Working from home can lead to fathers doing less childcare and mothers doing more

Olivia Miller
Picture by Pexels

New research led by the Universities of Kent and Essex has found that working from home can result in mothers doing more housework and childcare, with men fearing they may lose their masculinity when taking on more routine tasks.

Professor Heejung Chung (Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research) and Dr Cara Booker (Essex) used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study on parents who were both in work and had one or more children under 12. They adjusted the data to compare people of similar income, education level, ethnicity, age and neighbourhood, so that the effect of working from home on childcare and housework could be isolated.

The researchers found that when fathers were working from home they were half as likely to report that they were sharing childcare compared to those who could not work from home. When mothers worked from home they were twice as likely to say that they were mainly responsible for childcare.

In the study published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, fathers who worked from home, or had the option available yet did not use it regularly, were significantly less likely to report that they shared or were mainly responsible for childcare compared to those who did not have access to the arrangement.

Professor Chung said: ‘We found that working from home increases mothers’ involvement in housework and childcare, especially for those in lower-income occupations. While interestingly the opposite was found for women in higher-income occupations, where there was a slightly higher likelihood that couples would share childcare responsibilities.’

By contrast, the researchers discovered that being able to work flexitime – where workers can change their start and end times – led to a more equal division of housework. It doesn’t change the gender normative assumptions or power dynamics relating to who should carry out housework and childcare, but it can remove some work-related restrictions that might have prevented mothers from carrying out both paid and domestic work.

Flexitime, especially for lower-skilled/paid occupations can enable a more equal division of labour, possibly because it is used to maximise households’ working hours and income.

Yet, Professor Chung urges that we should not restrict working from home options to enhance gender equality – it should in fact be the opposite. She added: ‘When working from home becomes more of a norm, and when we change the norms around whose responsibility it is to care for children – namely that both men and women should take part, we will see that homeworking will result in a more equitable division of housework and childcare.’

Their research paper titled ‘Flexible working and the division of housework and childcare: examining divisions across arrangement and occupational lines’ is published by Work, Employment and Society. doi: 10.1177/09500170221096586