Traditional gendered patterns of child care persisted during the COVID-19 shutdown, with more than a third of couples relying on women to provide most or all of it, according to a study from University of Georgia researcher Kristen Shockley.
Some previous research has found that typical familial patterns may get upended during crises, but that’s not what Shockley and her colleagues found in the early months of the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Most people have never undergone anything like this before, where all of a sudden they can’t rely on their normal child care, and most people’s work situation has changed too,” said Shockley, associate professor of psychology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “We thought this would be a chance for men to step in and partake equally in child care, but for many couples we didn’t see that happen.”
In mid-March, as schools and day cares closed and many shifted to remote work, Shockley and her colleagues quickly created a survey targeting dual-earner couples with at least one child under age 6.
The team initially surveyed 274 couples, conducting a follow-up survey with 133 of the same couples in May. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, assessed marital tension, health and job performance in addition to child care strategies.
“When the wife does it all, not surprisingly, the outcomes are bad for the couple,” Shockley said. “It’s not just bad for the wife, it’s also bad for the husband, including in terms of job performance although his work role presumably hasn’t changed. When one person’s doing it all, there’s a lot of tension in the relationship, and it’s probably spilling over into the husband’s ability to focus at work.”