Men’s participation in unpaid care - A review of the literature
2. IMPACTS OF MEN'S PARTICIPATION IN CARE
Men's current level of participation in unpaid care has implications for women, children and the economy, as well as for men themselves. Historically, much of the discussion around men as carers has been framed according to a deficit model; that is, a significant body of research over the past decades has attributed a vast range of negative outcomes to poor fathering, a lack of care by fathers and 'father absence.' To avoid this tendency, this section presents the evidence of the impacts of current levels of care within the framework of the considerable and positive implications for individuals, their families and the broader economy that increasing men's participation in unpaid care work may have.
2.1 Fathers' care of children
Men are in a wide range of parenting situations, including a significant proportion of fathers who do not live full-time with their children (O'Brien, 2004). However, across a variety of family types, fathers' participation in care has been linked to significant gains in wellbeing for children, including positive cognitive, psychological and social outcomes. A number of studies have found that these benefits remain even after influences such as income, maternal involvement and child health are controlled for.
The literature on the benefits to children of fathers caring for them has been through a number of phases, in part, reflecting the increasing complexity of parenting arrangements and, in part, reflecting a growing sophistication in thinking about what constitutes care. While early studies suggested there were positive gains for children from their fathers' greater involvement, these were often based on small-scale cross-sectional surveys, case studies or for married couples and sometimes based simply on whether children lived with their biological fathers (for example, Pruett, 1987; Snarey, 1993; Parker and Parker, 1986). In a review article, Lees (2007) notes that most of the early studies had major limitations with methods, measures and conceptions of father involvement. Lees notes that the methods of most of the earlier studies were not robust enough to test if fathers contributed uniquely to the lives of their children or if the effects of father involvement were actually due to maternal involvement or were due to the father's indirect contributions to the family. At a more extreme level, and related primarily to the growth of families being raised mainly by mothers, Blankenhorn (1995) drew on studies to suggest that simple 'father absence' was at the root of most major social problems. The Blankenhorn approach mirrored the now discredited theory of 'maternal deprivation' promoted by Bowlby in the 1950s (Bowlby, 1951).
The national and international literature, as well as personal interviews reported in the media, has suggested that involved and caring fathers do make important and positive contribution to lives of children and that, for many children (and adults), the absence of a father in their lives has been, at the very least, the cause of much sadness (for example, Amato and Rivera, 1999; Braunias, 1999; McCann, 1999; Smith, 1990). Recent research suggests that fathers' emotional investment in, attachment to and provision of resources for their children are all associated with positive "well-being, cognitive development and social competence of young children even after the effects of such potential significant confounds as family income, neonatal health, maternal involvement and paternal age are taken into account". (Cabrera, Tamin-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth and Lamb, 2000:130). Research has also shown fathers' involvement with children can have positive impacts on emotional regulation and control, academic achievement and enjoyment of school, control of delinquent behaviours, emotional distress and more "desirable educational, behavioural and emotional outcomes" (Ibid:130). Cabrera et al extended the positive impacts of father involvement to step-parents engaged in positive parenting; however, they note that little is known about the effects of non-resident fathers' involvement on children's development.
Two recent review articles (both themselves peer-reviewed) summarise findings from well-constructed studies, particularly longitudinal studies, about the benefits of father care for children. These are Lees (2007) and Sarkadi et al (2008). The studies indicate overall that fathers can make unique, direct contributions to their children's wellbeing. Active and regular engagement with the child predicts a range of positive outcomes, although no specific form of engagement has been shown to yield better outcomes than another. These findings generally hold after controlling for a range of factors, including mothers' involvement, children's characteristics, children's early behavioural problems, family income, socio-economic status over time, step-father involvement and family structure.
The Lees study suggests that just being present is not enough for fathers to be able to make a unique contribution. Fathers must have a close relationship with their children. Children whose fathers are involved and responsive are less likely to be anti-social, aggressive or delinquent. They are less likely to get into trouble at school, have emotional problems or have a negative self-image. Support and encouragement from fathers can have a positive influence on children's attitudes to school and their educational achievement. Sarkadi et al (2008:157) come to a similar conclusion and suggest that:
It would seem that active and regular engagement in the child predicts a range of positive outcomes, although it is not possible to say exactly what constitutes fathers' 'effective' type of engagement... what is especially promising with the effects of father engagement is that it seems to differentially influence desirable outcomes. Father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in young women; it also enhances cognitive development while decreasing criminality and economic disadvantage in low SES families.
