Uncertainty over whether unpaid housework will become more equal after the corona virus pandemic

Jobs are not the only area affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Unpaid care and housework may also be impacted. Before the pandemic, women did more of the housework than men. It is too early to predict whether there will be any change.

– For many years now, women have performed the majority of unpaid care and housework. There is a risk of this pattern being reinforced now that many children are off school and older people need more care. However, the coronavirus pandemic could also lead to a more equal society, as millions of fathers the world over are now staying home. It is too early to say for certain at this stage, says Karin Röbäck de Souza, senior analyst at the Swedish Gender Equality Agency.

In Sweden, women’s unpaid care and housework has reduced over the years. However, over a working day women still performed 35% more unpaid care and housework than men, who on the other hand performed 25% more paid work.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has expressed a fear that care and housework will fall yet more heavily on women. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, in Europe women spent 13 hours a week more on unpaid care and housework than men did.

– With no childcare available and children unable to go to school because many countries have closed their schools, it usually falls on the mothers to look after the children, says Karin Röbäck de Souza.

But because more male-dominated industries look like being worse affected by job losses, there may be more fathers staying home. Men are, for example, overrepresented in areas such as commerce and transport, which have been hit hard economically by the coronavirus pandemic. Women dominate the public sector and areas that are going to see strong demand for labour for a long time to come.

In Sweden, women’s unpaid care and housework has reduced over the years. However, over a working day women still performed 35% more unpaid care and housework than men, who on the other hand performed 25% more paid work, according a 2010 survey by Statistics Sweden.

Within the EU, 85% of all single parents are women, and almost half (48%) are close to the poverty line, compared with a third of single fathers. According to EIGE, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to elevate the risk. The situation is better in Sweden.

– But here too, financial insecurity is much more common among single mothers than among single fathers. And this is particularly true for single mothers born abroad. If children are ill or if the schools stay closed for a long period of time, these mothers may need extra support to cover loss of income and higher food costs, concludes Karin Röbäck de Souza.

Last updated: 10:25 - 14 May, 2020