Mothers still doing most housework after pandemic, study finds

Changes to the division of household tasks were ultimately temporary, and began to disappear by September 2020.

Saman Javed
Sunday 19 December 2021 15:00 GMT
Despite the pandemic splitting chores more equally, many couples have fallen back into their old ways
Despite the pandemic splitting chores more equally, many couples have fallen back into their old ways (Getty Images)

Mothers in heterosexual couples are back to doing most of the housework after a short period of increased gender equality during lockdown, a study has found.

Following initial evidence that lockdown measures lead to a more equal division of household chores amongst men and women, researchers at the University of Bristol and Humboldt-University of Berlin have found many couples have fallen back into their pre-pandemic ways.

A survey of more than 2,000 heterosexual couples aged between 24 and 54 showed those with young or school-age children reverting to a gendered division of housework.

Mixed-sex couples without children, however, are more likely to still be sharing chores equally.

Following the first lockdown, the division of housework between genders was more equal for all types of couples, especially those with young children.

“Our findings are consistent with the fact that women’s share of housework primarily declined because men temporarily contributed more housework while on furlough or working from home,” the study said.

These changes were small and temporary, however, and had already started to disappear by September 2020.

The gender division of housework among mixed-sex parents was also impacted by their children’s ages.

“Couples with school-age children and couples with a 0- to 5-year-old were already clearly retreating to a more traditional gender division of housework, though still below the reference levels before the national lockdown in March 2020,” the study said.

“Couples without children living at home sustained a more equal share of housework,” the researchers added.

Researchers said their findings confirm that the “underlying dynamics of gender inequality” which sees heterosexual mothers take on greater amounts of childcare and household chores remained in place following the pandemic.

Susan Harkness from the University of Bristol said the study indicates homeworking will not affect gender norms long-term.

“There were attempts at a more positive take [on the impacts of the pandemic on housework], that maybe homeworking will be good for gender equality, and we’ll see some sort of positive takeaways,” she told The Guardian.

“Men could start doing the housework if they’re more likely to be at home. There was a short-term transition, but if you think about whether those changes persisted and affected gender norms, it’s not what we see.

“When you close schools, you’re increasing the burden for women. And I think that’s a fairly clear story coming out of this pandemic.”

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