Are Dads Shirking Their "Home" Work?

The following is an op-ed piece written by John Hoffman, Communications Coordinator of the Father Involvement Research Alliance

Media interest in whether or not fathers are doing their fair share of housework and child care goes back at least as far as 1989. That's when American sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term "The Second Shift" to describe the extra load of housework and child care that working moms were doing at home after a full day at work.

This debate resurfaces regularly. In 2013 the Globe and Mail ran a series of articles on housework and work-life balance.  Much of the discussion was around whether or not men are doing enough. And in 2012, around the time of Mother's Day, the CBC (and subsequently the Huffington Post) ran a web story with the headline: "Canada's working moms still earning less, doing more than dads."

Among other things, the article stated that Canadian mothers do about twice as much child care as fathers, citing data from a Statistics Canada publication. Again, the implication was that fathers could and should be doing much more home front.

The Paid Work Gap

However, both the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and in fact, most media articles on this topic, fail to take into account one very important fact. Fathers have less time for housework and child care than mothers because, on average, they spend more time at their paid jobs than mothers. This holds true even in dual-income families where both parents work full-time.

The CBC story cited figures from a part of Statistic's Canada's General Social Survey (GSS) which asked parents to estimate the amount of time they spend on various activities. Mothers estimated they spent 50 hours a week on child care, compared to the 27 weekly hours estimated by fathers. However, the Statistics Canada publication which reported the data  (Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report) did not include any information on parent's hours of paid work.

The Parent Work Day

A different part of he GSS, the 2010 General Social Survey on Time Use, asks respondents to report on their main activity at different time points of a single day (the previous day). Figures from the Time-Use survey show that in dual-income families where both parents work full-time, fathers average 1.6 more daily hours of paid work and commuting than moms. Conversely, mothers average 1.7 more daily hours on child care and housework than fathers. If we add paid and unpaid work together, the total workday is about the same length for moms and dads.

Does this mean that the division of child care and housework is perfectly balanced in Canadian families? Not necessarily. But it does show that fathers have less time available for child care and housework than mothers.

Some Parenting Responsibilities Are Hard to Measure

Even so, time-use surveys are not perfect. In truth, parents' child care responsibilities and caregiving tasks are not easily compartmentalized and measured. Moreover there is one area in which most people would agree that mothers bear a greater load than fathers: keeping track. "The scheduling and planning of family life falls almost exclusively to mothers. That's very clear in research that I've done, and other research that I've seen," says Kerry Daly, retired dean of the University of Guelph's College of Social and Applied Human Sciences and former chair of FIRA's research project. Daly, a sociologist, has studied father involvement and family time. "It's very hard to measure the keeping track aspect of mothering because it is not a separate activity," he says. "It's layered on top of all the other things mothers do."

It's also fair to say that the keeping track function of parenting and household management is not easily shared, so we may need to move a little farther down the road of gender role convergence before fathers and mothers learn how share these less measureable responsibilities along with the concrete daily tasks of raising children and maintaining a household.

In the end, the complexities of father/mother role sharing will be sorted out in individual families, not the media. For those who feel compelled to continue debating these issues in public forum, at least take into account all the facts. And the one reality that keeps getting ignored is that fathers work longer paid hours than mothers, and so they have less time available for domestic work. To read more about fathers, mothers, work, child care and household chores, read "Are Dads Pulling Their Weight at Home?"

 More facts about Canadian fathers can be found in our About Father Involvement section.