Health

Coronavirus is sending British society back to the 1950s for many women'

UK society has ‘regressed to a 1950s way of living’ for many British women because the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened inequality and left women with more childcare, experts claim

  • University of Sussex researchers quizzed more than 2,000 parents for the study
  • 45% of mothers were responsible for majority of childcare during the outbreak
  • In comparison, the rate was just 27% before lockdown was imposed on March 23 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

British society has ‘regressed to a 1950s way of living’ for many women because of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have warned.

University of Sussex researchers – who quizzed more than 2,000 parents – fear the effects will have ‘serious consequences’ in the future.

Their data showed 45 per cent of mothers were responsible for the lion’s share of childcare during the outbreak – up from 27 per cent before Covid-19. 

And they found almost three quarters of mothers considered themselves as being the ‘default’ parent since lockdown was imposed on March 23.  

University of Sussex researchers - who quizzed more than 2,000 parents - fear the effects will have'serious consequences' in the future. Their data showed 45 per cent of mothers were responsible for the lion's share of childcare during the outbreak - up from 27 per cent before Covid-19

University of Sussex researchers – who quizzed more than 2,000 parents – fear the effects will have ‘serious consequences’ in the future. Their data showed 45 per cent of mothers were responsible for the lion’s share of childcare during the outbreak – up from 27 per cent before Covid-19

Ali Lacey, one of the researchers, said mothers are responsible for most childcare and domestic labour – even when they are working.

She said: ‘Society has regressed to a 1950s way of living, which will have serious consequences.

‘We hear about women waking at 5am, working until 9am, then taking on childcare and home learning and doing more work in the evening.’

And Ms Lacey warned the gender pay gap – the fact women get paid less than men for the same role – is ‘widening even further’.

WHAT DID THE STUDY FIND? 

  • 72% of mothers have been the ‘default’ parent during lockdown – the parent who tends to meet children’s needs when they arise, prioritising childcare over other things;
  • 67% of mothers who work also said they have been the default parent – despite having a job; 
  • 73% of mothers who worked during the pandemic revealed carrying out their job from home was difficult or very difficult;
  • 70% reported being completely or mostly responsible for supporting children with home-learning, a task associated with considerable time cost;
  • 48% of female respondents with a male partner reported that his access to time, space, and equipment to work had been prioritised over her own;
  • 34% of mothers who felt both partners’ work had been balanced equally and 17% of mothers who felt their own work had been prioritised;
  • Pre-Covid-19, 27% of female respondents reported being responsible for ‘90-100% of childcare’; 
  • After lockdown started, 45% of women reported being responsible for ‘90-100% of childcare’.

Women are more likely to be left providing the childcare because men tend to earn more and their jobs have more often taken priority, she told The Guardian.

Ms Lacey, a doctoral researcher, said: ‘We recognise many dads have stepped up and undertaken more childcare over this period.

‘But … women are still overwhelmingly taking on role of primary carer and primary educator.

‘Furlough hasn’t been an option for everyone. Many women have been left high and dry. Some have muddled through a full-time job while juggling childcare. 

‘Those who have been furloughed fear they will be first in the firing line when it comes to redundancies.’

And Ms Lacey added: ‘Meanwhile women are participating less so they are less likely to be promoted.’

More than 2,300 participants with at least one child enrolled in primary school took part in the research, which began in March.

The preliminary findings have yet to be published in a journal and were released by the university. 

Other findings included that 72 per cent of mothers said they had been the ‘default’ parent during lockdown.

But the figure was almost as high for mothers who work, with two thirds (67 per cent) saying they had been the default parent. 

Seventy per cent of women also reported being completely or mostly responsible for supporting children with home-learning.

And almost half (48 per cent) said that their male partner’s access to time, space and equipment to work had been prioritised over their own.

Only a third (34 per cent) of mothers said the work had been balanced equally in the relationship. 

Dr Kathryn Lester, study co-author, added the coronavirus pandemic ‘threatens to set back progress for women’. 

She said: ‘Under normal circumstances women still often carry more of the burden for childcare and domestic tasks.

‘But this study raises concerns that the coronavirus pandemic could broaden the gender gap and exacerbate existing social and gender inequalities.’ 



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