Equal parenting…a work in progress

As research shows sharing parenting is beneficial all round, what are the barriers to equality in the family?

cleaning franchise for working mums

Cleaning franchise for working mums

Survey after survey shows dads want greater work life balance so they can spend more time with their children and share the care more equally with their partners, growing numbers of whom are now working full time.

A recent study shows that greater equality in parenting is good for both mother and father.  The Stanford study shows a change to the law in Sweden which allows dads flexibility to take time off work in the months after their children are born improves the postpartum health and mental well-being of mothers.

The study’s main findings include that mums are 14 percent less likely to need a specialist or be admitted to a hospital for childbirth-related complications – such as mastitis or other infections – within the first six months of childbirth as a result of the change in the law. They are also 11 percent less likely to get an antibiotic prescription within that first half-year of their baby’s life and there is an overall 26 percent drop in the likelihood of any anti-anxiety prescriptions during that six-month postpartum period – with reductions in prescriptions being most pronounced during the first three months after childbirth.

The study found that the average new father used paid leave for only a few days following the reform — far less than the maximum 30 days allowed — indicating how significant a difference a couple of days of extra support for the mother could make.

The study is part of a growing body of research on the beneficial impact of more parental leave for men in the early stages of parenting, with part of the rationale behind it being that it sets patterns of sharing care more equally throughout a child’s life. However, take-up of shared parental leave [SPL] remains very low.

Promundo’s State of the World’s Fathers report, released today, is based on research across seven countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, UK, and US). It finds that 85 percent of fathers say that they would be willing to do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their newly born or adopted child and that women want them to take leave. The report says they are held back by the lack of adequate, paid paternity leave, although take-up is low when it is available; restrictive gender norms that position care as women’s responsibility, alongside the perception of women as more competent caregivers than men; and a lack of economic security and government support for all parents and caregivers.

While there has been quite a bit of focus on sharing care and on dads’ problems getting flexible working in order to contribute more to childcare, one of the key battlegrounds remains the rest of the domestic load – all the logistics and organising and, of course, the housework. To some degree it is a chicken and egg situation. The idea underpinning restrictions on men working flexibly is the assumption that women are the primary carer and household manager.

Different standards

As Father’s Day looms this weekend, another new research study highlights how such assumptions affect women when it comes to housework. It looks at the why element of gendered attitudes to housework. It finds different standards persist for men and women when it comes to housework. The study, recently published in the journal Sociological Methods and Research, involved 624 people being given a photo of a messy and a tidier room.

It found that men and women do not differ in their perceptions of how messy a room is or how urgent it is to clean it up, but if the messy room is a woman’s room there is significantly more judgement of the owner than if it is a man’s.  For instance, when a relatively clean room is evaluated, women are held to higher standards of cleanliness, are believed to suffer more negative social consequences when they do not meet those standards and are generally deemed more responsible for housework across a variety of work–family arrangements than their male counterparts.

However, when a messy room is evaluated, both men and women were penalised.  However, when told it was a man’s room, respondents said it was in more urgent need of cleaning and thought that the men were less responsible and hardworking than messy women. They also deemed that messy men were not likely to be judged by visitors or feel uncomfortable having visitors over.

Overall, the research shows the links between perceptions of gender regarding housework and the actual carrying out of housework duties.

Housework surveys

Workingmums.co.uk has done several surveys on housework over time. Although these are mainly based on female perceptions, they show that women still do the majority of the housework. Our most recent annual survey shows 27% say housework/household chores are shared evenly while 4% say their partner does more housework than them.

Our most recent poll specifically on housework shows 29% share it equally, 60% say they mainly do the housework, with 6% each saying their male partner does more or they don’t have a partner.

Equal partnerships

Housework forms only one part of what might be termed household management – all the logistics and organisation involved with keeping everything and everybody going and ensuring they are more or less happy.

All the rage:  mothers, fathers, and the myth of equal partnership, a new book out this week by US psychologist Darcy Lockman investigates how assumptions about unpaid labour persist even though more women are working full time.

The book looks at “why, in households where both parents work full time and agree that tasks should be equally shared, mothers’ household management, mental labour and childcare contributions still outweigh fathers”.

Lockman blames a tendency to let men off the hook because they are doing more than their own fathers, a culture of perfectionism for mothers which holds them to incredibly high standards and long-standing social norms. Another potential factor is a lack of awareness of what it takes to keep everything running more or less smoothly if one person has, voluntarily or subconsciously, taken primary responsibility.

What is clear is that such issues continue to lie at the heart of the debate around both equality at home and at work.



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