Dads spend an hour more each day on housework and childcare than they did in 1980
These are pretty big changes, says one of the researchers behind a new analysis of Norwegians' time use.
Today's mothers do less housework than mothers did 40 years ago.
But some differences remain. Women still do more housework than men and they take care of the children more.
But these differences have been shrinking.
Now a new analysis shows that men spent 55 minutes more per day on family work in 2010 than they did in 1980.
“This is a fairly significant change,” says Ragni Hege Kitterød, one of the researchers behind the new analysis published in the most recent issue of Tidsskrift for samfunnsforskning (Journal of Social Research).
Difference between care work and housework
Researchers Kitterød and Anne Lise Ellingsæter distinguish between housework and care work. There are differences here.
Whereas housework involves everything from cooking and washing dishes to tidying up and doing laundry, care work is the active care of children, like bathing and dressing, babysitting and play.
In addition, other aspects of home duties include upkeep, the care of the garden and pets, renovation, repairs and maintenance, and the purchase of goods, doctor appointments, visits to other public offices and the like.
All this is part of what the researchers call family work.
More time with children than doing housework
In the past, fathers have spent more time caring for their children than they have on housework. In 1990, for example, they spent 55 minutes on care work, but only 44 minutes on housework.
In 2010, fathers actually spent more time on housework – a full 64 minutes, while 59 minutes were allotted for care work.
“We think it’s interesting that men are doing both more housework and more care work. There’s been a perception that men find housework very boring, and that it’s therefore been more difficult to get them to do it,” Kitterød says.
Internationally, Norwegian fathers stand out.
According to this study from 2019, the fewest differences in family work between the sexes exist in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, respectively.
Still not the same
However, the researchers call this “an unfinished revolution”. This is because the time women spend at work has changed more than the time men spend on unpaid housework and caring for their children.
In other words, things aren’t balanced yet, with women still spending more time on housework and care work than men in 2010.
The figures show that women did more than five hours of family work a day, while men did three and a half.
Patriarchy’s last bulwark
All the inequalities between the sexes today can largely be explained by the fact that women do more of the work at home, according to law professor Hege Brækhus.
This was her take when she turned 70 and was asked to summarize gender equality's biggest problem today.
“I call the family ‘patriarchy's last bulwark.’ We’ve come a long way with gender equality in Norway since I started researching it in the 1970s. But what prevents women from gaining as strong a position in society as men is that they still do the bulk of the care work in the family,” she said.
But the unfinished revolution has matured in Norway, say the article’s researchers.
“Housework and care work have become part of most fathers' daily lives,” says Kitterød.
Time use over last three decades
Kitterød has done a lot of research on family life and time use. She was previously employed by Statistics Norway and has worked on the planning and analysis of time-use surveys.
These are surveys that map how much time people spend on different activities, including income-generating work, housework, volunteer work and leisure activities. They also tell us something about our daily rhythms and social patterns.
The survey is periodically conducted among a representative sample of the Norwegian population, and everyone who takes part completes a journal for two days.
Kitterød and Ellingsæter have now compared the figures for housework from the four surveys covering the three decades from 1980 to 2010.
A new time-use survey covering the last decade will likely be carried out in the next two to three years.
Higher education level factors in
The researchers wanted to find out if education was an influential factor in the time men spend on family work. Although they saw an increase in family work among all fathers, regardless of education, some differences did emerge.
“Fathers with a high level of education stand out as doing the most family work and having the fastest rate of change,” says Kitterød. This pattern was especially evident in the 2000s.
Men having an extended university education spent the most time at home, those with a high school education the least, and those with briefer university stints were somewhere in between.
Men whose education was limited to primary school spent 52 minutes on housework and 24 minutes on care work per day, while those with the most university education (over five years) spent 81 minutes on housework and 93 minutes on care work per day.
“A particularly interesting question is whether we’ll now be able to observe the new normal for equal parenting among fathers with less than the highest education levels,” Kitterød says.
Daddy quota versus cash benefit
In the newly published study, the researchers discuss what they see as the most important explanations for fathers doing more work at home than before.
They cite expectations, norms and gender equality measures as the key factors.
“We think small changes happen over time, but don’t necessarily go at the same pace and direction all the time,” says Kitterød.
This happened quite a lot in the 2000s. That was when Norway’s “daddy quota” – paternity leave – was extended, which meant that more fathers were taking responsibility at home alone for a period of time while the children were young. The daddy quota sent strong signals that men are also responsible for the care of their children.
“So there was a strong expectation that mothers and fathers should both be involved parents,” says Kitterød.
The debate about cash benefits happened in the 1990s, which perhaps sent slightly different signals, according to Kitterød.
“When we looked at the figures from 2010, we were excited about what had happened to the fathers in the 2000s because this was also a period when many more children attended kindergarten. It was conceivable that we wouldn’t see fathers taking on any more housework or care work, and that mothers would remain at the same level,” says Kitterød.
“But in that decade we actually saw a very strong increase in the time fathers spent at home.”
Now in 2021, “what we may see is that the increase in men doing family work has spread to most groups of fathers, regardless of their age and education level,” Kitterød says.
Translated by: Ingrid P. Nuse
Anne Lise Ellingsæter and Ragni Hege Kitterød, Den «uferdige revolusjonen»: Hva betyr utdanning for fedres familiearbeid? (The "unfinished revolution": What is the impact of education on fathers' family work?) Tidsskrift for samfunnsforskning (Journal of Social Research). February 2021. Abstract.
Read the Norwegian version of this article on forskning.no