SEVERAL think-tanks believe that we're heading back to the 1950s when it comes to gender equality both in the home and outside.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in conjunction with Sussex University found that almost three-quarters of mothers, of whom 67% were still working in paid jobs, described themselves as the '"default" parent for most of the time during the lockdown.
The number of mothers responsible for 90% of childcare increased from 27% to 45%. Seven out of 10 said they were responsible for homeschooling.
For the IFS "society has regressed to a 1950s way of living which will have serious consequences."
Throughout the fifties, most post-war households were made up of 'classic nuclear families' - two heterosexual parents with 2.2 kids living in one household. Internal family relationships were based on inequality with the husband as the key breadwinner and the wife responsible for housework and child care. Gender roles were firmly segregated.
By the mid-1970s sociologists, Wilmott and Young claimed in their book, 'The Symmetrical Family', that the segregation of genders was slowly breaking down. Social changes had led to more egalitarian relationships between men and women. Men were becoming more child-centred sharing domestic tasks with women. The big rise in women's work outside the home was a clear sign of equality. Gender roles, they argued, were becoming integrated and identical in both the home and workplace.
A decade later research by the feminist writer Ann Oakley challenged this. The rise in women's employment was mostly part-time which didn't conflict with the 'traditional domestic role'. Most housework, which remained monotonous, despite labour-saving devices, was still mostly done by women.
The economic dependence of women on men was still a reality in several households. Women at home suffered from clinical depression in looking after pre-school children. Many marriages were marked by an unequal balance of power between the sexes with one in four women the victims of domestic violence.
Even when men did participate in domestic jobs it was not in the core task of cleaning and cooking, but rather in odd jobs, repairs, and decorating. Women were doing a triple shift of housework, emotional, and paid work.
By the 1990s the researcher Jonathan Gershuny noted a change. Although women still carried out the main burden of domestic work, there was "a lagged adaptation to their increasing paid work" as men took on more household tasks. This was marked in both middle-class and affluent working-class households. Yet, jobless men tended not take on domestic work even when their partners were employed.
However, studies of such diverse areas of domestic life as decision-making, money-management, choices about food, and even the use of the remote control, revealed that men continued to dominate.
Despite misplaced talk of the rise of the 'new man' by the start of the twenty-first century, there was growing evidence of the changing role of fathering. Men were more likely to attend the birth of their babies than men in the 1960s. Burgees and Beck found that fathers were taking an increasingly active role in the emotional development of their children. In a post-modern era, many fathers no longer rely on paid jobs to provide a sense of identity and fulfillment. They look to their children and intimate relationship with their partners to give them a sense of purpose and identity.
In the last thirty years, more women have become career-focused. They overtake men when it comes to educational attainment with more young women going to university than men. Although the gender pay gap remains stubborn, women have cracked the glass ceiling by entering professions like accountancy, law, and medicine.
Sadly, women are more likely to have lost jobs than men during the Coronavirus lockdown, while mothers working from home say they are doing the majority of childcare and housework. Whether this pattern of gender inequality becomes entrenched over the next decade remains problematic. It's premature to claim that COVID-19 is turning the clock back on women's rights and the long march towards gender equality.
Stephen Lambert is a Newcastle City Councillor. He writes in a personal capacity