Gender Equity in Parenting?

by John Hoffman

I believe strongly in the ideal of gender equity. That includes fathers being more involved in child care and mothers being able to do more work outside the home. Lots of people agree, of course. Researchers have been tracking the trends for many years.  Cool.

But I have a pet peeve about the spin that tends to get put on comparisons of how much time dads and moms spend doing child care and housework. For years, the story has been, “Dads are doing more, but it’s still not enough.” Here’s a recent headline from the Washington Post. “Once the baby comes, moms do more dads do less.” A 2013 report out of the Center for Work and Family at Boston College, stated that while two-thirds of fathers believe that partners should share childcare equally only 30 percent were actually doing it.

The media spin about mothers trying to catch up to fathers in the world of paid does not portray moms as “doing less.” It is more along the lines of “Canada’s working moms still earning less, doing more than dads.”  That’s a headline from the Globe and Mail three years ago. Mothers are held back by unfairness. But Dads simply aren’t doing their share.

I’m not saying there is no truth to that. My problem is that a key statistic is always – and I mean always – left out of these comparisons. Fathers spend more time at their paid jobs than mothers. So, like… they have less time available each day for housework and child care. Maybe people just take that as a given, something that doesn’t need to be mentioned. But it should be mentioned, because, well, if you work more outside the home you have less time available to work inside the home.

Back when I was doing communications work for the Father Involvement Research Alliance I got Statistics Canada to pull some numbers for me. And what I found was very interesting.

I wanted to compare mothers and fathers of relatively young kids in families where both parents work full-time. Most studies don’t do that. Many stats lump parents and non-parents, single parent families, two parent families, families with stay-home parents and two-income families all into one basket. That’s not a fair comparison. Many of those families have moms who aren’t in the work force or who work part-time. Some studies even include older people whose children have grown up or at least require very little hands on care. I wanted to compare parents in their prime child-rearing years (age 25 – 44) in families where both parents worked full-time.

And guess what? When you total up the “parent work day” (child care, housework and paid work combined) for those parents, the dad work day and the mom work day are the same length. The difference is that fathers spend about 15% more of their time on paid work and mothers spend about 15% more of their time on housework. So it turns out that mothers who work full-time tend to work fewer hours than their partners (with exceptions, of course). A lot of them do this so they can do more child care. The odd time, the father is the one who works fewer hours and does more child care. But usually it’s Mom.

This matters. It’s not fair to compare dads and moms on child care without taking into account the time they spend on paid work. I’m not saying it explains everything about gender inequity on the home front. But it’s part of the picture.  At least, I can’t see how we’re going to achieve gender equity on the home front until we see it on the paid work front. So let’s talk about it… at least, once in awhile.

If you’re interested in the nerdy details about the Dad and Mom “work day” you can read more on the FIRA site.

Click here to read the Center for Work and Families’ report on The New Dad.



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