Fathers are doing less at home again for fear of career failure

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    (Bloomberg) – When the pandemic upset everything, it pushed fathers into the house like never before. It was a moment that looked like it might bring some relief to working mothers. Fathers had the flexibility – and the desire – to take on more responsibility. Then the world stood in the way.

    In 2020, when Lindsey Jackson and her husband Clarence were both working from home, they almost evenly shared housework and childcare for their two-year-old son. But now that Clarence, a financial advisor at JPMorgan Chase & Co., goes back to the office and Lindsey doesn’t, things are changing that mean Lindsey is taking on more. She is so busy that she has to cook and bathe her son at the same time.

    “She just has a lot more responsibility to take care of him,” Clarence said.

    The pandemic has exacerbated some gender inequalities in American homes over time. Both mothers and fathers spent more time looking after their children when schools went virtual and day care centers closed. But the mothers bore the brunt of the burden. In 2020, women devoted 2.9 hours more per day than men to childcare, compared to 2.55 in 2019, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The disproportionate burden on mothers eats up their earnings.

    “We are returning to our traditional gender norms,” ​​said Misty Heggeness, chief economist at the US Census Bureau. “It is women, especially mothers, who still bear the burden disproportionately.”

    A childcare crisis has created a gender gap in the workforce for decades, but the pandemic has taken things to another level and cost women worldwide at least $ 800 billion in lost income in 2020, according to Oxfam. In the United States, about 20% of the 7.1 million women aged 25 to 54 who left the workforce at the start of the Covid recession are inactive again as mothers struggle to find affordable care. Meanwhile, industries that employ many women – education, health care, and food – are seeing some of the worst effects of the current labor shortage.

    The twist here is that many fathers who got pushed in were more willing to take on additional responsibilities, which could go a long way in closing the gender pay gap.

    When Clarence started working remotely, the Jackson family “made the housework more obvious” and brought the couple closer to a 50-50 split, Lindsey said.

    “It makes the work you do more visible – both in work you are paid to do and in the work you do outside of it,” said Lindsey. “It makes it harder to justify not being the same.”

    When the world opened up again, fathers ran into bigger problems than their own willingness to intervene.

    Researchers who looked at the role of parents during the pandemic say men are far more likely than women to fear that their careers would be hit hard if they devoted more time to homework. They felt more pressured to get by with what they could rather than openly expressing their needs to employers.

    Many workplaces encourage these ideas by, for example, offering new mothers more parental leave or making it easier for them to negotiate flexible schedules. Since women often work in lower-paying positions, they are also more likely to leave their jobs to take care of childcare when there is no other affordable option.

    Democrats in Congress have argued over adding paid family vacation to their economic agenda, cutting the Biden administration’s original proposal from 12 weeks to 4. The United States is one of only seven nations that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave.

    There are also cultural norms that come into play, including traditional notions of men as the “breadwinners” of the family, said Jamie Ladge, associate professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University who studies work and family integration. Unspoken regulations in the workplace prevent fathers from taking full advantage of the paternity leave offered. According to a survey by Volvo Car USA and The Harris poll, more than two-thirds of fathers say they felt the pressure to get back from vacation as soon as possible.

    In the early days of the pandemic, fathers and mothers were equally likely to be unemployed or on leave. But since March of this year, mothers have disproportionately stayed out of work, according to a study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

    And the mothers who have managed to stay employed feel less ready to return to the office. According to a survey conducted by CensusWide on behalf of LinkedIn, nearly 40% of working fathers are back at work after their absence, compared with 30% of mothers.

    However, some fathers are fighting back.

    Nineteen percent of working fathers have been looking for a new job that they may be away from, and 10 percent have quit or are considering quitting, according to the CensusWide survey.

    With U.S. employers struggling to recruit new employees in recent months and vacancies near the record high of 11 million, this could increase workers’ bargaining power. Additionally, flexible and remote working are much less stigmatized in a number of industries, which could ease the demand for these agreements.

    “The mindset used to be: It’s okay for fathers to use some of these supports – but don’t go too far,” said Ladge. “But now I think it wouldn’t look weird if a dad wants flexible work arrangements or works from home a day or two a week. It would be normal. “

    Mark Eggleston lives in Wilmington, Delaware and spent 17 years in Philadelphia on a job that required an hour’s drive each way. When he started working from home in 2020, he was able to do more things like sporting events and appointments for the first time with his three children, who are 20, 16 and 14 years old.

    “Suddenly, a lunch break could become an opportunity to sit down with my daughter and have a good chat,” said Eggleston.

    So instead of commuting long distances again, he quit his job in June and took a new job that is closer to his place of residence and also allows him to organize his work more flexibly.

    “I had a 15-minute drive compared to an hour – I was supposed to go to my daughter’s field hockey game at 4 am on Monday, which I couldn’t have done in Philadelphia a few years ago,” said Eggleston. “The norms here are the greatest. To give yourself the freedom that this is something completely normal – that helps other people. “

    – With the support of Reade Pickert.

    To contact the authors of this story:
    Olivia Rockeman in New York at [email protected]
    Zijia Song in New York at [email protected]

    © 2021 Bloomberg LP

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