Identities and ideologies of equal-sharers, role-reversed and traditional parents

Time for a new post! Again, we are sharing some of the results from our survey-based study. This time we look at the identities and ideologies of parents who have different arrangements. Our participants completed a series of measures of their gender ideologies, biological essentialism (the tendency to view men and women as inherently different in their predisposition to parenthood), and the centrality of their parental and work-related identities. Women’s tendency for maternal gatekeeping attitudes and behaviours was also measured.

1. Non-normative parenting arrangements are enabled by parents’ egalitarian gender ideologies and non-essentialist perceptions as well as mothers’ lower gatekeeping tendencies.

Overall, women had more egalitarian gender ideologies than men. Parents who reverse roles had the most egalitarian and non-essentialist views, followed by those who share equally.

Mothers who reverse roles or share equally had a lower tendency for gatekeeping beliefs and behaviours than traditional mothers.

2. The centrality of the parents’ work-related identities varies as a function of their family roles, while the centrality of their parental identities is strongly affected by gender.

The psychological centrality of work-related identities varied as a function of the parent’s family role; breadwinners and equal sharers had more central work-related identities than caregivers. The centrality of parental identities varied by gender; women in both breadwinning and caregiving roles had more central parental identity than their male counterparts.

How parenting arrangements affect parents’ wellbeing and satisfaction?

Following our previous blog two weeks ago, we are excited to share some more findings from our study. This time we talk about parents’ wellbeing and satisfaction in different arrangements.

1. Couples who share equally are more satisfied with their division of roles

Equal-sharers were more satisfied with their division of responsibilities, tended more to perceive their division as resulting from their free choice, did not wish to change their own or their partner’s work hours, and did not want their division to change in the next year.

2. Mothers-main breadwinners are the least satisfied with the division of roles

Female breadwinners were the least satisfied with the division of roles and wanted it to change in the next year. Female and male breadwinners felt more than others that they had been forced into their role. Both the female breadwinners and their husbands wished the female breadwinners could work less and the male caregivers could work more.

3. Equal-sharers experience the highest well-being

Mothers in traditional arrangements scored lowest on almost all wellbeing measures. They reported lower relationship quality and positive affect than female breadwinners and equal sharers and had lower relationship satisfaction and life satisfaction than equal sharers.

Men seemed less affected by parenting arrangements, with the exception of male caregivers reporting more negative affect than male breadwinners and equal sharers. Both men and women who were the primary caregivers had lower self-esteem than equal sharers and breadwinners, suggesting that care work is undervalued while paid work provides an important source of self-esteem.



How equal-sharers, role-reversed and traditional couples organise work and childcare?

Over the last few months, we have been working hard doing the interviews and analysing the survey data from 2813 participants. These were all parents of at least one child younger than 11 years old, living in different regions of the UK. The majority (78.5%) were traditional couples where the mother was the primary caregiver and the father was the primary breadwinners. Further 12.3% were equal sharers and 9.2% were role-reversed couples. There are lots of interesting findings and we are excited to share some initial results from our survey! First, we looked at how equal-sharers, role-reversed and traditional couples organise work and childcare.

1. Do role-reversed arrangements mirror those of traditional couples?

Role-reversed couples tend to share housework and childcare slightly more equally than traditional couples. While mothers in traditional arrangements perform almost all of the tasks by themselves, primary caregiving fathers have more involved partners.

2. How do couples share daily physical care?

Daily physical care seems to be split according to the availability of the breadwinning partner in the evenings and nights: tasks such as feeding, changing, dressing and supervising morning routine are performed almost exclusively by the main caregiver regardless of their gender; putting children to bed and getting up at night are shared more equally in each of the parenting arrangements.

3. What are the most persistent aspects of gendered parenting?

Responsibility for childcare stands out as the most gendered and change-resistant domain. While women in traditional arrangements carried out almost all the planning and scheduling, made arrangements for childcare and chose a day-care or school, role-reversed couples shared these tasks more equally. In couples who are otherwise equal sharers, this is where equality was least likely.

