Huge rise in working from home but women still do lion's share of housework & caring

Huge rise in working from home but women still do lion’s share of housework & caring

Even a Pandemic, and the massive changes in how we work that it’s caused, hasn’t been enough to significantly shift the balance in who does the dishes and the majority of the caring for kids.

There’s barely been a blip in the proportion of mothers “typically” caring for children at home, despite a massive increase in the rate of both mothers and fathers working from home.

And there’s been hardly any change to who’s taking on the majority of the housework in heterosexual couples.

That’s according to the Life During COVID-19 survey, released today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, in the first of a series of surveys it’s currently running. The survey received 7306 participants and ran from May 1 to June 9.

The share of people always working from home rose from seven to 60 per cent during COVID-19, just as the per centage of families using parent-only care rose from 30 to 64 per cent. Forty per cent of parents working from home were always or often “actively” caring for children while they worked, while another 28 per cent said they were “passively” doing so.

On gendered care, the survey found 54 per cent of parents said it was “always or usually” the mother who “typically” cared for the children PRIOR to COVID-19, that figure dropped to 52 per cent during COVID-19. The “equally between mother and father” option dropped from just 38 per cent to 37 per cent, while the “always or usually the father” option rose from eight to 11 per cent.

“These changes are very slight,” the report authors write. “However one cohort stands out: parents of children under 3 years old. In this cohort, equal sharing increased from 28% to 37%, and care ‘always or usually’ by the mother decreased from 63% to 56%. That said, it was still rare for fathers in these families to take the primary caring role (stable at around 10%).”

And what about the housework, the shopping, cleaning and cooking? The report found that among heterosexual couples both with and without children, the female partner typically does the lion’s share — and this barely changed during COVID-19. Among these couples, 43 per cent of women were “always or usually doing the housework” prior to COVID-19, dropping to 41 per cent during COVID-19.

Families in Australia Survey: Life during COVID-19

As one mother told the report authors, Although my partner stepped up to help with home schooling and domestic duties at the start of the pandemic, it wasn’t long before it shifted to inequality again.”

Although the survey didn’t go into detail regarding how employers helped (or not), the authors published comments from one respondent noting how he felt “abandoned” and pushed to figure out hit own caring arrangements while working with, “no understanding of maintaining our productivity whilst having young children with us 24/7.”

Other report findings:

  • Those aged 18 to 29 were three times more likely than others to have asked for financial support from family or friends during COVID-19, and four times more likely to ask for help from government or NGOs
  • 43 per cent of respondents said their partner had lost employment or had their hours or wages reduced
  • 52 per cent of parents were using approved care before COVID-19, which dropped to 26 per cent during COVID-19
  • Eight per cent were using nannies or babysitters prior, and 5 per cent after
  • 25 per cent of respondents reported a small or large decrease in income
  • 21 per cent of those aged under 30 reported changes to their living arrangements during the pandemic, with many moving back home with their parents (which may explain the 21 per cent of 50 to 59 years olds who also reported a change)


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