In line with these findings, Gruenert and Galligan (2007) found higher levels of wellbeing amongst young men who reported positive relationships with their fathers. They reported that close relationships with fathers were associated with higher levels of wellbeing, lower depression and social anxiety, a greater ability to experience intimacy in non-verbal ways and closer relationships with male friends.
Both Lees and Sarkadi suggest that the pathways through which fathers can make contributions are still somewhat unclear. In addition, father involvement may make different contributions at different stages of life and in different dimensions. Lees concludes that, while the direct contributions made by father involvement remain relatively modest compared to the sum total of all the other factors affecting child wellbeing, they still are important. The overall findings of Sarkadi et al (2008:157) led them to suggest:
...public policy has the potential to serve as a facilitator or barrier to fathers spending time with their children during the crucial early years of development. Thus, even without knowing what exactly brings about the positive outcomes seen in this review, there is enough support to urge both professionals and policy-makers to improve circumstances for involved fathering.
In addition, in both the historic and current literature examining fathers' 'unique contribution', there remains some tension around whether a father's contribution to parenting might come primarily from being a 'male role model', from being a male model of nurturing behaviour or simply through being another caring adult. The male role model includes encouraging children to adopt behaviours that are seen as traditionally male, including risky activities such as tree climbing or being involved in active contact sports. Fathers are seen as needed to provide positive role models of 'masculinity', to teach boys to be 'real men' and not become 'motherbound' (for example, Biddulph, 1995). Similarly, Doherty, Kouneski and Erickson (1998:277) ask:
How much should [men] emulate the traditional nurturing activities of mothers, and how much should they represent a masculine role model to their children?
2.2 Participation in care and labour force participation
It is extremely difficult to isolate the specific impacts of the current levels of care by men, especially with regard to the impact on the labour market. Unpaid care and paid work are inextricably intertwined, each reinforcing and impacting each other, and affecting almost every aspect of both spheres for both men and women. The relationship between care and paid work is interconnected, and the causal direction is impossible to determine: do men engage in less care/more paid work because of the demands of men's paid work and/or because their partners are doing the care, or do women engage in more care/less paid work because men don't do much care? Or both? Do men engage more in paid work to allow their partners to fulfil preferences to stay home with children, or do women stay home with children because men prefer not to? Do women choose unpaid caring over paid working because the rewards of paid work are not enough to warrant outsourcing care, or are the rewards of work less for women because women tend to prioritise care demands over those of paid work? And how much of a role does culture or biology play? The complexity and lack of clear causal direction in these arguments means that many findings about the relationships between men's and women's engagement with care and paid work risk sounding tautological; as such, the reinforcing effect of the outcomes in each of the areas of paid and unpaid work need to be taken into account when these issues are considered.
Women's care load and labour force participation
Gornick and Meyers (2008) note that, in the 'rich' countries of the world, women's labour-force participation is approaching that of men. Figure 5 shows the rise in employment rates in a New Zealand context.
Figure 5: Long-term employment rates for women and men aged 15 and older, 1956–2008
Source: Household Labour Force Survey, Statistics New Zealand, with older data from Chapple (1994).
Data table for Figure 5
However, in order to meet care responsibilities particularly associated with children, many women scale back their involvement in paid work, either by working part-time, accepting a less demanding position or exiting the workforce for extended periods of time. Galtry and Callister (2005) cite a large body of international literature showing that there are significant long-term costs for women who take longer periods of time out of paid work to meet care responsibilities. Similarly, Gornick and Meyers (2008) argue that women who combine work and care are often subject to a 'mommy tax', which reduces their lifetime earnings, with this resulting from career breaks, periods of part-time employment, parenting-related occupational and job choices and employer discrimination based on parental status. Men's average earnings are higher than women's in all OECD countries, and men have higher lifetime earnings, resulting in a greater risk of poverty for women at various stages of the life course.
A significant body of literature has documented the relationship between tenure in paid work and lifetime earnings, noting the impacts of gender differences in time out of the workforce. Gornick and Meyers (2008) note that men's stronger ties to the labour market carry social, political and economic advantages that are denied to many women, especially those who spend substantial amounts of time out of work in order to care for children.
