More Men Are Doing Housework and Caregiving Amid This Pandemic

Supermajority Education Fund

April 16, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to leave schools and workplaces across the country closed, many men have found themselves doing more child-rearing and chores than they had before. In fact, a new research paper published by Northwestern University finds that while mothers will still most likely be responsible for most child care responsibilities during the pandemic in the short term, as fathers remain home with their children in the weeks and months to come, their relationship with caretaking will also evolve.

“Many businesses are now becoming much more aware of the childcare needs of their employees and respond by rapidly adopting more flexible work schedules and telecommuting options,” the researchers write. “Through learning by doing and changing norms, some of these changes are likely to prove persistent.”

Haley Swenson, the deputy director of the think tank New America’s Better Life Lab, agrees. Before the current pandemic, “some of the biggest barriers many men said were preventing them from being better caregivers were associated with work,” Swenson told Supermajority News. Because many male employees felt as if their employers viewed benefits like paid family leave as policies that were geared towards working women, they feared retaliation if they took advantage of them.

Swenson has anecdotally heard that those stigmas against caregiving have been breaking down as men restructure their lives to meet their children’s needs during the pandemic. “There are families in which men are stepping up in new ways and are realizing what it takes to run a household,” she noted. “But if there is not an adequate policy response, this is going to destroy any sort of gender progress that we might have made.”

Better paid family leave policies and increased access to child care, along with income support for families struggling with sudden job loss, are necessary for Americans to work towards gender equity, according to Swenson. “During the great recession, the recovery was more about getting men back at work,” she said. As lawmakers prepare to rebuild the economy for a post-coronavirus world, she added, more resources should be devoted to helping women thrive economically.

“This is the time to invest in caregiving,” Swenson said, adding that programs geared towards child care and elder care would both ease national worker shortages and help families manage their unpaid care responsibilities. “These are the kinds of stimuli that would get women back into jobs.”

But for such proposals to be implemented, Swenson stresses that both men and major companies have to be willing to advocate for gender-neutral caregiving policies for all workers. “We need the federal government to act,” she said of the road to economic recovery. “But we also need to reform the way our workplaces work.”