The Future of Parenting: Sharing Tasks

Following on from our previous posts covering our Future of Parenting research, conducted in partnership with Trinity Mirror, we move on from outlining the emotional aspects of parenting to the practical and every-day elements of parenthood. We know that parenting comes with a huge load of tasks and responsibilities, but how do parents go about sharing these tasks and are there still stereotypes around who should be doing what in the household?

Although our research suggests that household chores are perceived to be (in the most part) a shared responsibility, when we delved a little deeper into the day to day running of the household, we found that actual behaviour tells a very different story…

The reality is that despite promising shifts towards a more equal spread of responsibilities, mums are still much more likely to carry out the household chores than dads. Additionally, those who felt it should be the sole responsibility of one parent were more likely to say mums than dads.

Many might think that this disparity is because mums are less likely to be in full-time employment than dads – but it’s a gender truth. Even full time working mums are more likely to be responsible for the household chores.

As part of the research, we included some implicit testing of attitudes to allow us to establish those beliefs that were deeply ingrained versus those that were required more thought, allowing us to add depth and nuance to the findings. By analysing the time respondents take to associate each gender with household responsibilities, we are able to measure the relative strength of those perceptions. To put it simply, the quicker we answer, the more ingrained the belief.    

Through this technique, we’ve discovered that mums have more entrenched perceptions of their role than dads do. Overall, mums are much faster to select themselves as being responsible for certain tasks than dads are. This reveals just how ingrained parental stereotypes are amongst mums themselves. But what about child-related tasks? When asked who should be responsible, we can see there is a stronger perception that this task should be a shared responsibility – but does behaviour follow attitude?  The good news is that it does – dads are much more ‘hands-on’ in the bringing up of their children…

But we need to be conscious that mums and dads differ in their interpretation of ‘sharing chores’.

Although standards are more aligned for child-related tasks, our research tells us that mums and dads set very different standards for household chores. This means dads are more likely to exaggerate their role in the household… such as being 67% more likely to say they clean the bedrooms with their wife or partner.

Touchpoints time diary data provides further evidence of Dads day to day involvement… and perhaps suggests that mums slightly underestimate this because of their differing standards.

But they don’t spend as much time as mum’s do

However, the truth is that mums spend a lot more doing these activities than dads do. This goes a long way to explaining why ‘sharing chores’ takes on a very different meaning for mums and dads. Brands should be very wary of this when portraying home life.

So although parents feel that responsibility should be shared amongst mums and dads, this is not necessarily translated into behaviour as mums do more and feel they should be doing more. Sharing of tasks is starting to become much fairer when we look at child-related tasks, but all categories should not be treated the same. Finally, mums and dads seem to have different perceptions of what it means to share a chore, meaning we see a disparity between how much they say they do and how much they really do.

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Alice Mackenzie

Alice has joined the Insight team after graduating in Anthropology. Her interest in human behaviour makes her extremely inquisitive and determined to learn the “why” behind the action.

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