A more equal distribution of paid work and unpaid work, including care, by gender may contribute to reducing gender inequalities in employment and earnings outcomes. Greater sharing of unpaid care by men may allow women to avoid or reduce the scaling back of paid work and thus lessen or prevent the weakening of women's human capital and skills, as well as maintaining family income and overall lifetime earnings. The flip-side of this is that many women are able to reduce their hours of employment to accommodate care needs only because of the longer hours worked by their spouses (Baxter, 2007).
An example of the mutually reinforcing nature of paid work and care is occupational segregation. Despite the complexity of the relationship between unpaid care and paid work, what is clear is that there are significant gender differences in the composition of the workforce, with men and women clustered in different occupations, and that this segregation has implications for the ability of men to participate in care. In New Zealand, while the largest group of employed men are employed in corporate management positions, the occupations where the next largest groups of men are found are agriculture and fisheries, building and labouring jobs, where, it could be argued, the implementation of flexible work arrangements is difficult. By contrast, women are employed, in large numbers, in teaching, administrative and 'personal service' positions, which more closely align with the need to fulfil care responsibilities. As discussed earlier, for a variety of reasons, including perhaps discrimination, men are less likely than women to work in paid caring occupations such as teaching or nursing.
Perceptions of men as peripheral to care and differences in labour force participation patterns by gender contribute to gendered occupational segregation. When men are viewed as secondary to care, professions that are dominated by men are not obliged to offer working arrangements that facilitate the combining of paid work and care. Because of this, women may choose to work in professions, or specialities within professions, that allow them to meet their care responsibilities, with recent research by the Families Commission (2008) highlighting the role of care responsibilities in shaping women's decisions about career choices. As a result, there is a clustering of women in professions such as teaching and nursing, and the continuation of the cycle of occupational segregation and gendered pay differences. Gupta, Smith and Verner (2008:79), citing the labour markets in Nordic countries as an example, argue that this
...may have led to a societal system in which mothers (women) select into relatively low paying jobs... where it is easy to combine a career with family responsibilities while men tend to locate in the private sector, have a low rate of take-up of family-friendly schemes, earn the larger part of household income and support the family...
This is evident in the data collected in the 2006 New Zealand Census. Table 6 shows the distribution of male and female workforce across the occupations, while Table 7 shows the proportions of male and female employees in some key occupational areas and highlights the prevalence of men in occupations with little flexibility.
|Occupation||% of male workforce||% female workforce|
|Agriculture and Fishery Workers||8.55%||4.27%|
|Building Trades Workers||8.38%||0.22%|
|Total Labourers and Related Elementary Service Workers||7.40%||4.76%|
|Other Associate Professionals||6.77%||10.93%|
|Not elsewhere included||6.00%||5.31%|
|Personal and Protective Services Workers||5.23%||11.85%|
|Drivers and Mobile Machinery Operators||5.12%||0.43%|
|Metal and Machinery Trades Workers||4.50%||0.11%|
|Physical, Mathematical and Engineering Science Professionals||4.40%||1.22%|
|Stationary Machine Operators and Assemblers||4.32%||2.41%|
|Salespersons, Demonstrators and Models||3.81%||6.78%|
|Physical Science and Engineering Associate Professionals||3.39%||1.30%|
|Life Science and Health Professionals||1.54%||4.68%|
|Other Craft and Related Trades Workers||1.42%||0.38%|
|Industrial Plant Operators||1.37%||0.11%|
|Legislators and Administrators||1.32%||0.55%|
|Customer Services Clerks||0.96%||5.90%|
|Building and Related Workers||0.87%||0.02%|
|Precision Trades Workers||0.83%||0.28%|
|Life Science and Health Associate Professionals||0.42%||1.55%|
|Occupation||% of total male||% of total female|
|Building and Related Workers||98.38%||1.62%|
|Metal and Machinery Trades Workers||97.88%||2.12%|
|Building Trades Workers||97.68%||2.32%|
|Industrial Plant Operators||93.43%||6.57%|
|Drivers and Mobile Machinery Operators||93.09%||6.90%|
|Other Craft and Related Trades Workers||80.52%||19.48%|
|Physical, Mathematical and Engineering Science Professionals||80.20%||19.80%|
|Precision Trades Workers||76.58%||23.42%|
|Physical Science and Engineering Associate Professionals||74.47%||25.53%|
|Legislators and Administrators||73.09%||26.91%|
|Agriculture and Fishery Workers||69.19%||30.81%|
|Stationary Machine Operators and Assemblers||66.80%||33.19%|
|Labourers and Related Elementary Service Workers||63.58%||36.42%|
|Salespersons, Demonstrators and Models||38.62%||61.39%|
|Personal and Protective Services Workers||33.11%||66.89%|
|Life Science and Health Professionals||27.00%||73.00%|
|Life Science and Health Associate Professionals||23.34%||76.66%|
|Customer Services Clerks||15.50%||84.50%|
Source: 2006 Census of Population and Dwellings, Statistics NZ.
