Caregiving Dads, Breadwinning Mums

Transforming Gender in Work and Childcare

Modern parents want to do things differently, but parental leave policies make it hard to share care, a new study has found.

‘Caregiving dads, breadwinning mums: Transforming gender in work and childcare’, a major mixed-methods study funded by the Nuffield Foundation, compared couples in which childcare responsibilities are shared equally, or assumed primarily by the father, with more traditional arrangements.

Drawing on survey data from a nationally representative sample of British parents, as well as in-depth interviews with couples with young children, the study found that:

  • both fathers and mothers in all the parenting arrangements researched want to spend time with their children and be closely involved in their lives.
  • both couples feel forced to identify a main carer with reduced involvement in paid work, and a main breadwinner with reduced involvement in childcare.
  • couples who shared care and paid work equally had higher levels of satisfaction (with mothers in these arrangements particularly satisfied).
  • mothers in traditional arrangements reported lower wellbeing, relationship quality and self-esteem.
  • both men and women who were the main breadwinners tended more than others to feel they had been forced into their role.

Professor Ruth Gaunt from the research team said: “Current parenting leave policies restrict couples’ choices and steer them into a traditional division of family roles despite their beliefs, preferences, and parenting arrangements. Parents want to see more part time and flexible working and leave policies and childcare that enable both parents to return to work after parenting leave.”

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group, added: “We know that modern parents want to do things differently, sharing responsibility for care and earning more equally with their partners. This study shows that too many feel pushed into a split between breadwinner or carer by out of date leave policies, lack of flexible work and inadequate childcare.”

Unpaid care is at the heart of women’s economic inequality. Women do 60 per cent more unpaid care than men, meaning they have less time for paid work, so they earn less, own less and are more likely to be poor. This can be changed through leave policies, flexible work, and childcare that reflect parents’ wishes and would be better for children.

You can download the full report from the Nuffield Foundation website.

Read more about the project on our blog site.