Study shows gender inequality has widened due to Covid-19

Preliminary findings from a University of Sussex study on family life in lockdown has found women are taking on the lion’s share of the household tasks.

Stressed mother holding her baby


Childcare responsibilities during lockdown are not being shared equally between working parents, according to a new study which says gender inequalities between parents for childcare and domestic duties have increased during the Covid-19 period.

According to the preliminary findings of a University of Sussex Study of over 2,000 participants around three in four mums (72%) say that they have been the ‘default’ parent during lockdown – that is, the parent who tends to meet children’s needs when they arise, prioritising childcare over other things. And the figure is almost as high for mothers who work, with two thirds of them (67%) saying they had been the default parent.

The study by Alison Lacey, Dr Kathryn Lester, Professor Sam Cartwright-Hatton and Professor Robin Banerjee from the School of Psychology also found that, of those who work, three quarters (73%) of mothers report working from home as difficult or very difficult. Seven in 10 women (70%) reported being completely or mostly responsible for supporting children with home-learning, a task associated with considerable time costs.

On average, seven weeks after lockdown, 48% of female respondents with a male partner reported that his access to time, space and equipment to work had been prioritised over her own. This compared with 34% of mothers who felt both partners’ work had been balanced equally and 17% of mothers who felt their own work had been prioritised.

Ali Lacey, a doctoral researcher in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, who co-led the study said:  “Before Covid-19, women in our sample reported being responsible for a disproportionate share of childcare tasks. This inequality increased during the period of school closures and home working.  Two thirds (67%) of women with work commitments reported being the ‘default parent’ most of the time.

“Women are responsible for a greater share of domestic labour in seven out of the eight domestic tasks we included in the survey. The restrictions have increased the amount of time families spend at home, and as such, domestic loads have likely increased. And of course, Covid-19 has created specific additional domestic tasks for families such as home-schooling.

“We recognise that many dads have stepped up and undertaken more childcare over this period, but our findings show that women are still overwhelmingly taking on the role of primary carer, and with schools closed, primary educator.”

She called on Government and employers to find ways to ensure women with young children do not have their work prospects disadvantaged by the impact of Covid-19.

The study also found that, pre-Covid-19, 27% of female respondents reported being responsible for ‘90-100% of childcare’ (outside of school and other childcare settings). Two thirds (64%) reported being responsible for ‘at least 70% of the childcare’. After lockdown started, 45% of women reported being responsible for ‘90-100% of childcare’ following lockdown, representing an increase of 18%.

Supporting children’s social relationships and childcare also involved predominantly maternal labour, with two thirds (66%) of mums taking responsibility for this, said the researchers. Nevertheless, 55% of women reported that the allocation of time and space to work from home was quite or very fair.

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