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Does Covid-19 make domestic gender roles more equal?

New study on the gender-specific distribution of roles during the pandemic

two hands wringing out a cleaning rag above a bucket

Life changes such as marriage, parenthood, the change to a full-time job or retirement are often accompanied by an adjustment of the domestic division of labour. The influence of the Corona pandemic on the cohabitation of couples and families also seems comparable to such life changes: The pandemic has greatly changed private life in many respects. Due to the lockdown and home office regulations, the hours spent together within one's own four walls have increased considerably. Greater tome spent at home and the elimination of daily canteen meals creates more disarray and work at home. Does this have an effect on the division of duties at home for couples? Does the new togetherness even lead to a resurgence of old role patterns in the division of housework?

The Wiso researchers Ansgar Hudde, Karsten Hank and Marita Jacob from the Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Cologne (ISS) know the answers. In a recent study, they investigated whether attitudes towards gender-specific role allocation can predict how couples divide up the extra housework caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For their study, Ansgar Hudde, Karsten Hank and Marita Jacob drew on data from a long-term British study. In which four survey waves were introduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For these, 6,438 people (3,219 opposite-sex couples) were interviewed repeatedly in April, May, June and September. The University of Essex survey specifically measured the hours per week couples spent on housework and their attitudes towards gendered roles.

Overall, the results countered concerns about a "patriarchal pandemic" that would force women back into rigid gender roles, the researchers said. On the other hand, they found that couples in Great Britain clearly renegotiate the division of housework in unforeseen crises situations.

In the evaluation, the WiSo researchers found that men and women, regardless of their attitudes, spent about 2,5 to 3 hours more per week on housework during the first Corona Lockdown. Thus, there is no effect of gender role attitudes; rather, couples seem to have reacted very pragmatically. This even increase in the different groups now means that "[...] the pandemic appears to have contributed, relatively speaking, to at least a temporary, modest increase in gender equality in housework," according to the study.  The shares for traditionally set couples are then 8,5 hours, instead of 6 hours previously for the man, and 16.5 hours instead of 14 hours previously for the woman. In relative terms, the share of housework done by less egalitarian men rises from 30% to 34%.

At the same time, Ansgar Hudde, Karsten Hank and Marita Jacob show that women generally do significantly more housework than men; women with less egalitarian attitudes almost twice as much as men with the same attitude. The basic assumption that women do more and men less for the household is therefore true, and in this respect the pandemic did not lead to repatriachalisation, but at the same time did not contribute, or contributed very little, to a more egalitarian household management.