How hard is it to wipe the bench? Why don’t you ever stack the dishwasher? And it’s your own child, it’s not babysitting for goodness sake!
The perennial question of who does more around the house – and is more involved with childcare – has been tackled by researchers at Auckland University of Technology, who clearly don’t mind throwing a lighted fuse into households around the rohe.
Internationally, women have been found to shoulder the burden of unpaid labour, whether it’s childcare, housework, or the mental and emotional load of organising a family.
New research suggests New Zealand is no different, with mothers caring for their children the majority of the time – and men consistently overestimating how much they do around the house.
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“It appears that fathers not only take on fewer domestic tasks, they are generally more satisfied with this arrangement than mothers are,” researchers in Fathers’ household and childcare involvement in New Zealand: A snapshot, determinants and consequences, wrote.
However, men also wanted to spend more time with their kids, including wanting to take more parental leave and be involved in their day-to-day care. Financial and work constraints were the most-often cited reasons for not doing so. “Most men take two weeks or less of parental leave, but many of them signalled they would like to take more,” study co-author and AUT professor of economics Gail Pacheco said. “They just weren’t able to.”
The research also found clear ethnic differences in involvement, with Māori and Pasifika dads more likely to be involved in the day-to-day care of their kids than Pākehā fathers.
Pasifika dads in particular did more “quality care” activities like playing games, with toys, telling stories, singing songs and reading books.
Fathers who were more involved in their children’s lives reported being happier and more confident parents, with positive outcomes for their kids later in life.
The study is the first to show the depth of the “gender care gap,” in Aotearoa, which researchers say has consequences for gender equality including women’s economic freedom, career and work choices and wages, and happiness. The average mother sees a 4.4% hourly wage drop on returning to work.
International research often uses parental leave taken by fathers as an indicator of how involved they are in young children’s care. But parental leave here is restrictive. Fathers only get two weeks unpaid leave, with paid parental leave (which can be transferred from the primary caregiver) paid at a low wage replacement rate. Just over 1% of men take it.
There are no ring-fenced “daddy months,” like in most other OECD countries.
Researchers Juliane Hennecke, Lisa Meehan, Gail Pacheco and Alexandra Turcu instead analysed data from 3,098 children and their parents in the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal research, which has followed families from before birth to age 8. (“Father” included stepfathers, co-mothers, foster and adoptive parents as well as others in a father-figure role, but 97% in the sample were biological dads.)
They found when babies were nine months old, 92% of mothers said they were directly responsible for the child “all the time” or “most of the time.”
Fathers said they took direct responsibility 17% of the time. This had increased slightly by age 2, to 23%.
More men reported being involved in the daily care of their child, with the highest saying they were involved all or most of the time at age two, at 47%. At this age, 92% of women were caring for their child’s needs daily.
Gender differences were also seen in housework, with fathers reporting 10.24 hours spent on housework compared to women’s 17.49 hours.
While women did the majority of the childcare and housework, 71% of men thought it was fair as opposed to just over half of women.
“Part of that is within societal norms within the household allocation of activities, but it also probably speaks to the unseen load, the mental load or the unseen nature of some of that caring work,” Pacheco said. “Fathers also do work more, so that may be part of the reason they think its fair they’re doing less.”
A third of parents agreed on this, while around 11% agreed the mother did “more than her fair share.”
Wellington father-of-three Jason Erskine said he tries to pull his weight around the house and checks in with his partner often to make sure she’s happy.
He didn’t always do this, and having children was a steep learning curve for him, he said. “I like children, but I wasn’t prepared, and it was like a crash course. I realised I’d carried a lot of these patriarchal ideas over about division of labour, and a lot of the organisational and emotional labour was still falling on her shoulders.”
Erskine listens to his partner and has changed, he said. “We had to have a discussion about how the dishwasher was loaded, and how the washing was folded, and these are important discussions. These were things for me to be accountable about, and now things are on a much more even keel.”
He works full-time as an audio designer, partly from home, getting his kids ready in the morning, putting his 20-month-old Paisley down for her nap – and sometimes taking her to virtual meetings –and ducking in and out of the hubbub before rejoining for dinner and bedtime evenings. “They bring me joy, their spontaneity, their creativity…I get sad when I’m not with them, I miss the interaction.”
Why does this matter?
Researchers found strong parental involvement from fathers in the study had positive effects on the child’s motor skills, language development and most psychological outcomes.
Children were also less likely to have emotional and social problems, and these effects were more pronounced when it was “quality care.”
The higher the income difference between mother and father, the less likely the father was to take part in day to day care, with only 4% reporting this was their preference.
Pacheco said ring-fencing paid parental leave for men and increasing the payment rate, along with affordable childcare were shown to make a difference.
“Daddy months can create not just equal division in childcare and labour supply but also reduces the financial constraints of fathers.
“And as we can see, fathers spending time with their children is really important.”