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Dads may want to do more caretaking — but then face barriers, one study finds

What could prompt men to take on more caretaking responsibilities?
Jonathan Nackstrand
AFP via Getty Images
What could prompt men to take on more caretaking responsibilities?

This story is part of NPR's Main Character of the Day series, where we spotlight the people and things worth talking about — and the stories behind them.

The concept of "providing care" could mean a myriad things beyond emotional support. It could be cooking meals for the family, cleaning the house, or taking a relative to the doctor — in other words, the unpaid labor many mothers do every day.

While progress has been made towards sharing these responsibilities in the home, there's still a long way to go.

A recent study of dads around the world — led by the nonprofit organization Equimundo, which promotes gender equality — found that while more men are doing a greater share of unpaid care work, they also faced barriers like a lack of structural support and gender stereotypes.

Who are they? The dads of the world.

  • The Equimundo study, titled State of the World's Fathers, surveyed nearly 12,000 people across 17 countries, including the U.S.
  • The study found that, globally, 53% of people think gender equality is good for men and women, and that men across diverse countries have been doing more of the care work in recent years.
  • But it also found that most unpaid care work and domestic work is still done by women and girls.
  • Notably, the study says its sample size was not large enough to make generalizations about same-sex fathers or trans fathers and the report takes a more binary interpretation of the issues.
  • What's the big deal? Balancing caregiving has all sorts of emotional and financial payoffs.

  • One finding of the study is that people who are satisfied with how involved they are in raising their children are 1.5 times as likely to agree with the statement, "I am the person I always wanted to be," and are also more likely to feel a sense of gratitude. 
  • Meanwhile, parents who feel they lack support (mainly financial) are more likely to find child care more exhausting than enjoyable. 
  • The report also found 122 countries give paid leave to fathers (compared to 186 for mothers). Of these, only 81 have paternity leave that is paid at 100% of previous earnings, and only 45 allow 14 weeks or more of paid parental leave for fathers.
  • Sima Bahous, the executive director of U.N. Women, writes in the Equimundo report's forward: "The calls for a fairer, better distribution of the burden of care are longstanding, and there has been progress. Such progress is founded on policy change and an accompanying cultural shift."
  • The gender pay gap encourages men to stay at work, one expert says.
    Narinder Nanu / AFP via Getty Images
    AFP via Getty Images
    The gender pay gap encourages men to stay at work, one expert says.

    What are people saying? NPR's Ailsa Chang spoke with Taveeshi Gupta, the director of research, evaluation, and learning from Equimundo, about the results of the study. Here's what she said.

    On what men are saying is keeping them from taking on more domestic responsibilities:

    There are so many barriers to doing that, and they're all kind of at structural level. So we see, for example, in the workplace setting, if you don't have enough adequate parental leave, then it's impossible for parents to feel comfortable stepping away from their role as a breadwinner or in whatever role they're holding in their company and taking time off, right? And if you have a manager who's not supporting you taking time off, then you're worried you're not going to get promoted. Your coworkers are going to look at you and say, why are you taking so much time off? And the other thing you called out earlier was gender norms. So if the norms in the world make you feel uncomfortable for taking care of your child, then you're not going to do it. You're not going to follow through. And that's something we find in the study as well.

    On how the pay gap encourages men to stay at work, rather than stay home for paternal leave:

    We know that women earn less than men do. If that's the case and you have to make a choice in your household about who gets to take time off, you're certainly not going to give up more money, right? You're going to make sure that the person who's earning less is going to take time off and the person who's earning more gets to go back to work. And so if you don't close that gender pay gap, then the likelihood of women going back to work instead of the men is very, very low.

    On popular global support for more generous paid leave policies:

    People care about care. It's the bedrock of their every single relationship and their day-to-day. And what we find is that more than half of both mothers and fathers said, we actually want to vote for politicians who are going to put care in the center of their agenda. So there is certainly a lot of willingness to advocate for care policies.

    So, what now?

  • Changing the minds of men means changing how we teach our boys. The study recommends teaching boys from childhood the importance of housework the same way girls are.
  • While the study found that both men and women say care leave policies are important to them, women are still more likely than men to prioritize those policies, as well as health care and gender equality policies.
  • Learn more:

  • So your tween wants a smartphone? Read this first
  • 'Anti-dopamine parenting' can curb a kid's craving for screens or sweets
  • Why babies babble, and what it can teach adults about language
  • The interview with Taveeshi Gupta was produced by Michel Levitt, conducted by Ailsa Chang, and edited by Ashley Brown contributed to this story

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    [Copyright 2024 NPR]