It’s no secret that women do a lot more unpaid work than men, and that to get to any semblance of gender equality men need to do more.
A new report quantifies how much more: 50 minutes a day. According to the most recent reliable data (2012), women spent four hours and eight minutes per day doing unpaid care work (defined as “general household tasks such as laundry and cleaning, as well as direct care for household members, including children, older adults, people with disabilities, people with special needs, and others”). Men clocked in at two hours and 27 minutes per day. That leaves a gap of one hour and 42 minutes.
So, if men gave 50 minutes of their time, and women took back 50 of theirs, the world we be a lot closer to equal, says State of the World’s Fathers: Unlocking the Power of Men’s Care, a report published by Promundo and Unilever Dove Men+Care.
“We are not merely calling on fathers to make small gestures toward this equality, and this is not about celebrating a few things that men should already be doing,” the report says. “We are after full equality, full stop. We must also change the world around individuals to believe that care matters, that it must be equal, and that it is as important as anything else we do.”
The report notes that progress has been alarmingly slow. In 23 middle- and high-income countries, the unpaid care gap between men and women has narrowed by just seven minutes a day over a 15-year time span. Just under half of the world’s countries offer paternity leave, and among those that do, very few men take it. “The big take away is how little progress we have made on nudging men to do the care work,” said Gary Barker, CEO and founder of Promundo. “Could we hurry up already?”
New research conducted for the report in seven countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US) found that 85% of fathers say they would do anything to be involved in the early days of their children. So why don’t they? Three major reasons:
- Lack of adequate, paid paternity leave, and low take-up of leave when it is available (in Argentina, where paternity leave is 1-2 days, only 29% took it).
- Restrictive gender norms that position care as women’s responsibility, in addition to the notion that women are more competent caregivers (in Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, and the UK, nearly twice as many fathers say they “rely on [their] spouse for knowledge and information on parenting” as mothers say the same).
- A lack of economic security and government support for parents and caregivers.
The study lists a broad range of benefits that come from men being more involved in children’s lives: it is good for women’s health (both physical and mental); it is good for children; it leads to better relationships; and it can be linked with a reduction in rates of men’s violence against women. “Girls are more empowered, and boys are more likely to believe in gender equality and to share the unpaid work if they saw their fathers do the same,” the report says.
A recent working paper by two Stanford academics examined whether workplace flexibility for fathers in Sweden improved maternal mental health. They found that a change in law which allowed men to take more leave with their partners, rather than alternating with them, reduced the likelihood of a mother having inpatient or specialist outpatient care for childbirth-related complications by 14%, of needing medication postpartum by 11%, and also of needing anti-anxiety medication postpartum.
By helping to navigate medical issues and mitigate maternal loneliness and stress, letting fathers take leave “intermittently and jointly with the mother” appears an important factor in postpartum recovery, the academics wrote.
“Far too few men are fully embodying equality at home, at work, and across society,” says the State of the World’s Fathers report. “To achieve the kinds of changes that lead to gender equality, men must step up and the world around them must change so that care work is shared 50/50 between men and women.”