Parenting, childcare and gender equality

To what extent is there equality in relationships between men and women when it comes to childcare?

Some research suggests there is greater gender equality

Research by Gayle Kaufman consisting of interviews with 70 American fathers with at least one child under the age of 18 found that between 1977 and 2008 the average American man increased the amount of time spent on household chores and childcare by more than 2 hours per day on average each workday. Statistics suggest that increasingly men are performing a ‘second shift’ when they return home from work, spending on average 46 hours a week on on childcare and housework, which suggests that it is increasingly men rather than women who face the ‘dual-burden’.

Kaufman identified two new types of dad based on how they responded to the challenges of balancing work and family life.

  • ‘New Dads’ which were by far the largest category placed a high priority on involvement with children and made some minor adjustments to their work practices – such as getting to work later or leaving earlier, or ‘leaving work at work’ or bringing work home with them, and trying to juggle that and family duties.
  • Superdads actively adjusted their work lives to fit in with their family lives – by changing careers, cutting back work hours or adopting more flexible working hours. These dads saw spending time with their children as the most important thing in their lives, with money and career as less important.

However, we are a long way from actual equality

Focusing on the UK, ONS data reveals that at the end of 2012 there were just over 6,000 more full-time, stay-at-home dads looking after babies and toddlers than there were 10 years ago, which is hardly a significant increase

Also, although fathers always say they want to spend more time with their kids rather than working, the evidence does not back this up – a third of men don’t take their two weeks paternity leave, 40% say they don’t intend to take the 6 months they are now entitled to and 90% say they wouldn’t take more than 6 months if it was offered to them.

More recent research from NatCen reveals that while trends in housework are moving towards greater equality, the same CANNOT be said for trends in childcare.

Mothers spent more than twice as much time than farthers doing ‘physical’ childcare, which includes such chores as feeding and bathing children,

Mothers spent 28 minutes per day on ‘interactive’ childcare such as playing, reading and talking with their children, compared to 19 minutes for fathers – this is the smallest difference of all the activity types, but arguably the most pleasant!

Mothers spent almost twice as long on ‘other childcare‘ activities such as taking children to school and after-school activities.

You can read a more detailed version of the report here.

The Emergence of ‘Intensive Motherhood’ suggests things might even be getting worse for some mothers…

According to Sharon Hays (1996) it is still mothers, rather than fathers who remain the target of most parenting advice, and today all mothers are expected to live up to a new norm of ‘intensive mothering’ – a style of mothering that is ‘expert-guided’ and child centred as well as emotionally absorbing, labour intensive and financially expensive, requiring a 24/7 focus on the child.

Hays suggests that intensive mothering has become the taken for granted ‘correct’ style of mothering , and the the focus is typically on the mother and not on the father.

Radical Feminists also remind us that 9/10 single parents are female.

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