Working from home can lead to fathers doing less childcare and mothers doing more

working from homeAn analysis of survey data on 1,694 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. Although the research, by Professor Heejung Chung, of the University of Kent, and Dr Cara Booker, University of Essex, uses data from 2010-16, they believe its conclusions are still valid now, at a time when the pandemic has greatly increased home working.

Professor Chung and Dr Booker 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 data to compare people of similar income, education level, ethnicity, age and neighbourhood, so that the effect of working from home on childcare and housework could be isolated.

The researchers found that when fathers were working from home they were half as likely to report that they were sharing childcare compared to those who could not work from home. When mothers worked from home they were twice as likely to say that they were mainly responsible for childcare.

In an article published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, run by the British Sociological Association, the researchers say: “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. “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 13.4 hours on housework a week on average, and men spent 5.5. Around a half of women reported that they were mainly responsible for childcare (54 percent). More men (7 percent) used working from home arrangements than women (5 percent), while more women used flexitime (15 percent) than men (11 percent).

Those in higher-income occupations were more likely to use working from home arrangements (7 percent of women and 12 percent of men) and flexitime (19 percent of women and 13 percent of men), than those in lower-income occupations (working from home: 3 percent of women and 2 percent of men; flexitime: 12 percent of women and 8 percent of men).