Exploring COVID-19 lockdowns as unexpected paternity leave: One shock, diverse gender ideologies
Keywords:childcare, housework, parental leave, France, fatherhood
Objective: This paper analyses how men who became fathers to a newborn during a 2020 lockdown in France reacted to spending longer time at home than intended.
Background: Previous research found that fathers taking longer leave are more involved at home, but men who plan these working arrangements are more oriented towards gender equality. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, fathers with diverse gender ideologies were forced to stay home with their baby.
Method: 42 longitudinal interviews were conducted with 23 fathers, before and after the birth of their child. 10 of these fathers unexpectedly stopped their paid work for the first two months post-partum because of distancing measures. This group is compared with 10 others who took at most their 14 days of paid leave before returning to paid work and 3 others who deliberately planned to take a month off. All mothers were on maternity leave.
Results: Lockdowns isolated couples from the help of extended family and fathers had to assume a caregiving position. However, staying home involved different things for different fathers. For some, it meant sharing unpaid work equally. For others, it was more about bonding with the baby, whereas intensive childcare was considered the mother’s role.
Conclusion: Drawing on an integrative approach, the findings suggest that changes at the institutional level, such as lockdowns, impact fathering trajectories differently depending on gender ideologies at the individual level.