Caregiving Dads, Breadwinning Mums

This report explores why traditional gendered norms with mothers as primary caregivers and fathers as main breadwinners should be challenged.

To identify routes and barriers to greater gender equality, the researchers examined parenting arrangements in which childcare responsibilities are shared equally or assumed primarily by the father.  Although not specifically directed at  separated families, the findings add to the case for equal shared care after parental separation.

The tradition of gender inequality in the home both disadvantages women in the workplace and denies men the opportunity to develop close nurturing relationships with their children.

Three key questions were addressed in the research:

  • (i) what do the parenting practices of equal sharers and role-reversed couples entail in terms of time distribution and task allocation?
  • (ii) what are the facilitating economic, structural, and psychological factors that enable role-reversed couples and equal sharers to resist gendered parenting norms? and
  • (iii) what are the consequences of their division of roles for wellbeing and relationship satisfaction?

The researchers found that both fathers and mothers in all parenting arrangements want to spend time with their children and be closely involved in their lives.

Not surprisingly, they concluded that opportunities for organising family life in ways that enable both parents to be equally involved in work and care are constrained by gendered parenting leave entitlements, long work hours cultures, limited options for flexible and part-time work, and expensive inaccessible childcare.

Equal sharing mothers had the highest levels of satisfaction with their division of responsibilities, with 83% reporting they were satisfied or very satisfied (compared to 60% of mothers in traditional arrangements and 52% of mothers who reversed roles).

Equal sharers in this study described conscious efforts to achieve equality, having to “fight for” their chosen arrangement by overcoming barriers which facilitate a female carer/male breadwinner division.

Problems reaching agreement after separation, increased economic pressures facing parents having to pay for separate homes and the disincentive of the current child maintenance approach to shared care all conspire to make shared parenting for separated couples more difficult.  This study provides good reasons for both mothers and fathers to depart from traditional gendered norms.

The University of Lincoln and the Nuffield Foundation are to be commended for carrying out this important study.