Forum Institutional

Men want to increase care work at home. Here's how business can help

Social norms and lack of parental leave are key barriers to men taking up care work at home.

Social norms and lack of parental leave are key barriers to men taking up care work at home. Image: Pexels.

Reshma Saujani
Founder and CEO, Moms First
Gary Barker
President and Chief Executive Officer, Equimundo: Center for Masculinities and Social Justice
Julia Hakspiel
Action Lead. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice. Centre for the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum
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Society and Equity

  • Unequal distribution of care responsibilities is a significant barrier to gender equality.
  • Social norms and lack of parental leave are key barriers to men taking up care work at home.
  • Business can play in creating a more gender equal culture of care though workplace policies, media and advertising.

Women take on the overwhelming proportion of unpaid domestic and care work globally. According to the ILO, across the world women perform 75% of unpaid care work, dedicating four hours and 25 minutes daily to it – more than three times men’s average of one hour and 23 minutes.

The unequal distribution of care responsibilities is a significant barrier to women’s workforce participation, limiting their choice of work, job quality, remuneration and career progression. For example, the UNDP's latest Gender Social Norms Index found that women’s time spent on unpaid care work relative to men’s, regardless of education, accounts for most of the recent variation in the gender gap in income.

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Yet latest research from Equimundo’s State of the World’s Fathers 2023 report shows that fathers are doing more care work than in the past, and want to do even more, but lack of parental leave, cultural expectations and unequal pay are stopping them from increasing their domestic duties. Workplaces are central to the production of social norms, and alongside enabling government policies, the private sector can play a central role in promoting more equal split of care responsibilities and supporting evolution of norms around caregiving.

Norms around care are evolving

According to Equimundo’s report, men across diverse countries are doing more care work since COVID-19, even as mothers overall are still doing more of it. Globally men spend 19% of their non-leisure time on unpaid care work, compare to 55% for women. Even if women are still doing more care work, a majority of fathers globally affirm their sense of responsibility for care: 70-90% of men across 15 countries agreed that they “feel as responsible for care work” as their partner/the other parent.

A significant shift in attitudes towards care work is particularly taking place among younger generations. In the US, high-earning young men are cutting back their hours to take on more care work at home. Increasingly, parents believe sons as well as daughters should be taught to do care work and encouraged to perform care activities. But outside and inside the home, boys and girls are more likely to see women doing more care. The vast majority of nurses, childcare workers and primary school teachers in most countries are women – with little change in the past decades.

Systemic barriers to men taking up care work remain

Unequal pay and inadequate parental leave policies are the main reason more men don’t take up parental leave, though norms still have a role to play. While globally more countries area offering paid leave to fathers (63% in 2022, up from 25% in 1995), the length of leave is often very short (nine days on average), and only 24% of countries with parental leave guarantee at least 80% of wages. Replacement pay is key to leave uptake, particularly for fathers. In most countries men still earn more than women, and unless leave is fully paid, the family cannot afford to lose the man’s income.

Workplace culture is another important element of leave uptake among fathers. Among fathers who were offered leave but did not take all leave available, 40% said this was due to fear of losing their job, 36% due to unsupportive managers, and 18% out of fear of being judged poorly by friends or colleagues for taking leave. A workplace culture that values and celebrates men as fathers and caregivers can help increase uptake of leave and normalise male caregiving.


How is the World Economic Forum promoting equity in the workplace?

Role of private sector in creating a gender-equal culture of care

Both public policy and private sector action is needed to create a gender equal culture of care. Governments need to expand equal, fully paid, non-transferable parental leave and strengthen national care systems to improve quality, affordability, and availability of childcare services to all caregivers. Alongside public policy, the private sector can help address the unequal distribution of care through workplace policies and culture and media and advertising.

Many companies are increasingly offering parental leave above the statutory requirements, investing in childcare and breastfeeding facilities and implementing policies such as care days, care credits, remote working and flexi-time, that promote care equality. A workplace culture that normalizes paternity leave and supports both parents when returning from leave helps reinforce these policies.

Companies can also actively advocate for more comprehensive national care policies. Globally the MenCare 50/50 Commitment allows employers to pledge their commitment to creating more caring workplaces that support all working parents. In the US, the National Business Coalition for Child Care convened by Moms First brings together companies with industry-leading child care benefits offerings, and advocates for childcare as an essential business issue.

Beyond the workplace, media and advertising is a powerful tool for challenging gendered stereotypes around caregiving. Consumer goods companies can use their brands to raise awareness of gendered distribution of household chores or normalise boys and men playing an equal role in housework and caregiving.

Media companies can produce programming that shows men and boys are caring and competent caregivers. Investing in such policies and initiatives makes good business sense. Supporting employees to care drives productivity and organisational performance through reduced attrition and absenteeism and a happier and more engaged workforce. With growing spotlight on companies stance on care, such initiatives also set them up apart to potential workers and consumers.

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Institutional update

World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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