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How to get men to do more chores as women again carry household burden

The census has again revealed women are doing more of the unpaid household duties than men but habits may be starting to change for the better.

Last year close to a quarter of men reported doing less than five hours of household chores throughout the week, compared to 15 per cent of women.

Just 12 per cent of men did over 15 hours of housework a week compared to almost 30 per cent of women – including 13 per cent of women and four per cent of men who spent over 30 hours a week on unpaid domestic duties.

It’s a familiar story which has been replayed since the census started collecting data about domestic workload in 2006.

However, with changing habits during the pandemic and the increased willingness of younger men to chip in, things are starting to change.

Professor of sociology and founding director of The University of Melbourne’s Future of Work Lab, Leah Ruppanner, said men needed to be supported by better policies to make it easier for them to take on caregiver roles without fear of losing out at work.

The census has again revealed women are doing more of the unpaid household duties than men. Image: ABS
Camera IconThe census has again revealed women are doing more of the unpaid household duties than men. Image: ABS Credit: Supplied

“Men have increased their housework and childcare contributions over time and younger men want to be more present, active and attentive in the home,” Professor Ruppanner said.

Research has shown men did step up during the pandemic, when demand on domestic childcare, homeschooling and housework duties increased.

However, women also increased their household workload to stay on top.

“So, while men should be applauded for doing more during the unique strains of the pandemic, we show mothers were the true heroes of the pandemic, stepping into added labour at the expense of their health and wellbeing,” Professor Ruppanner wrote in the Conversation.

Even when women are employed full-time and earn more money, they are still generally called upon to do the bulk of the chores.

“We have documented these trends for decades – enough. Now it is time for action,” Professor Ruppanner said.

Helping out with household chores
Camera IconBetter workplace practices to allow men to step into caregiver roles could help shift the balance. iStock Credit: istock

One of the aims of the Future of Work Lab is to make household duties more equitable and the group is calling for systemic change to achieve it.

According to Professor Ruppanner, one of the greatest household demands is the role of caregiver, which in many cases falls to women.

Three initiatives to help ease the burden she says are universal are free high-quality childcare, paid caregiver leave, and/or better and longer term cash payments for caregivers.

Another key change would be policies allowing men to step into caregiving roles without fear of retribution or penalty at work.

Just one in 20 Australian fathers takes paid parental leave following childbirth and on average Australians work more annual hours than those in Canada and the United Kingdom.

“The Australian workplace must become more supportive of men’s right to care,” Professor Ruppanner said.

“The pandemic created the space for many men to step into larger caregiving roles with great pleasure and showed workplaces that flexible work is feasible.”

Professor Ruppanner noted research showed the chore divide in same-sex relationships was generally more equal, although some suggest this may become more one sided once children are involved.

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