4. How do equal-sharers arrange work and childcare?

Both male and female equal sharers worked shorter hours than male and female breadwinners. Their personal incomes were lower than main breadwinners’ incomes but as a family they earned more.

On average, equal sharers provided two more weekly hours of childcare each compared to main breadwinners, and their children spent approximately nine more hours per week in non-parental care. Equality was achieved through a combination of slightly shorter work hours, slightly longer childcare hours compared to breadwinners, and more hours of non-parental care.

5. Are there differences in leave taken after the birth of a child?

The duration of leave was mainly determined by a parent’s gender. There were no significant differences between women in the three groups. Men’s duration of leave did vary by their family role but was much shorter than women’s in all arrangements.

More findings from the survey will follow soon. Watch this space!

Parenting and work responsibilities in role-reversed couples

Our team members Dr Ruth Gaunt and Dr Mariana Pinho conducted a very interesting study to find out how parents in so-called role-reversed couples share their responsibilities. You can find more details in the two EGC blog posts:


In our project, we have just finished all the interviews and we have started analysing what parents told us. We will be soon posting insights and preliminary findings here – you can expect more details on how reversed-role couples (as well as equally-sharing and traditional ones) share their responsibilities and make decisions around parenting and work.

“Lockdown Fathers: The untold story”

Fatherhood Institute has just released a short video clip illustrating the key findings from their project about what Britain’s dads have been doing, and how they have been feeling, during the Covid-19 pandemic. The full report can be accessed here.

In our interviews, both mothers and fathers talked about how they made effort to adjust to the unprecedented situation of the pandemic and lockdown. Some of them highlighted that their division of childcare and work duties became more balanced with fathers getting more engaged in childcare – you can read about our preliminary findings here.

If you and your partner would like to share your story, we would love to hear from you! We are still looking for a few UK-based couples to take part in our online interviews:

  • 1 couple with a mother-primary caregiver and a father-primary breadwinner
  • 3-4 couples with a father-primary caregiver and a mother-primary breadwinner

If you are interested, please email Agata at or use this link to complete a short survey and we will get back to you.

How parents organised work and childcare during the pandemic

For the majority, the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation. It has affected every sphere of life including work, education, leisure, and childcare. Parents have been more likely than non-parents to be furloughed and to have reduced income. Indeed, more than 30% of parents reported reduced income in the first three months of the pandemic, although this ratio had decreased to 17% by December 2020.  What is more, parents changed their working patterns to adjust to home-schooling and childcare responsibilities. For some this resulted in doing their job in unsociable hours.

Childcare has traditionally been seen as a mothers’ duty although in recent decades a cultural shift towards involved fatherhood and the equal sharing of caregiving have been encouraged. According to ONS reports, throughout the pandemic women have spent more time than men on unpaid housework and childcare, particularly in families with younger children. These differences were even more pronounced in September-October 2020, despite the first lockdown coming to an end in July and children returning to school for the start of the new school year. At this time, parents started to spend more time working and less time doing housework or childcare duties. Importantly, women did more than men in terms of nurturing or non-developmental childcare (e.g. dressing, feeding, cuddling). Men and women contributed more equally to developmental childcare (e.g. reading, helping with homework) which they also found more enjoyable. However, this does not apply to the most recent lockdown where women have been more likely than men (67% and 52% respectively) to be involved in home-schooling. These figures suggest a worrying return to gendered divisions of labour but we continue to know little about couple decision-making or the lived experiences of men and women as they have navigated their family and work lives through the first year of the pandemic.

