Between women and men in the EU, there’s a greater balance of childcare. But there isn’t when it comes to the type of task according to EIGE’s latest evidence.
The distribution of unpaid childcare between women and men is moving in the right direction.
EIGE’s evidence from a 2022 survey on gender gaps in unpaid care, individual and social activities shows that 91% of women and 86% of men provide informal childcare to their own children below 25, at least four times a week.
But the picture doesn’t start and stop there. A big gender disparity emerges when it comes to the type of childcare activity undertaken.
Who does what?
EIGE’s evidence from the survey (more results will be in the Gender Equality Index 2023) finds that more intensive childcare for smaller children – like bathing, feeding and changing diapers – is mostly taken up by women – regardless of factors like income, education levels, or migration background.
Rather disturbingly, nearly half of women - 49% - living with a partner report assuming primary responsibility for these kinds of essential tasks, compared to a mere 6% of men.
There are more pronounced differences between women and men across other types of childcare activities, as depicted in the table below.
Distribution of informal childcare activities for children below 25 between partners within the household (%, EU-27, 2022)
Looking at the childcare tasks provided for older rather than younger children, we still see significant gender differences for activities such as support with homework, as well as supervision and emotional support.
Perception vs. reality
Regardless of the type of the task, men are reported to believe they commit to an equal sharing of childcare.
Yet not all tasks are equal in nature.
The reality is, tending to a sick child is a very different task to picking up a child from school. Both are tasks but can be vastly different in terms of time, intensity, and mental load.
A disparity in perceptions of childcare tasks could lead to more women feeling their efforts go unnoticed – which can have negative spillover effects both in terms of work-life balance and in the labour market.
EIGE had identified in earlier evidence that the gender gaps in the labour market will only increase if we do not see more participation from men in unpaid care – a key area for action outlined in the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025.
The expectation that women will take on the more emotional labour while men will make more passive contributions are stereotypes holding back change.
For some families, men being the primary breadwinners and women being the primary caregivers works well. For others it does not.
Therefore, we need to encourage further dialogue and actions towards creating a society where creating a mindset shift and developing new habits in childcare duties work in parallel, benefitting both parents and children alike.
EIGE Director, Carlien Scheele says:
Beyond the knowledge we gained through our research, we brought this topic to life in conversation with multiple and diverse actors in the gender equality community during EIGE’S Gender Equality Forum in October last year. We had a session focused on care where representatives from Member States weighed in on their own experiences and findings. Overall, it was stressed that workplaces need to empower both women and men to use flexible work for family responsibilities – so if a child needs to be picked up at 4pm, they can be picked up at 4pm without fearing it would jeopardize a chance for promotion – and this goes especially to men who often face ‘punishment’ from managers for needing to be a father in the middle of the working day.
In the EU, as well as globally, there is a proven track record of things getting better.
With proactive campaign engagement the relationship between unpaid childcare and the role of dads is changing.
From the Nordic Member States to India, the idea that dads can and should take a more active role in housework and childcare is slowly becoming normalised, releasing both women and men from heavily gendered norms.
In a #Sharetheload campaign backed by Ariel, it addresses the impact of an unequal home, and urges action to correct the gap.
In the same vein, the #Dadonboard movement from the Nordic Member States highlights the necessity for dads to take up parental leave while also encouraging Nordic governments to promote equal parenting.
Accelerating gender equality in care
While we see cultural change happening – it would move a lot faster with policy and legislative changes.
We hope to see the EU Work-life balance Directive and the more recent European Care Strategy put into practice to close gender gaps in care through men’s increased involvement in care, flexible working arrangements and the provision of affordable and high-quality care services.
More survey results will be published in the upcoming Gender Equality Index 2023 report.