Because of the pandemic, more people than ever have experienced the joys and hardships of working from home. There are benefits to the practice, like being able to discretely rock sweatpants during your Zoom meetings. But, as many parents know, there are also major challenges that come with erasing some of the boundaries between work life and home life. And, according to a new survey, those challenges don’t impact moms and dads equally.
Working from home works out better for dads
A survey conducted by Ohio State University finds that women who work from home take on more duties around the house, while the same isn’t necessarily true for work-at-home men.
Researchers surveyed than 200 dual-earner couples on their day-to-day tasks. Among these couples, both men and women report doing more family-related tasks, like housework and child care, when they work from home. But women who work from home report picking up even more of these jobs than men who have similar work situations.
Men whose wives work from home end up doing fewer family-related tasks, while women whose husbands work from home report no significant change in their domestic workload. In addition to this, women also admitted they feel increased guilt about failing to accomplish their housework and spend time with their families when they have to work outside the home.
Interestingly, the survey also found that when women don’t have the ability to work from home, their work-from-home husbands complete significantly more family-related tasks. In a press release, Jasmine Hu, lead author of the research and a professor at Ohio State University, says this finding suggests that in many cases, men could be doing more to share the domestic load.
“These findings suggest that husbands could help remote working wives when they have more flexible work schedules and do more family tasks when their wives have more rigid work schedules,” Hu explains.
Work-from-home inequality is a symptom of a larger problem
It’s not necessarily a shock that women still get the short end of the stick when working from home. Research has long shown that women in heterosexual partnerships shoulder the burden of doing more chores and more child care work, even when they have full-time jobs. What’s surprising, though, is that even flexible work schedules and the ability to work from home isn’t erasing these inequalities.
At the height of the pandemic, women were driven out of the workforce en masse. Many reported high rates of burnout from the stress of juggling their careers and managing remote schooling and child care needs. Some things have changed since then, but being a working parent, and especially a working mother, hasn’t necessarily gotten easier.
There is still a shortage of affordable child care, and cold and flu season has brought a wave of respiratory infections that have forced many parents to put work obligations on the back burner. Ideally, the ability to work from home should offer some bit of reprieve from these struggles, but this survey shows that even the potential benefits of flexible work schedules are often hampered by persistent gender inequalities.
So, now what?
Researchers say these findings offer an opportunity for women to talk with their partners about their workload so they can look for solutions to inequalities together. More importantly, though, they say they hope the results are a wake-up call to managers and employers that more family-friendly policies are needed, and that male workers need to be included in these changes.
“Organizations and managers should give their male employees more flexibility when possible so they and their families can better adapt to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Hu.
Addressing the inequalities women face at work and at home will require more than just allowing them to call in to meetings from the kitchen table or asking them to write a honey-do list for their partner. It will require a shift in perspective so that employers, partners and everyone else stop seeing moms as the default parent and start doing more to share the load.