Childcare and housework during the first lockdown in Austria: Traditional division or new roles?
Keywords:Austria, childcare, housework, lockdown, time use
Objective: This study analyses how much time mothers and fathers spent on childcare and housework during and after the first COVID-19 lockdown in Austria (starting in mid-March 2020) and how they distributed that time between themselves.
Background: Parents needed to reallocate care work between themselves as, on the one hand, kindergartens and schools closed for two months and, on the other hand, employment-related changes arose, e.g., working from home. The results are discussed in light of major theories that address the division of care work: the time availability approach and gender role theory.
Method: This study employs data from the Austrian Corona Panel Project 2020/21, a web-based survey using quota sampling, which started in the second week of the first lockdown (n=372 for respondents in couples with children below age 15). Altogether, seven waves contain information about time spent on childcare and housework; three were conducted during or right after the first lockdown (April and May 2020) and four between June 2020 and February 2021. Linear and logistic regression models were used.
Results: Within the whole study period, parents’ total workload (care work and employment) was highest during the first lockdown. The workload was greatest—an average of 15 hours on weekdays—among mothers with children below age six. While mothers shouldered more care work in most families, partners shared tasks equally in around one third of them. Care time depended on employment hours, especially for fathers. Yet, it was higher for mothers with the same level of employment as fathers.
Conclusion: The COVID-19-related employment changes led to a rise in arrangements that rarely existed before in Austria, e.g., fathers working part-time. Consequently, some fathers took on new roles, especially when they worked from home (mostly among the higher educated), were non-employed (mostly among the lower educated) or worked part-time. The paper concludes by discussing whether those experiences may permanently result in more egalitarian gender roles.