1Two years after the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, the gender gap in the total of weekly working hours, including paid and unpaid work, has been reduced due to the higher participation of men in non-paid work.
2After the pandemic, men spend on average 3 hours more a week on childcare, and women 3 hours less. Increased exposure to family responsibilities during lockdown and the promotion of more flexible working practices could be responsible for men’s greater involvement in domestic care tasks.
3In May 2022, some 30% of men and 33% of women with children aged under 17 years were working from home at least one day per week. Among workers without children, this figure stands at 26% for men and women alike. In both cases, they agree that the biggest benefit of working from home is that it facilities a better balance between family and working life.
4Working days seem to have been shortened. While men and women have recovered the level of hours dedicated to paid work of before the pandemic, the percentage of men who work after 5 p.m. has fallen by 9% (from 71% to 62% among those with children, and from 73% to 64% among those without) and that of women by 6% among those with children (from 61% to 55%) and by 9% among those without (from 73% to 64%).
5The results of this study suggest that reducing the importance of presence at the workplace and promoting working hours compatible with family responsibilities could favour gender equality both inside and outside the home.
The effects of the pandemic on gender inequality in the long term could differ from those observed in the short term
Various authors alerted to the fact that the measures adopted to contain the expansion of covid-19 could cause a setback in terms of gender equality (Alon et al. 2020a, Farré et al. 2021). In the labour market, the jobs most affected by said measures were those with the highest rates of female employment such as catering, tourism, small businesses and personal services. In the home, the closure of schools and the impossibility of outsourcing domestic services represented an unprecedented increase in childcare and household chores, which were mostly assumed by women.
In a previous study, Farré and González (2021) showed that, in Spain, the measures adopted to curb the new virus led to a short-term increase in the gender gap in the total number of weekly working hours (including paid and unpaid). This increase was a consequence of women's increased hours dedicated to unpaid work, which was not offset by an equivalent reduction in their dedication to paid work. Thus, according to data collected at the end of 2020, the pandemic would have accentuated the double-burden phenomenon among working women.
In this study, we analyse the situation of gender inequality inside and outside the home (paid and unpaid work) two years after the outbreak of the virus. For this, we have a cross-sectional dataset with socioeconomic information for two representative samples of the Spanish population aged between 25 and 50 years old, collected in May 2020 (N=5,001) and May 2022 (N=4,000).
Analysis of the data indicates that, two years after the first lockdown, which began on 13 March 2020, the gender gap in total weekly working hours, including paid and unpaid, has narrowed. This reduction is mainly the result of men’s increased involvement in childcare. Greater exposure to family needs during lockdown and the introduction of more flexible working practices might have encouraged a more equal sharing of tasks within the household.
1. After two years of the pandemic, the gender gap in the number of hours worked per week, adding together both paid and unpaid, has narrowed due to men’s greater dedication to childcare
The outbreak of the pandemic represented important changes in work organisation both inside and outside the home, especially among families with dependent children. During the first lockdown declared on 13 March 2020, households found themselves forced to reconcile their work commitments with the growing demand for family responsibilities caused by the closure of schools and the impossibility of outsourcing domestic services.
Between March and May 2020, men reduced their dedication to paid work by 14 hours per week, from 37 hours to 23; and women by 11 hours, from 25 hours to 14. In terms of unpaid work, men increased their weekly hours by 10 hours, from 24 to 34; and women by 12 hours, up from 45 to 57 (figure 1). Women's increased dedication to unpaid work was not offset by an equivalent reduction in hours of paid work. Thus, men reduced their total number of working hours by 4, and women increased them by one. As a result, the gender differential in total working hours increased by 5, from 9 to 14 hours, i.e., during the first lockdown women worked on average 14 hours per week more than men.
Although the data show that during the first lockdown, women spent more hours than men on unpaid work (57 and 34 hours per week respectively), they also show a significant increase in the hours men dedicated to childcare (from 16 to 23 hours per week). Two years after the outbreak of the virus, it is observed that, despite the fact that men have reduced the hours they dedicate to unpaid work, they continue to devote more time to childcare than before the pandemic (3 hours more per week), although women still dedicate more time than men to this task. However, their involvement in childcare has been reduced by 3 hours per week compared to the period before the outbreak of the virus (from 33 to 30 hours per week).
