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Covid-19 has ‘exacerbated gender inequities in housework and childcare’

Covid-19 has ‘exacerbated gender inequities’ in housework, childcare and mental health for women, according to a new study.  

University College London (UCL) experts surveyed 12,278 men and 17,298 women in the UK in April and May last year during the first lockdown. 

On average, women did nearly twice the amount of housework and childcare as men over the two months. 

Men did on average 43.1 hours of housework and childcare combined per week, while women did 72.8 hours combined – around 1.7 times as much. 

Women who spent long hours on housework and childcare were more likely to report increased levels of psychological distress. 

Mothers were more likely than fathers to reduce their working hours or change employment schedules to care for children, the researchers also found.  

During the height of the first Covid-19 lockdown in the UK, women spent more time on unpaid housework and childcare than men, were more likely to reduce working hours, and reported higher levels of psychological distress (file image) 

HOW MUCH HOUSEWORK DID MEN AND WOMEN DO? 

The following stats are average hours of unpaid work per week.

Men and women surveyed for April and May 2020 are included. 

Women

– Housework: 29.79

(14.92 in April and 14.87 in May) 

– Homeschooling/childcare: 43.01

(20.54 in April and 22.47 in May) 

Total: 72.8

Men

– Housework: 19.46

(9.91 in April and 9.55 in May)

– Homeschooling/childcare: 23.64

(12.03 in April and 11.61 in May) 

Total: 43.1  

‘There are continued gender inequalities in divisions of unpaid care work,’ say the study authors Baowen Xue and Anne McMunn, both from UCL, in their paper.

‘Juggling home working with homeschooling and childcare as well as extra housework is likely to lead to poor mental health for people with families, particularly for lone mothers.

‘School closures and homeworking during the Covid-19 crisis have resulted in an immediate increase in unpaid care work, which draws new attention to gender inequality in divisions of unpaid care work.’  

The researchers used data from Understanding Society – a long-running longitudinal survey that looks into household behaviours in the UK.  

A total of 15,426 respondents completed the survey in April and 14,150 completed the survey in May. 

Data showed women spent about 15 hours a week doing housework while men spent less than 10 hours per week on housework. 

The women who were surveyed for April spent 14.92 hours on average on housework a week, while the women who were surveyed for May spent 14.87 hours on average on housework.  

Women spent 20.54 hours a week on childcare and homeschooling in April, and 22.47 hours per week in May, while men spent 12.03 hours a week on childcare and homeschooling in April and 11.61 in May.  

Overall, within couples, women were responsible for 64 per cent of housework and 63 per cent of childcare.

In addition, working fathers were five per cent less likely to reduce working hours and 7 per cent less likely to change their work patterns due to childcare or homeschooling compared to working mothers.

With regards to mental health, the study found that increased housework and childcare/homeschooling hours were associated with higher levels of psychological distress among women in April.

No significant association was found among men and the association was weaker in May. 

Levels of psychological distress were also particularly high if a parent was the only member in the household who adapted work patterns, as well as among lone mothers who had to adapt their work patterns. 

One limitation of the study was the uneven gender split in terms of survey respondents – 12,278 men were surveyed in all (6,419 in April and 5,859 in May), while 17,298 women were surveyed (9,007 in April and 8,291 in May). 

Data showed women spent about 15 hours a week doing housework while men spent less than 10 hours per week on housework (stock image)

Data showed women spent about 15 hours a week doing housework while men spent less than 10 hours per week on housework (stock image)

But the authors conclude that the pandemic has put a strain on parents, especially lone mothers, and influenced their mental health. 

Awareness of continued gender biases is important for both couples and employers going forward, the authors say in their study, published in the journal PLOS ONE.    

During the pandemic, studies have already found that gender inequality is widening when it comes to running the home. 

In October, women’s rights organisation Lean In found a quarter of women are considering giving up work due to stress and another quarter are worried about their performance at work being judged because of their need to look after their child. 

Another UK report in May 2020 found mothers are nearly 50 per cent more likely to have lost jobs due to Covid crisis than fathers. 

YOUNG WOMEN MORE LIKELY TO SUFFER DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY IN LOCKDOWN: STUDY 

Young women are most likely to suffer from lockdown-induced depression, anxiety and loneliness, according to new research.

Researchers at University College London carried out a survey of 18,000 people in May, three months into lockdown.

They found poor mental health was most common in the youngest group – 19 year olds. Just over one third of women and just under one quarter of men had symptoms of depression.

But 30-year-old women have had the biggest increase in mental health problems compared with five years previously.

One in five 30-year-old women showed signs of depression, double that recorded in the oldest women in the survey.  

The UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) looked the impact of the pandemic on four generations – people born in 1958 (aged 62), 1970 (aged 50), 1989-90 (aged 30), and 2000-02 (aged 19).

Participants were part of four different surveys which had interviewed them since childhood. 

Women were more likely than men to suffer mental health problems during lockdown in each age category, the research showed.

Poor mental health in lockdown was most common among the 19-year-olds surveyed.  

Among 19-year-olds, just over one third of women and just under one quarter of men had symptoms of depression during lockdown in May.

45 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men had felt lonely during this time. 

Following teenagers were 30-year-old millennials – one in five women showed signed of depression compared with 14 per cent of the men.

And loneliness was also widespread among 30 year-olds, affecting one third of women and a quarter of men.

Just seven per cent of 62-year-old men and 10 per cent of 62-year-old women said they felt depressed.

The researchers analysed the lockdown survey alongside a similar one done by the same participants five years ago.

Women of 30 years old saw the sharpest decline in mental health over this period of time.

Researchers found a ‘significant increase’ in levels of poor mental health during lockdown compared to when this group was last surveyed, at age 25.

This was only compared to those aged 50 and 62, because the 19 year-olds were not surveyed at the age of 14.

The study’s co-author, Professor Emla Fitzsimons, said the change in mental health among 30 years olds could naturally occur and not be a result of Covid-19.

She said: ‘This change in mental health between age 25 and 30 will reflect change that may naturally occur at this stage of life, as well as change attributable to the pandemic.

‘However this finding chimes with other studies which have also shown that young women have experienced the largest increase in mental health problems due to COVID-19.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk