disagree with the statement that men need sex more than women do; 18.8% of them agree with the statement that “there are situations in which a woman deserves to be beaten”; about two-thirds of men disagree with the statement that “a woman should be the one who takes care not to get pregnant”. 11.9% of respondents agree that a woman “should tolerate violence to keep her family together”, while 68.5% of respondents agree that a man and a woman should decide together about contraception.

 New gender patterns? Results of qualitative research

Overall, the qualitative analysis has shown that the “islands” of transformation are not only very narrow, but that the level of understanding and self-reflection of young people about their own gender identity is dramatically low. Both gender and other identities (national, generational, religious) are most often perceived instrumentally, as something that is given, determined and therefore something that should be used in the pre-determined but also in a pragmatic way. In the absence of self-reflection, the general formulas, taken from the misogynous and re-traditionalised public discourse, are used. Thus, what remains on the surface is an unusual hybrid of attitudes showing that the inevitability of a shift towards gender equality is accepted, but that, on the other hand, a sort of special concession is sought for the loss of “patriarchal dividend”.

Conclusion – Importance of education

The complexity of the transformation of gender relations in Serbia towards the achievement of a higher level of gender equality is facing numerous, very serious challenges. Many of them are simply contextual, linked to the low development of Serbia, poverty, the adverse consequences of wars, as well as the intensive aging of the population and the intensive emigration of the most educated young people. The long-term, multi-decade influence of negative factors has led to repatriarchalisation and retraditionalisation, which not only have very negative effects on women, but expose also men, especially younger generations, to an extremely high risk of harmful lifestyles pursued to confirm the imaginary ideal of a “real man” , including the acceptance of dangerous extreme ideologies. Therefore, it is necessary to focus strongly on gender equality education, which would include contemporary knowledge in the field of critical studies of men. It is necessary to ensure proper gender mainstreaming of educational institutions and contents at all levels but also to encourage non-formal education for different groups and categories of men. In addition, educational contents should be contextualised and adjusted to the specific life circumstances and needs of men, especially the young ones.


[2]  Only the men who stated that they were in an intimate partnership or marriage were asked this question (a total of 615 out of 1,060).