In terms of paid work, both men and women alike have recovered a level similar to that prior to the pandemic. In May 2022, men dedicated 36 hours a week to paid work, one hour less than before 13 March 2020, and women 26 hours, one hour more.
As a result of these changes, the gender gap in total working hours, including paid and unpaid, has narrowed, from a differential of 9 hours per week before the pandemic (61 hours for men and 70 hours for women), to a differential of 5 hours two years later (64 hours for men and 69 hours for women). Thus, after the pandemic, men are working a total of 3 more hours, dedicating 36 hours a week to paid work and 28 to unpaid work, and women 1 hour less, dedicating 26 to paid work and 43 to unpaid work.
2. The greater participation of men in childcare during lockdown could contribute to a more equal distribution of family responsibilities in the long term
In May 2022, women continue being the main people responsible for domestic chores and care, dedicating to them on average some 62% of their day in comparison with the 43% dedicated by men. However, some changes are observed in the organisation of work inside and outside of the home that suggest a slightly more equal sharing out of family responsibilities.
The containment measures adopted during the first lockdown in spring 2020 may be partly responsible for changes in the behaviour of households. The first lockdown meant the closure of schools between March and September 2020, the promotion of working from home and the temporary loss of many jobs. According to data collected in the survey that we conducted in May 2020, households where only the woman worked from home increased from 5% to 12%; those where both partners worked from home increased from 5% to 33%, and those where only the man worked from home increased from 6% to 14%. Therefore, lockdown may have increased some men's exposure to family demands.
It has been argued that, for some men, lockdown could represent an experience similar to that of a prolonged paternity benefit (Alon et al. 2020b). Several studies have shown that paternity benefit increases men's participation in childcare, not only soon after the birth but also several years later (Farré & González 2019 analyse the Spanish case). One reason that could explain the change in men's behaviour is that paternity benefit increases exposure to childcare and encourages participation. Thus, the experience lived by some men during lockdown could also have implications for the long term.
During the first lockdown, both men and women spent more time caring for children. The hours dedicated increased from 16 to 23 hours per week among men and from 33 to 42 hours among women (figure 1). Although women still dedicated more hours than men, the increase in percentage terms was greater for men (44% and 27% respectively). This increased involvement of men in the childcare could have permanent effects. By May 2022, men and women had reduced the time they dedicated to care. However, men still spent 3 hours more per week and women 3 hours less than prior to the outbreak of the pandemic.
As for the allocation of the rest of the household tasks, figure 2 also shows a slightly more equal distribution. In relation to the pre-pandemic period, the differential in the percentage of women and men in charge of (most) household chores has reduced from 22% to 17%. Doing the laundry and household cleaning are the tasks in which the gender gap has decreased most significantly. Figure 2 also shows a greater participation of women in small repairs, which prior to the pandemic was mostly a task in the hands of men.
Therefore, one possibility is that men's greater exposure to family demands and needs, as a result of the virus containment measures, might have encouraged their more active participation in unpaid work, a participation that still continues two years later.
3. The implementation of flexible working practices such as working from home and shortening of the working day facilitate work-life balance
The pandemic containment measures also represented important changes in the organization of paid work. According to our data, collected in March 2020, before the first lockdown 13% of workers with dependent children in their charge worked from home more than half of the time. This percentage was the same among men and among women. During lockdown, this percentage rose to 50% among men and 59% among women.
Figure 3 shows more details on the incidence of working from home, two years after the outbreak of the virus, among workers with dependent children. By May 2022, 33% of women and 30% of men were working at least one day a week from home; and 14% of men and 17% of women were doing so most days of the week (three or more). The incidence of working from home is slightly lower among workers without children: 26% of both men and women work at least one day a week from home; and 15% of men and 16% of women do so most days of the week (three or more).
According to data collected in May 2022, the biggest benefit that workers perceive in working from home is a balance between personal and working life. Ninety per cent of women and 87% of men who work from home more than 10% of the time agree that this way of working facilitates this balance. Respondents also highlight other benefits associated with working from home, such as the reduction of monetary costs and of time spent commuting to the workplace, improved emotional wellbeing associated with a reduction in stress and increased satisfaction with working and personal life, greater work productivity, which means getting more work done in less time or improving the quality of work while dedicating the same time as from the workplace, and, finally, the possibility of having more free time.
