Parent working with child beside them.

The implications of COVID-19 on legislative attempts to encourage men’s caring role.

Charlotte Bendall, University of Birmingham 
Gemma Mitchell, University of East Anglia

COVID-19 has generated an unprecedented situation for parents, bringing new challenges and tension. Childcare has become a radically different endeavour, with parents being required to home-school and entertain their children. The pandemic has also laid bare the fallacy that the public sphere of work and the private sphere of the home are separate.

A result of the ‘lockdowns’ has been that, for many people, both paid and caring work have needed to be carried out in the same location. It is the first time this has happened on this scale since the Industrial Revolution. Even as the ‘lockdowns’ have eased, some of these developments have proved to be longstanding. Home-working seems likely to persist for many, as more flexible working becomes commonplace.

It is important to look at how these changes have affected the division of childcare between different-sex couples. Despite legislative attempts to encourage men to provide care, such as, most recently, ‘shared parental leave’, women have historically performed the majority of childcare. Statistical research suggests that this division of labour has continued, at least during the initial ‘lockdown’.

However, there has been a lack of the contextual detail needed to interpret those statistical findings. We need to examine, in greater depth, how the ‘lockdown’ periods have continued to impact men’s roles within the home. Understanding this impact will be relevant to future approaches to policy designed to encourage men’s caring roles, particularly around ‘shared parental leave’ and flexible working. This will ultimately support the longer-term goal of a more equal sharing of care work between parents.

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