The Return of the Dual Burden – Home-schooling during Covid-19


By: Charlotte Dicks, BSc Criminology and Sociology student

In understanding why women are mostly being left responsible for home schooling children during COVID-19 lockdowns, it can be useful to look at Hochschild’s theory of the dual burden.

According to Hochschild and Machung (2012), many more women have been entering the paid economy markets than previously. This change has not been able to happen smoothly because of the strength of the previous roles of women being based in the home and men providing for this family life. Because this influx of female workers was a new phenomenon, many workplaces had been and remained fixed, not offering the flexibility needed for parents to meet their family demands as well as employers demands. Men have been used to women not participating in the paid work of the family for generations, so it is taking time for men to adapt to the change within the home. The delay in men adapting and accepting this change, has led to a strain between how women now choose to spend their time in paid employment, and the lack of change elsewhere which is now seen as what Hochschild calls a stalled revolution. This lacks the structure needed to make day-to-day life easier for working parents, as well as lacking men who will share some of the second shift. This second shift is in referral to women taking on paid employment as well as doing the domestic work at home. Many dual-career families spoken to by Hochschild and Machung, showed contradictions in what they believed and verbalised about marital roles and how they felt about them. In many of these cases a version of reality was created to disguise a core truth to be able to handle family differences, this is known as a family myth. A common myth among many families is that domestic work is ‘shared equally’. This is common as lots of families have disagreements over who should do and who does the household chores, and the myth of it being equal is often brought about when the women complete the domestic work as the men do not want to complete is as it is not masculine.

During the past year, we have seen a global pandemic come and change the day-to-day lives of everyone. One thing it has not changed, is women baring the dual burden of paid employment and domestic chores. This burden is still visible in everyday life, but now with an added third shift of ensuring the emotional well-being and support of their families (Chung, 2020). Emotional support has been needed for many with the lockdowns that the UK has faced throughout 2020 and into 2021, with many women now having to not only look after their emotional needs and their children’s, but also their wider families. Alongside this, the government made the decision to close schools, and home schooling has been the new way of educating young people. Although the paid economy has slowed down as people are not allowed to physically go to work, many families are now needed at home to educate the children meaning they would only be able to participate in reduced hours anyway (Power, 2020). Many dual-earning couples are now having to have a conversation about who will work reduced hours or stop working during this time, so that the childcare and education is covered. In most situations the women have given up paid employment to take on the care work, as traditional gender roles still influence decisions today.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

According to a researcher at UCL (Cited in Adams, 2020), “it was mothers, especially those of young children, who were most likely to have stopped work, and to have stepped in to provide educational support for their children”. It was seen that during the first covid-19 lockdown, women spent over twice as much time with their child’s home schooling than men did, and that the younger the child, the more likely the women were to be the care giver. Across all age’s women gave more childcare than men, but this was considerably large at ages 0-5yrs and got less as the child grows up (ONS, 2020). If both parents were to be working from home, it too is often that the women will take on the extra care roles and that instead then men will work extra hours often unpaid (Chung, 2020). On average women’s hours of paid work dropped by almost 40% compared to what they worked pre-lockdown. When working from home, the Office for National Statistics (2020) found that parents were likely to set aside more time in the afternoons to sit and look after the children, with 16% of parents doing so between 5pm and 6pm. Lockdown also saw the connections of so many families on a deeper level. With most of the country’s population at home, families got to spend more time together and those with children often spent this time doing educational activities. Whilst the schools were closed, there was a significant increase in the number of parents who were spending time doing developmental activities – approx. 64mins a day compared to 24mins in 2015, and significantly less time doing non-developmental activities – approx. 38mins compared to 56mins in 2015.

There was hope at the beginning of the pandemic that the shift to working from home would mean that childcare and domestic chores would start to be split more equally (Savage, 2020). However we have seen this is not the case, and that women are still doing most of the domestic chores and home-schooling. Evidence suggests that the covid-19 pandemic has seen men in the west try harder to make it more equal. Over 40% of males agreed they had cooked more and 30% also agreed to doing more laundry and cleaning then before the pandemic began. It is likely that men have taken on these extra chores as they are spending more time in the home, without the need to commute to and from work, and so have more time to interact with domestic jobs as well as spending more time with the children.

The covid-19 pandemic has shown that even in today’s developed society, women are still weighed down by the dual burden and triple shift, and although it is now slowly improving, there is a long way yet to come until gender equality is seen everywhere including within the home.

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