Caregiving dads, breadwinning mums: Transforming gender in work and childcare

Authors: Gaunt, R., Jordan, A., Tarrant, A., Chanamuto, N., Pino, M. and Wezyk, A.

Publisher: Nuffield Foundation/University of Lincoln


This mixed-methods study compared couples in which childcare responsibilities are shared equally, or assumed primarily by the father, with more traditional arrangements. Combining 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 want to spend time with their children and be closely involved in their lives. However, most couples feel forced to identify a main carer with reduced involvement in paid work, and a main breadwinner with reduced involvement in childcare. Considerations that led couples to reverse roles seem to mirror those taken by traditional couples: they were often motivated by the mothers’ greater attachment to work and higher earnings, combined with a desire to avoid or limit the use of formal childcare provision and the fathers’ desire to spend more time with their children. Equal sharing was typically motivated by couples’ egalitarian gender ideologies and an expectation of a 50/50 split of family responsibilities. 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 tended more than other parents to perceive their arrangement as resulting from their conscious choice and were the least likely to want it to change. In contrast, mothers in traditional arrangements reported significantly lower wellbeing and relationship quality, while both men and women who were the main breadwinners tended more than others to feel they had been forced into their role. The study recommends to introduce equal parenting leave entitlement, including non-transferable ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ parenting leave for fathers, and high quality affordable childcare provision to enable both parents to return to work after leave. As parents would also like to see the normalisation of part-time and flexible working, the research recommends government policies supporting shorter and more flexible work hours for both fathers and mothers.

Source: Manual