Jeremy Davies from The Fatherhood Institute told us about the research his organisation has done into working dads’ experience of lockdown and what needs to change
The Fatherhood Institute is a think tank dedicated to supporting strong father-child relationships and advocating for involved fatherhood.
Dr Jeremy Davies is head of communications at The Fatherhood Institute and has worked on a number of the organisation’s research projects.
He told us about the work the Institute has done through lockdown and what the future for working dads might look like.
The work of the Fatherhood Institute has increased through lockdown. We’ve done our own research, studied the work of others and helped many dads to deal with the stresses of the last few months.
It became very clear early on that this would be an interesting thing to study, its impact on fathers – and, by extension, on children and mothers. The coronavirus lockdown has brought men back into the home on a scale we haven’t seen since the Industrial Revolution.
We set aside some of our ongoing projects to seize the opportunity to study an experience that was going on live. The result is a landmark survey of life for fathers in lockdown. We’ll be releasing the full results of that work next month.
We’ve had a big spike in enquiries from fathers who were stressed out. Many of these are fathers who’ve been separated from their children during lockdown. Most of the time there’s little we can do for such men, other than to try and provide reassurance that things will improve, and that there are things they can do to build and retain their relationships with their children.
We’ve also heard from expectant and new dads who’ve felt excluded by maternity services. We’re worried that services are being remodelled to exclude men. It’s understandable that labour suites had to adapt to the pandemic. But it’s possible that the pandemic has provided an excuse to alter services in a way that makes them easier to run but at the cost of excluding men. It’s vital that men are fully involved in their baby’s life where possible from the earliest stage. To find out more about what’s been happening, we’re running a survey for dads, mums and professionals about their experiences of maternity services under lockdown. Please contribute if you can here.
There have been a number of pieces of research looking at women’s experience of lockdown, most finding that the burden of childcare and domestic work has largely fallen on mothers. I’m certainly not suggesting that’s as it should be, but it’s hardly surprising. For years the burden of domestic work has disproportionately fallen on women while the burden of providing a household income has disproportionately fallen on men.
We went through the research into women’s experiences of lockdown and stripped out the data around men that was in there. We found that men have been doing 58% more childcare during lockdown – a massive increase – and one that represents a significant closing of the gender gap in provision of unpaid care. In lockdown, men have been doing two-thirds of the childcare women do, compared to 40% normally.
The main story everyone is telling is that women are doing more domestic work due to the lockdown. The pity is that people aren’t looking for or reporting on the closing gender gap. It’s as if men’s experience of lockdown hasn’t happened. We’re trying to rebalance that narrative.
Our study on fathers in lockdown (out next month) has found that men have been doing hugely more housework and childcare, spending much more time with their children and overall enjoying it. Fathers are very positive about the additional time they’ve had with their children; the ones who’ve had negative experiences are those separated fathers who’ve had limited or no access to their children for all this time.
For too long the narrative has been that men have to be dragged kicking and screaming to spend time with their families. Like we’re all on a ‘power trip’; evil patriarchs who want to be in the office all the time. Talk about changing the gender balance at home has an implicit or often overt tone that men are not interested in or are useless with their kids. It’s not true. Pre-Covid, men didn’t get enough opportunity to spend time with their children. Now they’ve had that time they want to reproduce it.
That’ll mean more flexible working, more working from home. We’ll have to see if the first thing fathers do when they get back to the office is make an appointment with their line manager or HR department to request a new way of working. But there’s no doubt many want to.
Fundamentally we need stronger rules around the availability of flexible working. Let’s not focus on men’s personal aspirations and put the onus on them, let’s focus on employers and the way they discriminate against men. If a man and a woman are presented with different options and freedoms around how they balance their work and family life I call that discrimination.
‘Flex for all’ ought to be the default. Jobs should be advertised as flexible for everyone, and where they are not the onus should be on the employer to explain why a job can’t be done flexibly.
The lockdown has been a huge natural experiment. Of course we’d rather it didn’t take a pandemic to get here but there have been positives.
A sizeable proportion of fathers have experienced working from home and spending more time with their children and liked it. And bear in mind that for many homeschooling was in the mix too. Take that added pressure away and they would likely have enjoyed it even more.
Of course it’s been hard for people too. Men who’ve been separated from their children. Families who’ve suffered one or both earners losing their jobs. And as the economy takes a downturn we are worried that the pandemic becomes a catch all excuse for not embracing change but for holding on to previous prejudices about working from home or the role of fathers. That’s the easy option. But the sensible option is to embrace change precisely because of the pandemic and the way it’s changed the way fathers live and the way fathers think.