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Study: Working from home leads to moms doing more childcare and dads less

The study included more than 1,600 parents of young children.

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African American mother working with laptop computer on bed near her newborn baby. Mother takes care and comforting her baby and working
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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Working from home can lead to mums doing even more of the childcare - and dads less, suggests new research.

The study of more than 1,600 parents of young children found that working from home can result in a “traditional division of housework and childcare” - with men fearing they may "lose their masculinity" when taking on more routine tasks.

Researchers used data from 2010 to 2016, but believe their findings are even more valid now, at a time when the pandemic has greatly increased the number of people working form home (WFH).

Professor Heejung Chung, of the University of Kent, and Dr Cara Booker, from the University of Essex, used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study on parents who were both in work, and had one or more children under 12.

They adjusted the figures to compare people of similar income, education level, ethnicity, age and neighborhood, so that the effect of working from home on childcare and housework could be isolated.

The research team found that when fathers were WFH they were half as likely to report that they were sharing childcare compared to those who could not work from home.

Father with children working on laptop computer at home
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When mums worked from home they were twice as likely to say that they were mainly responsible for childcare.

Chung said: "Fathers who worked from home, or had the option available yet did not use it regularly, were significantly less likely to report that they shared or were mainly responsible for childcare compared to those who did not have access to the arrangement.

“Gender norms may also prevent men from using flexible working arrangements to assume more childcare responsibilities and housework; men may fear losing their masculine and ideal-worker identities.

“Working from home and a lot of schedule control increases mothers’ involvement in housework and childcare, especially for lower-income occupations, resulting in a more traditional division of housework and childcare.

“The opposite was true for women in higher-income occupations, where working from home was linked to a slightly higher likelihood of couples sharing childcare responsibilities.

“Flexible working arrangements do not change the gender normative assumptions or power dynamics relating to who should carry out housework and childcare, but it can remove some work related restrictions that might have prevented mothers from carrying out both paid and domestic work.”

The researchers found that, by contrast, being able to work 'flexitime' – where workers can change their start and end times – led to a more equal division of housework.

Dr. Booker said: “Flexitime, especially for the lower-skilled/paid occupations, enables a more egalitarian division of labour, possibly because it is used to maximise households’ working hours and income.”

The survey found that women spent an average of 13.4 hours on housework a week, while men spent 5.5 hours.

Top view of serene kid tasting delicious beverage while sitting on arms of mother at table in office. Job and infant concept
(True Touch Lifestyle via Shutterstock)

Just over half of the mums reported that they were mainly responsible for childcare (54 percent).

More dads (seven percent) used working-from-home arrangements than mums (five percent), while more women used flexitime (15 percent) than men (11 percent).

Those in higher-income occupations were more likely to use WFH arrangements - seven percent of women and 12 percent of men - and flexitime (19 percent of women and 13 percent of men), than those in lower-income jobs.

Just three percent of mums and two percent of dads in lower-income occupations worked from home, and only eight percent of men and 12 percent of women in low-paid jobs used flexitime.

The study recorded the number of routine domestic labor chores - such as grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry - that each participant was responsible for, and the number of hours these took.

The researchers also recorded whether the father or the mother was responsible for childcare, or both. They also noted whether WFH and flexitime were available and used by one, both or neither of the parents.

The findings were published by the British Sociological Association journal Work, Employment and Society.

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