While our project is not focused on COVID-19 specifically we have asked the men and women in our study about how the pandemic might have affected the way they organise and share their work and childcare duties. So far, we have interviewed seven couples. Our participants reported some changes, although most of them did not consider them to be major. In general, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have promoted more involvement in childcare by the parent who used to be less present due to work duties. In this way, couples who used to maintain distinct breadwinner-caregiver roles have become more balanced:

Yes because he’s, he’s always here so he helps a lot with the, you know, lifts to the school or from school because he used to travel a lot.  […] he wouldn’t spend so much time in the house so, you know, he’s more available which is good.  He’s working the same hours but he’s around and it helps.” (Eva, 2 kids)

Well because Julie was working at home, she hasn’t been leaving early in the morning so she’s been doing a bit more.  Getting the kids ready for school and often she’s been picking them up from school because she’s been here and I’ve been working.” (Tom, 3 kids)

We split things pretty much equally, especially since he started working from home after COVID […] But since September he’s been allowed to work from home, so I have someone to share that morning routine with now and it is just makes such a difference. […] Just having that backup, actually everything’s a lot easier since he’s been working from home.” (Kate, 2 kids)

In some cases, the pandemic appeared to have reinforced the existing traditional arrangements where a male is the main breadwinner and the female is the main caregiver:

When the first lockdown happened, obviously I was completely off furloughed, Martin was then working from home. I stupidly thought that he would help out a little bit more… with more the schoolwork than anything else, which was the complete opposite. Uhm, even our eldest kind of said you know when daddy’s going to do some reading with me or when’s daddy gonna do some of the schoolwork with me? Why is it always mummy school? […] Whereas… like I, I started doing bins and things like that. So I suppose I ended up doing a little bit more in really trying to keep our youngest from constantly going into the office when he’s, when he was on work calls.” (Sophie, 2 kids)

Some of the parents highlighted the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on their children. They mentioned children worrying about their parent’s health, children’s education being interrupted and normal school being replaced by home-schooling, or that the pandemic had greatly restricted children’s usual activities, such as spending time outdoors, attending after-school clubs, visiting places, socialising:

But they know that they can’t do their clubs and they can’t see their friends and their birthday parties were all cancelled and we can’t see their grandparents […] it’ll kind of bubble up and they’ll get upset.” (Kate, 2 kids)

Remarkably, parents tried to adjust to the demands of the situation, showing resilience and looking at the bright side. They acknowledged negative effects but also pointed to certain positive outcomes of the pandemic such as more flexibility at work and working from home which allowed them to spend more time at home:

Thing is, if anything, it’s improved my work-life balance which is even better. Because I can be around the kids and work encourages, well, we had, in lockdown, would have team meetings where we bring the kids to the team meeting.” (Chris, 3 kids)

It is important to note that these interviews took place in November and December 2020, before the third lockdown. What is more, our participants so far have been relatively insulated, none has lost their job, and many were able to work from home. This may not be the case for others who are less well-positioned. In addition, some of the parents we interviewed explained that the restrictions were difficult psychologically as they limited people’s choice. Also, the closure of schools and childcare services posed a huge problem to those working from home:

I prefer it [working from home] as long as the nursery stay open. It was incredibly difficult when the nurseries were closed because you were having to divide their time between working and ’cause I’m client facing, I’ll be on the emails and phone calls to people as well as having a 3 year old that is demanding and wants your attention. That was really, really, really difficult.” (Hannah, 1 kid)

More broadly, ONS reported that although in the last few weeks people’s well-being has improved slightly, happiness and life satisfaction have remained low while anxiety has been much higher compared to the pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, home-schooling placed a lot of strain on parents. With the school closure in January, a higher number of parents than in the first lockdown (April-May) declared that home-schooling negatively affected their and their children’s wellbeing, as well as their job and the relationships with others in the household. Therefore, it will be particularly interesting to learn more about how the third lockdown affected parents and their arrangements of work and childcare duties.

One of the quite clear effects of the pandemic is that parents have been involved in home-schooling and had no time for other things, including taking part in research studies. But as the schools are open again, hopefully, we will be able to attract more participants and learn more about parents experiences during COVID-19 pandemic and in general. We are particularly interested in the experiences of families where the fathers do as much, or more caregiving than their partners. If you and your partner would like to take part in our project, click here or email Agata at to find out more