Utrecht University: Childcare during the COVID pandemic: role of Dutch fathers declining again

The COVID-19 pandemic initially appeared to be an opportunity for increased gender equality in the Netherlands. In the first months of the pandemic, fathers indicated they were becoming more involved in caring for their children. Social scientist Mara Yerkes external linksays, ‘During the lockdown in April 2020, 22% of fathers said they were caring more for their children compared to the situation before the pandemic.’ By June 2020, this percentage had even risen to 31%. However, the COGIS-NL survey, investigating gender equality during the pandemic and conducted by Utrecht University, the University of Amsterdam and Radboud University, indicates that this increase has not continued. On the contrary. Yerkes continues, ‘The percentage of fathers reporting that they were caring more for their children now than before the COVID-19 pandemic has fallen. In September, the figure had already dropped to April levels (23%). In November, the percentage fell even further to 18%.”

We even observe that parents’ situation in November more closely resembled pre-coronavirus times.
COGIS-NL, the Covid19 Gender (In)equality Survey Netherlands, comprises an interdisciplinary team of researchers studying the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender differences in paid work, housework, care and wellbeing since April 2020. In their study, the researchers also differentiate between parents with children under 18 living at home (with at least one working parent) and men and women in families without minor children living at home. A total of 1,097 respondents in 901 households participated in the most recently published results external linkfrom November 2020. Dr. Mara Yerkes (Utrecht University), who leads the study, notes that the promise of increasing gender equality, seen at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, started to falter just prior to the second, stricter lockdown implemented in December 2020. ‘We even observe that parents’ situation in November more closely resembled pre-coronavirus times.’

Inequality in childcare
The researchers initially saw a slight decline of gender inequality in childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Yerkes, ‘Before and during the first lockdown in April, around one third of parents said they divided childcare equally or almost equally. In June and September, this group was slightly larger (around 40%).’ But in November, the percentage of parents reporting an equal division of care fell to 33%. ‘In families where caring for children is not equally divided (67%), it’s still mostly mothers who provide more care than fathers.’

Inequality in household tasks
Similar to childcare, household tasks are not divided equally between mothers and fathers. Yerkes states, ‘In November, almost two-thirds of parents (66%) said household tasks were unequally divided. In these families, mothers stated much more frequently than fathers that they did more housework.’ Despite this inequality, parents remain reasonably satisfied with the division of household tasks. ‘In our most recent November measurement, fathers scored the division of housework a 7.5 on a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high). This means fathers are more satisfied with the situation than mothers, who scored the division of household tasks a 6.9.’ These figures are a slight improvement from June, when fathers and mothers scored the division of household tasks at 7.3 and 6.8 respectively.

A large decrease in leisure time compared to the period before the COVID-19 pandemic remains.
Leisure time during the COVID-19 pandemic
Parents have reported a decrease in their leisure time during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent measurement in November points to a slight improvement, for both mothers and fathers. ‘In June, 50% of mothers reported they had less leisure time than before the pandemic. In November, this percentage fell to 33%.’ The situation improved for fathers as well: in June, 31% stated they had less leisure time, while this figure fell to 24% in November. Despite these improvements, a large decrease in leisure time compared to the period before the COVID-19 pandemic remains.

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