In Australia both in policy and practice, men are expected to be primary breadwinners while women are filling roles as primary caregivers for both children and the household.
A study at Flinders University has found that this leads some men to feel that if they contribute around the house in addition to undertaking paid work then their female partner should ‘consider themselves lucky’.
“This type of logic reinforces gender inequalities by excusing men from making significant contributions to household and care work, instead privileging paid work as the core business of a successful family life,” says Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow, Associate Professor Damien Riggs, from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders.
“One consequence of this logic is that women are expected to be at work non-stop, whilst men are allowed to treat work as paid employment, and home as a space to engage in minimal activities.”
The four-year study, conducted by Associate Professor Riggs and research associate Dr Clare Bartholomaeus, is tracking the experience of heterosexual couples from prior to conception to after the birth of a first child.
In one of the couples, the male partner considered it to be “selfish that he should be expected to engage in paid work and then spend his weekend mornings caring for their baby”, whereas the female partner noted that “while she made a choice to be the primary caregiver, this did not mean she should be the only person responsible for running the household”.
Associate Professor Riggs says the study shows a change in mentality is needed across the country, given personal views such as those reflected above are often reinforced at the institutional level.
“There is a need for a shift in how work is spoken about,” he says.
“Men do not ‘help’ women by earning an income, women are not ‘lucky’ if a male partner contributes to household or care work.
“Identifying how particular terms serve to entrench disparities with regard to gender and care work is an important step towards social change.”
Damien W. Riggs and Clare Bartholomaeus (2018) ‘That’s my job’: accounting for division of labour amongst heterosexual first time parents’ was published in the Journal of Community, Work & Family.