Singley and Hynes (2005:379) argue that continuing gender segregation in the paid labour force makes it more 'rational' for women to reduce their employment to undertake the bulk of unpaid care in the home:
...women in heterosexual couples typically face a labor market different from that faced by their partners. The historical separation of home and work has led to continuing high levels of occupational sex segregation and a pay gap between men and women, as well as between male- and female-dominated occupations. Consequently, within most couples, the opportunity costs for the woman's time at home are generally less than for her partner's time. Gender stratification in the labor market and within marriage are inextricably linked.
A number of researchers highlight this occupational sorting, with research particularly in the Nordic countries illustrating how this has resulted in a predominance of women in public sector jobs. Klinth (2008:24), for example, argues that:
...women are directed to the side of the labour market (the public sector) where child-related absence is expected. They receive a lower income, have fewer opportunities for full-time work, and more limited career possibilities. Men form the majority of the other side of the labor market (the private sector) where the acceptance of parental responsibility is lower, and income and career possibilities are higher.
Similarly, Duvander, Ferrarini and Thalberg (2005:16), in their evaluation of parental leave and gender equality in Sweden, show that there are:
...reasons to believe that men and women are treated differently since employers regard young women (with and without children) as a risk group. Men and women are consequently sorted to different workplaces, positions and professions in the labour market. As a result, inequalities, associated with gender segregation in the labour market and the gender wage gap, are reinforced.
2.3 Men's care, wellbeing and work-life balance for men and women
In addition to impacts on women's labour force participation and associated financial circumstances over the life course, the involvement of men in the care of their children is related to higher levels of wellbeing for women. Jacobs and Kelley (2006:24) argue that "it appears that father involvement not only has positive associations with child outcomes but may have important benefits for their partners and for family processes." Similarly, in a nationally representative US study, Milkie, Bianchi, Mattingly and Robinson (2002) found that differences between expected levels of father care and actual father involvement in the emotional care of children were related to mothers' beliefs that the division of labour was unfair to them and to these mothers having significantly higher levels of self-reported stress. Burton, Lethbridge and Phipps (2007), in their study of parents caring for a disabled child, found that the division of responsibilities according to traditional gender roles gave mothers the tasks most damaging to their health, resulting in a deterioration in health status relative to that of her husband.
Men may also benefit in a number of ways if unpaid care work was more equally distributed between men and women. When women significantly alter their work patterns to accommodate care responsibilities, men may face greater pressure to support their families financially, with this having the potential to limit their subsequent choices around employment, education and their availability and ability to care for dependents in the future.
Studies have reported that men would like to spend more time with their children, but are impeded by long hours in paid work. A 2003 survey of fathers carried out by the EEO Trust (2003) found that 80 per cent of fathers reported that they wished they could spend more time with their children. In addition, 82 per cent said their paid work negatively affected the amount of time they spent with their children, and 52 per cent said their work affected the quality of the time they spent with their children. 0
O'Brien (2004) reports that increased participation in care may have a number of positive impacts for men. She cites Palkowitz (2002):
...fatherhood creates meaning for men: 'fathering anchored men's mental, physical and relational life'. Through... in-depth investigation of involved fathers of different ages, including resident and non-resident fathers, [Palkowitz] suggests that men who are active in their children's lives tend to be more personally integrated and involved in their community. It may well be, he argues, that men's emotional involvement with children can operate to buffer against employment related stress (O'Brien, 2004:10).
