Topic: COVID-19

May 8, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic sent millions of households into isolation. While dads report doing more household chores, mothers are still doing the majority of the work, says a new study from researchers from Ball State University and two other schools.

“U.S. Couples’ Divisions of Housework and Childcare during COVID-19 Pandemic” found that for moms shouldering the domestic work, many report their time in domestic tasks have increased with homeschooling responsibilities added on top.

“At the same time, the proportion of families where moms are primarily responsible for domestic labor have decreased substantially while the proportion reporting equal sharing of housework and child care has increased,” said Richard Petts, a Ball State sociology professor. “In a sizeable number of families, fathers have increased their time in domestic labor, reducing burdens on their female partners.

Petts coauthored the study with researchers Daniel L. Carlson from the University of Utah and Joanna R. Pepin from University of Texas at Austin

In late April, Petts and the research team surveyed 1,060 U.S. parents residing with a partner of the opposite sex to examine how divisions of housework and child care may have changed since March 11, when the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a pandemic.

Researchers analyzed changes in routine housework, care of children under age 6, and care of children ages 6 to 17. Routine housework includes cooking meals, doing dishes, house cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping.

The study found:

  • Forty-two percent of fathers reported an overall increase in housework time, 45% reported more time in the care of young children overall, and 43% reported more total care of older children.
  • Some mothers also reported that their partners increased their total time in housework (25%), care of young children (34%), and care of older children (20%).
  • There was no such disagreement between parents regarding the mother’s time.
  • More than one-quarter of both fathers and mothers reported an increase in mothers’ time in housework and child care.
  • Parents also agree that 11-16% of mothers and 6-8% of fathers have decreased their time in domestic work.

Among housework tasks, many mothers report greater time spent in cooking/meal preparation (43% doing more) and house cleaning (34%). Many fathers report greater amounts of time grocery shopping (45%), dishwashing (36%), and house cleaning (35%). Fewer parents increased time doing laundry (25%).

Of child care tasks, mothers were most likely to increase their time playing with children (43%), talking with children (40%), and helping with homework (39%). Many fathers increased their time playing with children (56%), talking with children (47%), and physical care of younger children (42%).

The researchers noted the findings demonstrate that COVID-19 has both exacerbated and reduced gender inequalities in the division of domestic labor. Prior to the beginning of the pandemic, mothers were primarily responsible for housework and care of young children in most families. This is still the case for many mothers during the pandemic.

“However, greater exposure to domestic work may also lead fathers to perceive that they are spending more time in these tasks then they actually are – although one-quarter of mothers report that their male partners are doing more as well,” Petts said. “Thus, there is the potential for the COVID-19 pandemic to alter gendered divisions of labor if fathers remain more engaged in the home once shelter-in-place orders are lifted and children go back to school. Whether increased sharing of housework and child care will persist remains to be seen.”

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