Fathers Increase the Level of Domestic Support, but COVID-19 Crisis Creates More Challenges at Home

While women perform the bulk of domestic and childcare duties in most Hungarian households, a new study (1) suggests that men are taking on a larger share of these responsibilities during Covid-19. The research, undertaken by social scientists Eva Fodor, Julia Koltai, Aniko Gregor and Eszter Kovats (2), is intended to serve as a basis for a larger study, shortly to be conducted with a broader, nationally representative sample.

As stated in the introduction, the findings for this stage of the research are qualified, in that the survey covers respondents with secondary education or university diplomas, who use the internet and who are raising children under the age of 14. Men and women – at least within this social group – seem to agree that the division of labor has shifted slightly towards greater equality.

Eva Fodor and Julia Koltai spoke about the findings, which run counter to the popular narrative as reported in the media or postulated by social scientists.

What do you think drives the situation in that during COVID-19, Hungarian men seem to be taking on a larger share of domestic chores and childcare responsibilities?

Eva Fodor: According to the respondents’ self-reports, women carried out a far greater proportion of child-related tasks prior to the introduction of the coronavirus-related regulations. Following the introduction of the shut-down,  we find that while the level of tasks remained unchanged for women, they increased slightly for men. As child-related duties have increased in absolute terms for all families raising children under the age of 14, we can interpret the results to mean that men are taking on more child-related tasks that previously self-reported. Among the sample group, both women and men felt that men were now more likely to participate in household-related chores (such as washing, cooking, cleaning, washing dishes) than before. As a result, the difference between men and women performing these tasks is reduced.

Julia Koltai: To qualify the results, while working from home is similarly burdensome for both men and women with small children, women are much more likely to report that they must perform several tasks at the same time while working from home than men. We also observed that twice as many men as women (four out of 10 men and only two out of 10 women) said that they experienced no tension between their paid work and their caring responsibilities. Women were five times more likely to indicate that they would prefer if their partner took on a greater share of household and parenting responsibilities.

Were you surprised by the findings?

Eva Fodor: Several studies show that the division of labor in household and child-related duties is quite traditional in Hungarian families, in that women perform the bulk of this work. Although people are now living in an extreme situation, we did not anticipate a welcome shift towards an increase in shared duties such as this. However, we have concerns about its lasting impact - it may easily be the case that this trend will reverse once life returns to normal.

How do socio-economic differences reflect on households coping with this increased workload during the pandemic?

Julia Koltai: Even within this homogeneous sample, there were differences with respect to how the pandemic affected the financial situation within different households. When the data was collected, a small minority of respondents had lost their jobs or were on compulsory leave. However, almost all those who had lost their jobs were women, and women with only a secondary education were more affected than those with a university diploma. Flexible working hours were quite prevalent: almost half of the respondents’ employers allowed this working arrangement. But the findings show that people with a university education and those in a better financial position have been given more flexibility, and their working hours (and thus their salaries) were reduced less. Those with a university education were also found to be more than twice as likely to be able to work from home than those with a secondary education. Men with a university education reported more change in their involvement with household duties and childcare compared to those men without.

What is the gender ratio of workload sharing when caring for elderly relatives at home?

Eva Fodor: We observed similar trends in caring for the elderly as those we described for household and children-related duties: both women and men said that the proportion of men’s participation in that labor increased. However, when it came to the question of “who does what”, we saw highly traditional gender roles again: women provided help in the areas of bathing, cooking, eating, cleaning and emotional help (the latter was performed by the majority of women every day), while men tended to excel in doing things around the house, such as carrying out repairs, carrying heavy items. Men and women, on the other hand, played an equal role in shopping and practical matters.

What far-reaching conclusions can be drawn from the fact that society has adopted relatively quickly to the increased workload in household chores?

Julia Koltai: It is difficult to draw far-reaching conclusions, but we hope that the pandemic will have some longer-term positive effects. For example, some employers have allowed more flexible working hours and less physical presence, and continuing with this may be useful for certain groups. In our survey, in answer to the question “What would you need to alleviate the tensions of home-childrearing and work?”, women selected the option of working from home more frequently than men. Perhaps these opportunities will remain an option at some places of employment. For example, in Germany, this will be mandated by law in the next couple of weeks. Having said that, we do not expect long-term changes in the division of household labor after the pandemic, although perhaps at least this cohort of men, who now began to spend more time with their children, will continue to do so.

Tell us about CEU’s Research Support Scheme

Eva Fodor: CEU’s Research Support Scheme provides funding for smaller projects that can be conducted on their own or which can later become the basis for larger research efforts. The application process is simple, and our application was swiftly approved. That’s why we are probably the first to actually have some quantitative data on this issue here in Hungary.

1) The study sample for this study was provided by Gemius Hungary Kft. The study was conducted between April 6-14, and involved the participation of 1,966 Hungarian adults completing an online questionnaire.  

2) Eva Fodor, Associate Professor of Gender Studies and Pro-Rector for the Social Sciences and Humanities at CEU; Julia Koltai, Visiting Professor at the Department of Network and Data Science at CEU, Research Fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Assistant Professor at Eotvos Lorand University; Aniko Gregor, Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Research Methodology at Eotvos Lorand University; and Eszter Kovats, PhD student at the Faculty of Law at Eotvos Lorand University.