The promotion of working from home is perhaps one of the most important changes experienced by the labour market as a result of the pandemic, and the possibility of working from home every day or several days a week has helped to encourage men's participation in unpaid work.
The data from May 2022 indicate that men and women dedicate a similar amount of time to paid work as before the pandemic (figure 1). However, figure 4 shows that the percentage working after 5 p.m. has fallen by 9% among men (from 71% to 62%) and by 6% among women (from 61% to 55%). Among workers without children, this reduction has been 9%, both among men and among women (from 73% to 64%). Therefore, it seems that working hours are now shorter and more compatible with family demands. This trend could also facilitate a better balance and promote a less unequal distribution of family responsibilities.
4. The adoption of flexible working practices by men and women could favour gender equality inside and outside the home
Two years after the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, we observe a slight tendency towards a more equal distribution of family responsibilities between men and women. The greater participation of men in childcare during lockdown and the implementation of more flexible working practices could be partly responsible for this more equal allocation.
Traditionally, women have been primarily responsible for domestic care tasks. The role of women as primary caregivers in the home is one of the obstacles to job promotion that women face. A more equal distribution of tasks within the household could contribute to greater gender convergence in the labour market.
For decades, various countries have adopted policies to encourage the participation of men in childcare, for example, paternity benefits. However, in countries where these policies have been more active for some time, the gender differentials, although smaller, continue to persist.
The widespread adoption of more flexible working practices such as working from home, shortening of the working day or greater discretion on the part of the worker in the setting of working hours could complement the effects of already existing public policies on gender equality. However, as has happened with other measures designed to facilitate work-life balance, including part-time work, there is a risk that it is mostly women who take advantage of this more flexible way of organising working life. In this case, flexible jobs could become a niche for women who find a balance at the expense of lower wages.
To ensure that work flexibility has a real impact on gender equality inside and outside the home, measures need to be taken to engage both men and women in these more flexible working practices. For example, establishing an equal number of days working from home for all employees would avoid the emergence of a gender differential in attendance. This measure should be accompanied by greater confidence in work done outside the office. Moreover, encouraging the shortening of the working day by reducing breaks at midday would be another alternative for facilitating work-life balance.
In many households, the pandemic and the measures adopted to contain it represented an unprecedented increase in family responsibilities. These were accompanied by the adopting of more flexible working practices, which favoured a better balance between personal and professional life. During the first lockdown of 2020, women took on a large part of the growing family responsibilities. However, men also increased their participation in unpaid work, especially in childcare. Two years after the outbreak of the virus, we document that both men and women have recovered their pre-pandemic levels of work activity. However, a greater participation of men in childcare and a slightly more equal distribution of domestic chores are observed.
In this report we argue that men's increased exposure to domestic tasks and care during lockdown, together with the introduction of more flexible working practices such as working from home and a shortened working day, might be partly responsible for the observed changes in household behaviour.
To maintain this tendency towards a more equal distribution of family responsibilities, it would seem advisable to promote changes in the organisation of working life. Measures that reduce the importance of attendance at the workplace and discourage long working days could help to make progress towards gender equality.
ALON, TITAN, et al. (2020a): The impact of covid-19 on gender equality, Working Paper 26947, National Bureau of Economic Research.
ALON, TITAN, et al. (2020b): This time it's different: The role of women's employment in a pandemic recession, Working Paper27660, National Bureau of Economic Research.
FARRÉ, LÍDIA, YARINE FAWAZ, LIBERTAD GONZÁLEZ and JENNIFER GRAVES (2021): «Gender Inequality in Paid and Unpaid Work During Covid-19», Review of Income and Wealth, 68(2).
FARRÉ, LÍDIA and LIBERTAD GONZÁLEZ. 2021. Trabajo remunerado y no remunerado: la pandemia acentúa el fenómeno de la doble jornada entre las mujeres. Observatorio Social de la Fundación ”la Caixa”.
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