How Motherhood and Fatherhood affect paid and domestic work

mothers are more likely to take time off work and do 10 hours more housework and childcare than fathers.

One of way of measuring the relative effects of motherhood and fatherhood on paid and domestic labour is to compare the following two subsets:

  • Mothers in relation to women without dependent children compared to
  • Fathers in relation to men without dependent children.

Comparing these two subsets would be a useful contribution to evaluating Liberal and Radical Feminist theories about how family life affects women. Broadly speaking:

  • Liberal Feminists claim that family life (compared to women remaining childless) has little or no negative impact on women.
  • Radical Feminists claim that family life has a negative impact on women, as women are more likely to quit their jobs when children are born, and they end up doing more childcare than men, and continue to do more housework too, suffering from the triple shift.

Generally speaking if mothers are doing less paid work and more domestic work than women without dependent children, while fathers are doing more paid work and less domestic work than men without dependent children, it’s reasonable to say this suggests more support for radical compared to liberal feminism.

HOWEVER, we’d still need to do further research to test this out: statistics don’t give us in-depth data and allow us to conclusively prove or dismiss either of these broad theoretical positions, they just point in one direction or the other.

This post looks at the following data taken from the ONS’ (1)

  • The percentages of mothers, fathers and men and women without dependent children in employment
  • The percentage of mothers in full time work by age of child
  • The percentages of 24-35 year old mothers and fathers in work.
  • How much housework mothers and fathers do.

You can view all of the stats below on my Tableau page.

Motherhood and fatherhood encourage traditional gender roles

The graphic below shows the percentages of mothers, fathers and men/ women without dependent children in paid employment 2002-21, U.K.

In 2021 72% of men without dependent children were in work compared to 92% of fathers. 69% of women were in work compared to 76% of mothers.

So… both men and women with children are more likely to be in work compared to those without children (but this data also includes retired people, so no surprise, maybe!)

What’s interesting is the relative difference between men and women without children and mothers and fathers:

Mothers are much less likely to be work than fathers, the figures for men and women without children in work are much closer together.

This suggests having children is more likely to result in women leaving paid employment to take on a caring role while having children encourages men into the breadwinner role.

Only 30% of women with new born children work full-time

Bar chart showing percentage of mothers in full time work by age of child.

It’s probably unsurprising, but only 30% of women with very young children aged one, and the percentage increases gradually until 49% of women with 18 year olds are in paid employment.

This is a clear trend of women taken a period of employment and then gradually returning in greater numbers as their children get older.

The figures for men hardly change at all with children being born (not shown on graphic).

Young women are affected most

This statistic is the strongest evidence of how motherhood has a detrimental affect on women’s careers compared to fatherhood.

bar chart comparing number of young mothers and fathers in work, UK 2022.

For 24-35 year olds, MORE women without dependent children are in paid work than men.

However, only 69% of 24-35 year old mothers are in employment compared to a massive 92% of fathers in the same age category.

Women do more housework and childcare

In 2022 women did 30 minutes more unpaid housework per day than men and they did one hour extra of childcare.

Over the course of a week, this means women with dependent children are doing 10 hours more childcare and housework combined than men.

This seems to be strong evidence of mothers suffering from the triple shift.

Conclusions: support for radical feminism?

The above statistical evidence seems to offer some support for the radical feminist view that families are harmful to women, in that having children results in women being more likely to take time off paid-work compared to men and mothers doing 10 hours more domestic labour and childcare per week than men.

Sources and Signposting

This material is most relevant to the families and households module, usually taught as part of the first year A-level sociology course.

To return to the homepage –

(1) Office for National Statistics: Families and the Labour Market UK, 2021.

Screenshots of Tableau embeds:

women and men in paid work
bar chart showing hours per day childcare and domestic labour done by mothers and fathers, UK 2022.

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!

To return to the homepage –