Gendered division of housework during the COVID-19 pandemic: temporary shocks or durable change?

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This paper looks at the gender gap in housework during Covid-19. It finds that there was some increased input from men during the early stages of lockdown, but families with young children were the first to return to previous patterns.

The researchers used data gathered by the Understanding Society COVID-19 study in April, May, June and September 2020 from working-age, opposite-gender couples who remained together during the study period – a final sample size of just over 2000 couples.

They asked how the gender division of housework changed in the first lockdown of March 2020, and whether those changes persisted when the situation changed, comparing those with no children at home to those with children of various ages.

Overall they found that the share of the housework reduced substantially in the Spring of 2020 but largely recovered by September. Both men and women increased their hours of housework, but this also returned to pre-Covid levels by September.

Women’s share of the housework decreased across all types of household in the early days of the crisis, but couples with children under five were the quickest to return to a pre-lockdown gender division.Those with school-age offspring tended to hang on, at least partially, to more equal practices.

The authors say lockdown measures may have lasting consequences for some families, but not for others.

Covid is similar to other shocks to the division of labour in that couples have tended to adapt to new circumstances and then to return only partially to their previous habits – but this is dependent on their life stage at the time of the shock. The study highlights the need for a nuanced perspective on changes to family life during the pandemic, the researchers say.