Parenting, childcare and gender equality

Parenting is getting more equal, but is still not equal, for example in 2022 women did 30 minutes more childcare per day than their male partners.

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

Research evidence for 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 childcare and housework, which suggests that it is increasingly men rather than women who face the ‘dual burden‘.

Kaufman identified two new types of dads 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.

Evidence against gender equality in parenting

We are still a long way from gender equality in parenting…

  • only 10% of full-time stay at home parents are male.
  • 34% of female parents work part time compared to only 6% of male parents.
  • women spend 30 minutes more per day on childcare than men.
  • Only 1/3rd of dads take paternity leave.
  • Fathers spend longer on the fun, easy childcare activities.

90% of full-time stay at home parents are women

Data from the 2021 UK Census found that only 10.6% of full-time stay at home parents were fathers. Meaning that almost 90% of full-time stay at home parents are women.

141 000 economically active men who were looking after children full time at home, compared to 1, 185, 000 women.

However, the proportion of stay at home dads has increased since 2019. in 2019 only 1/14 full time stay at home parents were male, or only 105 000 men. So this is a significant increase in just two years!

Female parents are far more likely to work part-time

  • 83.1% of men work full time compared to 6.3% of men who work part-time
  • 38.4% of women work full time compared to 34.4% of women who work part-time.

Women spend 30 minutes more on childcare more day than men

Post lockdown, in 2022 women still spent 30 minutes more per day on childcare than men. This works out to 3 and a half extra hours per week, even though men and women do increasingly similar amounts of paid work too.

Only 1/3rd of dads take paternity leave

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.

The Fatherhood Institute reports that only 4% of eligible men take up shared parental leave.

Fathers spend longer on fun childcare activities

Some more detailed research from NatCen revealed that while trends in housework were moving towards greater equality, the same could not be said for trends in childcare.

Graphic on types of childcare men and women do.

Mothers spent more than twice as much time than fathers 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.

Only 16% of single parent households are male

84% of single parent households are single mother households, only 16% are single father households. (Source: ONS families and households data).

However, the number of single father households is increasing, not so long ago 90% of single parent households were headed by females.

Intensive Motherhood

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 focus is typically on the mother and not on the father.

Signposting and related posts

This material is relevant to the families and households module.

There is some support here for Liberal Feminism as parenting is gradually becoming more equal. However the pace is VERY SLOW!

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