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Did you know that couples adopted their division of housework and childcare to the challenges of the Corona crisis in diverse ways?

September 2020

Responding to public concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic might have triggered a backlash in gender equality, ISS researcher Karsten Hank and his colleague Anja Steinbach from the University of Duisburg-Essen analyzed changes in couples’ division of housework and childcare before and during the Corona crisis. Their study is based on pre-release data from the German Family Panel (pairfam) and its supplementary COVID-19 web-survey, which allowed an initial assessment of immediate dynamics in couples’ division of labor in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The analysis revealed no fundamental changes in established aggregate-level patterns of couples’ division of labor, but some shift towards the extremes (‘traditional’ and ‘role reversal’) of the distribution. Regarding changes within couples, there is an almost equal split between those in which the female partner’s share in housework and childcare increased and those in which it decreased. Particularly in previously more egalitarian arrangements, a substantial proportion of women is now more likely to be primarily responsible for domestic and family duties. If male partners increased their relative contribution to housework and childcare, they rarely moved beyond the threshold of an equal split. Changes in employment hours were associated with adaptations of men’s, but not women’s, relative contribution to domestic and family responsibilities.

Starting out from a pre-Corona situation in which the most frequent arrangement of housework and childcare was one in which the female partner did the most part, the study’s findings thus neither support the notion of a new ‘patriarchal pandemic’ induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, nor do they indicate that the crisis might have fostered macro-level trends of gender convergence. They rather suggest heterogeneous responses of couples to the ‘Corona shock’.