Published: April 7, 2021

COVID-19 was heralded as an opportunity to restart gender expectations at home and new research shows Australian fathers stepped up into more participatory roles during the pandemic. But the question remains: will it last?

This study, led by Life Course Centre Associate Investigator Leah Ruppanner of the University of Melbourne with colleague Xiao Tan and US collaborators Caitlyn Collins, Liana Christin Landivar and William Scarborough, was based on surveys of Australian and US parents in May and September 2020.  It showed Australian fathers increased their contributions to housework, first observed in May and again four months later. US fathers, in contrast, picked up more housework in May, but this was short-lived.

Australian fathers who stepped up their domestic game during the pandemic felt the same stressors that mothers conventionally experience. The increased childcare and household demands came with greater anxiety and worse sleep. For US fathers, only job disruption was associated with worse anxiety and poor sleep. Their stress was unaffected by caregiving demands perhaps because, as the data showed, they did not consistently increase their contributions to housework and childcare. US fathers appeared to double down on their roles as breadwinners. As a result, their mental wellness was mostly based on their economic standing, leaving US mothers alone to carry the burden of growing housework and childcare demands during the pandemic.

This study suggests that the movement towards gender equality among Australian parents came at a cost to their health, through greater anxiety and poorer sleep. But research shows mothers have carried these dual burdens for a long time. Australian fathers, for the first time, may have felt the intensity of these competing pressures, and perhaps their larger share of domestic work may stick. “We found one silver lining of the pandemic, at least in the case of Australia: Australian fathers stepped up to do more childcare and housework. Let’s hope this lasts.”

Read more on this research in The Conversation or here: Shifting Inequalities? Parents’ Sleep, Anxiety, and Calm during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia and the United States.