Getting to equality on the home front

A new study shows there is still some way to go to reach gender equality both at home and at work.

Man performing housework


The amount of unpaid labour falling on the shoulders of mothers is ensuring the gender pay gap follows them well into retirement age.

Figures recently published for 2019 shows eight out of 10 firms and bodies paying their male employees more and a quarter of firms have an earnings gap of 20% or more.

That news won’t surprise both working mums and comes on the back of a recent survey by the National Centre for Social Research that reveals that even after 15 years, mothers overwhelmingly shoulder the lion’s share of both housework and childcare.

Mums do double

According to the study, mums are doing more than double the amount of childcare and triple the amount of housework than dads. Meanwhile dads were also just over two times more likely to be in paid full-time employment, while mums, after having had children, tended to return back to work part time, leaving them doing more unpaid labour, say researchers, and ultimately feeling stressed.

“Fathers, who don’t take the same career breaks, end up on better pay, get promotions, while women often lose prestige; your’re not as likely to be taken as seriously as you’re not likely to get a career promotion if you only work part time,” says head researcher Oriel Sullivan, professor of Sociology of Gender at UCL. “Ultimately that affects work place pensions which also become lower for women, so the pay gap extends well into pension age,” she adds.

Key findings

– Dads spend double the amount of time in paid work compared with mums.
– However, mums are doing almost three times as much housework a day, including things like shopping – at 219 minutes a day compared with dad’s 72 mins.
– When it comes to childcare, women spent two hours a day on childcare and related activities, compared with dad’s 57 minutes a day.
– A reduction of working hours by 37 minutes a day for fathers in paid employment (compared to 15 years ago), but no significant change for women.

Research does find that women are doing 25 minutes less housework a day than 15 years ago. But, they say, this is not because fathers are doing more. ‘In facts fathers are doing less non-routine housework in 2015 (latest figures) at 63 minutes a day, compared with 77 minutes minutes in 2001. However, where dads did improve a little was doing more childcare and core a few core housework jobs.

Professor Oriel says: “There’s still quite a large gap but there does seem to be across country movement with men doing slightly more – and that’s something we should acknowledge. We should recognise the circumstances in which that’s happening in order to promote those kinds of changes,” she says.

Stay-at-home dads

In fact, those circumstances are a boost in the number of stay-at-home dads who bolster the number of unpaid labour men do. “Those non-employed, stay at home men, with dependent kids do by far the greatest amount of housework and childcare among men,” she says, adding, “more than double (60% more) the amount of full-time employed men”.

However, she said, stay-at-home mums were still doing twice as much childcare and housework as dads in the same position.

What can we do?

Cheaper early childcare, a general movement away from long working long hours (we work longer hours than other continental European countries) and more options for cheaper early childcare are some of the suggestions made by Professor Sullivan.

“A reduction of and increasing flexibility in working hours is a very important policy move to be made, but nothing very much has been done. Two weeks’ dedicated paternity leave is meaningless, so that’s an important policy change implemented easily.

“Once changes are made at policy level you see men with small children in spaces you’re used to seeing women in. Other men will get more used to seeing other men in those situations.” She said it would ensure men didn’t feel excluded.

Julia Waltham, head of policy and public affairs at Working Families, agrees policy should better facilitate gender equality in home and at work. For example, things like shared paternity leave are all well and good, she said, but “often it doesn’t make financial sense for couples to use it”. She says: “Employers that can afford to do so should go beyond the minimum pay, making it a more realistic option for families. The government should consider simple reforms to the scheme – such as making it a day-one right like maternity leave and extending the scheme to self-employed parents – allowing more parents to benefit.”

She also called for the creation of a properly paid, standalone period of extended paternity leave for fathers to ensure they become more involved in their children’s care, as well as true flexible working.

“A supportive workplace culture – and, in particular, supportive line managers, is crucial to ensuring parents can make use of the parental leave they are entitled to.”

She added that there needs to be support for line managers to ensure efforts to have their staff use leave and work flexibly are not undermined by a prohibitive culture.

Changing attitudes

Caroline Gatrell professor of Organisation Studies at Liverpool University, says that, aside from a major shift in gender role attitudes, the simplest way to get both sexes involved in childcare was through flexible working though ‘fathers are often made to feel that flexible working is a mother’s area’.

“There might be a policy in place, but when it filters down to the line manager, it might not be there; so it’s less about policy change and more about workers’ attitudes,” she said.

Sally Howard is the author of The Home Stretch, out this year. She says Sweden’s policy of ‘use it or lose it’ parental leave allocation for men ensured that things there are more equal. “This fathering leave, alongside a care leave allocation – both of which, importantly, are funded by the state, has led to a small revolution: you see ‘latte papas’ on leave with their kids everywhere. The Swedish example shows us that half-hearted interventions such as the UK’s flexi leave which only give individuals the right to ask for leave, have no real impact on the domestic labour gap.”

So perhaps, as Howard says, the ‘parenting trap’, career advancement for women and gender pay gaps are less about glass ceilings and more about sticky floors.

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