When I was a child, my father would sometimes enlist me to sweep stray dirt that escaped from the flowerbeds off the driveway and back where it came from. The way he did it made it look fun, in a way; shoving the broom with decisive strokes that sent the dirt soaring off in a big puff. I would try to replicate his technique, but alas, my pitiful baby arms just couldn’t maneuver the broom in the same way, and it turned out, it wasn’t much fun at all. Eventually I’d become distracted by something—a snail, my own toes—and let the broom fall.
This is the best approximation I can come up with for how men have viewed their covid-induced interest in domestic chores: It was interesting for a minute, but the novelty has worn off, and they’d rather go back inside and play while someone else handled it. A study from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics basically found as much: Men may have spent more time on domestic work during the first lockdown, but that trend is long since over.
The study found that in May, the lockdown led to a 58 percent increase in time men spent on childcare. In 2015, men spent 39 percent of the time that women did on their kids; that figure shot to 64 percent in the first lockdown. You can almost hear the self-satisfied “Mr. Mom” jokes as a father manages to assemble a peanut butter sandwich, or correctly affixes shoes to his child’s feet before going out.
But by fall, the novelty had, apparently, worn off. While both sexes spent less time on unpaid childcare when schools reopened, women were back to doing 99 percent more unpaid childcare than men. According to the Guardian,
On average – keeping in mind that the number of minutes spent applies across the entire population and not just parents – men spent on average just under 16.9 minutes a day on unpaid childcare, compared with 33.6 minutes spent by women (an improvement on 2015).
“This data suggests we are returning back to the old normal. If we want to keep some of the potential improvements in gender equality, we cannot leave things to chance,” said Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society. “We need a rescue package for childcare providers, flexible work by default, and use-it-or-lose-it leave for new dads to make change stick.”
That may work in the U.K., but they’ve also figured out equitable healthcare, something that remains painfully elusive in the U.S. Housework has followed a similarly stupid pattern: In March and April women did just (just) 44 percent more, but by September, it was up to 64 percent.
An interesting thing about this study is that it’s based on self-reported data from a sample of 1,500 households. At least they’re honest, or closer to it! Never forget that nearly half of American men said they were pulling equal weight when it came to taking care of the kids and doing housework. Hearing this, women laughed and laughed.