Furthermore, there is a significant body of research indicating that men's focus on paid work may have negative impacts on their relationships. The EEO Trust (2004) online survey on work and relationships found that men were more likely than women to perceive that their work had negative impacts on the quality of time with their partner and on the amount and quality of time they had for friends and socialising.
A greater sharing of unpaid care work may improve work-life balance for both men and women. Some literature suggests that women have significantly poorer work-life balance than men as a result of having full-time paid employment and longer hours of unpaid care work, while other research has found that men have poorer work-life balance than women, related to their high hours of paid work, lack of access to flexible work arrangements and workplace cultures that do not define men as carers. Assessments of the impact of men's participation in unpaid care on work-life balance are complicated by the fact that women tend to reduce their paid work hours to accommodate care work. However, cross-country estimates show that total working hours (paid and unpaid) are almost universally higher for partnered men with children than for their female equivalents.
There is some New Zealand evidence that men have poorer work-life balance. A review of working hours shows that men are significantly more likely to work very long hours than women (Fursman, 2008). In line with this, the Department of Labour's (2006) work-life balance survey created a work-life scale that combined respondents' ratings of their work-life balance, the difficulty they experienced in achieving work-life balance and their job satisfaction. They found that men were slightly more likely than women to experience significant work-life conflict, with 20 per cent of men falling into the most severe work-life category (compared with 17 per cent of women.) In addition, 30 per cent of men stated they would prefer to work fewer hours even if it meant earning less money (compared with 25 per cent of women).
Regardless of which gender has poorer work-life balance, the greater participation of men in unpaid care would help to change cultures, both in the workplace and more broadly, that impede the ability of men and women to achieve their preferred balance between paid work and care responsibilities. As discussed earlier, greater participation of men in care would reduce the costs of using flexible work arrangements by making such arrangements gender neutral, with this also impacting positively on pay equity and occupational segregation. Ekberg, Eriksson and Friebel (2005) note that this was an explicit goal of the Swedish government's parental leave policy, which, by encouraging both men and women to take leave, hoped that employers would discriminate less, as job disruptions owing to parental leave would be less concentrated to women.
2.4 Economic implications of men's participation in care
In addition to the economic benefits of increasing women's labour force participation, there have also been suggestions of other economic benefits to increasing men's participation in care. For example, Misra, Moller and Budig (2007), in a study examining work-family policies across 11 European countries, found significant macro-economic implications for countries that included a focus on men as carers, with a key finding relating to levels of poverty. They found that countries with a work-family policy model that included men in care had the lowest poverty rates for single and partnered women with children. This was because work-family policies that reinforced women's caregiving roles led to a greater risk of poverty for women, particularly among female-headed households, while countries with dual-earner, dual-carer policy settings assumed that both men and women would be in the labour force and provided subsidised care for children to facilitate this. Misra et al concluded that countries that emphasised balancing care and employment for men as well as women showed significant reductions in poverty rates compared to those that excluded care from men's roles.
...gendered assumptions that underlie broad welfare state strategies and specific work-family policies result in different patterns of support for families. These patterns are linked to differences in poverty rates for families with children. Poverty rates remain remarkably high in many nations, particularly for single mothers with children. However, these rates vary by policy strategies. Poverty is much lower in countries with the earner-carer strategy, which emphasizes policy approaches meant to balance care and employment for both men and women (Misra et al, 2007:820-21).
 Bowlby’s original study focused on orphan children, with a range of negative outcomes attributed to mother absence. However, the argument was then widened to include mothers who left children in the care of others in order to engage in paid work.
 There is an on-going, and sometimes gendered, debate about what activities are ‘hard work’ versus what are ‘fun’ type care and, related to this, what might actually be leisure versus unpaid care work. For example, reading a book to a child is often seen as unpaid work whereas taking a child to a football match can be seen as leisure. However, both can have learning opportunities within them and both can be valuable in terms of child wellbeing.
 However, measuring the total employment rates obscures the gender differences in full- and part-time work.
 However, a 1999 study of the impact of parental leave on earnings for men and women in Sweden found that employers penalised men more than women when parental leave was taken, as they interpreted men taking leave as evidence of less commitment to their careers, while it was normative for women to take leave. This study also found that the earnings penalty associated with taking parental leave was significantly higher for men than women. See Albrecht, Edin, Sundstrom and Vroman (1999).