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Why aren’t men doing the housework?

Published: 29 Aug 2017

Manchester University’s Helen Norman and Laura Watt look at the reasons why there is such a gender imbalance with housework and what might be done to redress the balance.

 

Women spend around twice as long on housework compared to men. In the UK, men spend an average of 34 minutes on housework and cooking for every hour that women spend. This is more than the 18 minutes spent by men in Greece, but much less than the 41+ minutes spent by the Danes and Swedes (see Table 1).

Table 1: Average minutes men spend on housework and cooking per every hour that women spend

Denmark 44.2
Sweden 41.4
Finland 39.8
Iceland 39.3
UK 33.8
Belgium 33.7
Netherlands 33.2
Germany 33
Ireland 32.9
Norway 32.31
France 31.1
Austria 27.4
Spain 27.2
Portugal 24.6
Italy 23.8
Greece 18.1

1 2007

Source: 2012 European Quality of Life Survey extracted from Fatherhood Institute 2016 Fairness in Families Index, p.50.

Although men have increased the time they spend on housework over the last decade (see Fatherhood Institute 2016), the gender imbalance remains stark – and is found across all age groups (see ONS 2016).

So why does the gender gap in time spent on housework persist?

We think there are three main explanations:

1) Men work longer hours outside the home

2015 European Working Conditions Survey data[1] shows that around a third (32%) of men in the UK work over 45 hours per week compared to just 12% of women. And women are more likely to work part-time (51% worked part-time[2] compared to 18% of men). When couples have children, women are even more likely to move to part-time work in order to accommodate the new demands of home and family (65% of mothers with a child under 11 worked part-time compared to less than half (47%) of other women). And fathers with a child under 11 are slightly more likely to work longer hours than other men (33% compared to 31%). These work patterns persist across every country in the EU-28.

This means that men have less time to spend on housework because they have less time to spend at home.

2) Work-family policy perpetuates these patterns of work

Work-family policy in the UK focuses on supporting the mother rather than the father to reduce employment hours and alter schedules after having children – through a longer period of maternity leave and easier access to flexible working (see Norman and Fagan 2017).

Childcare is expensive – equivalent to 41% of average full-time median yearly earnings[3] (or 54% of average full-time median yearly earnings in London)[4]. This discourages the lower earner (usually the mother) from going back to work after having children because it is not financially worthwhile.

The persistence of the gender pay gap (currently at 18.1%) maintains a financial logic for women to be the ones to reduce their work hours after having children.

3) Traditional gender role ideologies

Cultural ideals about gender roles and parenting persist, which maintain normative beliefs that young children suffer if their mothers are employed full-time. Although there has been a decline in these attitudes, a third of the UK population still believes that a mother should stay at home rather than go out to work when there is a child under school age (see Norman, Fagan and Watt 2017).

Housework has always traditionally been regarded as ‘women’s work’, and some suggest a ‘marker of feminine identity’ (Lippe et al. 2017). This can discourage men from taking responsibility for it because it does not conform to a traditional ‘masculine’ status.

Do some men do more housework than others?

Of course, not all men are the same, with some spending more time on housework than others.

Our analysis using the UK’s 2000-01 Millennium Cohort Study focuses on fathers who have a child under a year old. We found that for this group of men, employment hours, attitudes and different socio-demographics shape how much time they spent on housework[5].

Using a composite measure that captures paternal contributions to cooking, cleaning and laundry, we found that fathers were more likely to share or do the most housework when:

  • They worked standard full-time hours (30-45 hours per week) rather than very long full-time hours (45+ per week)
  • Their partner worked full-time (over 30 hours a week).
  • They were highly educated (i.e. to degree level or higher)
  • There were no additional children in the household
  • They had more egalitarian gender role attitudes, i.e. disagreed that children suffered if the mother worked before they started school.

We also found differences according to ethnicity with Black/Black British fathers more likely to share or do the most housework compared to white fathers, but Pakistani and Bangladeshi fathers less likely to share or do the most housework. Some of this may be related to cultural differences (see Haurai and Hollingsworth 2009).

Will gender parity ever be reached?

Men are doing more housework than they used to but there is a long way to go before we reach gender parity in the division of housework.

Policy has not directly addressed the imbalance in housework although the recent focus on supporting new fathers to take time off work – through initiatives such as Shared Parental Leave (see Norman and Fagan 2017) – may be a step in the right direction, helping to dispel normative ideals about who should be working and who should spend more time at home.

To help facilitate a more gender equal division of paid and unpaid work in the home, it is important we step up efforts to close the gender pay gap; address the long-hours culture; improve work-family reconciliation rights for fathers – through parental leave and flexible working; and ensure families have access to good quality, affordable childcare.

 

References

Fatherhood Institute (2016) Fairness in Families Index

Harding, C., Wheaton, B., Butler, A. (2017) Childcare Survey 2017, Family and Childcare Trust

Hauari, H. and K. Hollingworth (2009) Understanding Fathering: Masculinity, diversity and change. London, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Office for National Statistics (2016) Women shoulder the responsibility of ‘unpaid work’

Norman, H. and Fagan, C. (2017) What makes fathers involved in their children’s upbringing? Working Families Work Flex Blog, 20 January 2017

Norman, H. Fagan, C. and Watt, L. (2017) What should mums and dads do? Changes in attitudes towards parenting, Working Families Work Flex Blog, 24 March 2017

van der Lippe, T., Treas, J. & Norbutas, L. (2017) Unemployment and the division of housework in Europe. Work, employment and society, 1-20

 

Footnotes

[1] Based on a sample of 1,623 households

[2] Defined as less than 35 hours a week

[3] Yearly median full-time earnings were £28,200 for the year ending 5 April 2016

[4] Calculations made using figures from Harding et al. (2017)

[5] Based on analysis of 5,882 households in Great Britain

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