An analysis of six years of longitudinal data from between 2010 and 2016 has found that home working reinforces a traditional gendered division of domestic labour while flexible working leads to a more equal domestic arrangement.
The research analysed data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (2010-2016) which surveyed 1700 working parents with at least one child aged under 12.
Overall, women spend more than twice as long as men doing housework. Women reported doing 13.4 hours of housework a week on average, men reported doing an average of 5.5; while 54% of women reported being primarily responsible for childcare.
Further data analysis adjusted the stats for income, education level, ethnicity, age and neighbourhood to isolate the effect of working from home on childcare and housework.
Fathers working from home were half as likely to report they were sharing child care compared to those who were not working from home, with men fearing they may lose their masculinity when taking on more routine tasks.
Whereas women working from home were twice as likely to report they were primarily responsible for childcare compared to those who were not working from home.
The effect was greater for lower income couples: women doing low income jobs at home spent proportionately more time doing domestic work than women in higher income jobs.
Flexible working hours led to a more equal gendered division of labour
Flexitime, where men and women have some degree of control over their working hours (days of the week/ start and finish times) led to a more equal division of domestic labour.
Conclusions and relevance
The broad conclusions are that working from home does not benefit women, but flexible working arrangements do, so if we want to see a more equal division of labour and childcare we want to push for more flexible working hours, not necessarily more home-working hours!
You need to be careful when using this research as the results are open to interpretation.
If we just allow men and women to work at home then this reinforces traditional gendered divisions of labour. This suggests that if the domestic sphere is further isolated from society this results in ‘patriarchal norms’ being reinforced. This seems to suggest support for the radical feminist view that the isolated, privatised nuclear family is oppressive to women: as they end up doing more domestic labour, men end up doing less when both partners do more paid work from home.
HOWEVER, the fact that more flexible working hours results in more gender equality in how domestic chores are divided offers support for liberal feminism: when men and women are both working but more flexibly, this breaks down the oppressive traditional division of labour, but this requires men and women to be out at work.
Overall, it suggests that a good social policy change would be to introduce more flexible working hours in general, but that pushing for more home based working isn’t such a good idea, if we are interested in more gender equality at home that is!
Limitations of this research
One limitation of this survey is the relatively low sample sizes for those home working and doing flexitime.
Only 7% of men used working from home arrangements, and only 5% of women. Only 15% of women used flexitime, and only 11% men.
This means with a sample size of 1700, only around 50 men would have been working from home in that sample, and once you control for income, location, and ethnicity you have some very small sub-samples, for example.
Sources and Signposting
Heejung Chung and Cara Booker (August, 2022) Work, Employment and Society: Flexible Working and the Division of Housework and Childcare: Examining Divisions across Arrangement and Occupational Lines.
This material is mainly relevant to the families and households module, usually taught as part of the first year within A-level sociology.