Men’s participation in unpaid care - A review of the literature
5. IMPLICATIONS FOR NEW ZEALAND, CONCLUSIONS AND AREAS FOR FURTHER WORK
5.1 Implications for New Zealand - what is the goal?
This survey of the literature shows that men are already involved in providing unpaid care. While, on average, men spend significantly less time in unpaid care than do women, in some areas, there have been increases in time spent caring. The data also show much diversity within the averages: some men undertake a considerable amount of care, others relatively little. In addition, broad measures of care disguise quite complex gendered divisions of unpaid caring work.
Adding to the complexity, there have been major changes in the last few decades in paid work, in family structures, in educational attainment, in legislative frameworks and in attitudes. There have also been changes in perceptions of appropriate roles for men as carers (for example, it is now standard for fathers to attend the births of their children, something unheard of 60 years ago.) Some changes, such as more acceptance of equality between women and men, assist in creating more opportunities for sharing unpaid work; others, such as the growth of single mother-headed families, can create barriers to the sharing of care.
A key issue that arises when the literature on caring is considered is the overall goal when it comes to men's and women's paid work and unpaid care. Are we wanting:
- equal opportunity for men and women to participate in care (i.e. removing barriers to choice, while recognising that outcomes may differ)?
- an increase in men's participation in care (i.e. the goal being to get men to do more care, without necessarily striving for equality in care)?
- men and women undertaking an equal amount of care (in total and/or in specific areas of care)?
Some of these questions are embedded in the literature we considered, with some literature focusing on equal outcomes measures, while others focus more on equality of opportunity.
The choice of goal has significant implications for the strategies used to accomplish it. Achieving equality of outcomes is highly likely to require more aggressive or extreme strategies, such as subsidies or tax breaks for those who undertake paid care with higher rates for women than men, or subsidies/ tax breaks for women in paid work, while achieving equality in opportunity may best be achieved by softer touch social marketing strategies as well as the removal of the barriers detailed in this paper.
We also need to consider what sort of balance we are aiming for in paid and unpaid work. Do we want a society where much of the care is undertaken on an unpaid basis or is it better to push for even more care to become paid work? For example, if we think children will have better outcomes if they are in out-of-home childcare from early in their life than being at home with parents, this will influence thinking around the design of parental leave. Equally, if we think older people should 'age in place' where possible rather than being in retirement homes, then this will affect the balance of paid and unpaid care. In addition, we need to consider other goals of society. For example, if we support exclusive breastfeeding for up to 2 years, how does this affect aims for parents to share a short, or even relatively long, period of paid parental leave?
Overall, the survey of the literature shows that there are a significant number of barriers to men's greater participation in care. These include workplace cultures and practices such as long working hours, policy settings that reinforce traditional divisions of paid and unpaid work, cultural norms and ideologies about appropriate roles for men and women, and the applications of family and criminal law. All of these undermine the ability, and possibly the desire, of men to participate in care work. There are also a vast number of more subtle and minor barriers, which together form a mutually reinforcing set of conditions that act to impede men's participation in unpaid care.
Much of the literature on care focuses on the care of children. To encourage men to participate more in such care, a key focus of governments internationally has been on parental leave, with the Nordic countries implementing the most extensive provisions. The history of the progressive implementation of leave schemes to support men's participation in unpaid care shows that there was initially significant resistance in some Nordic countries to the notion of the 'daddy months' but that the implementation of the policy changed attitudes around the division of unpaid work.
Some evaluations show that ring-fenced parental leave entitlements for men increase their participation in care, even when the leave period is over. However, even where leave entitlements are the most generous, when the division of such entitlements are left to individual couples, men take up only their sole entitlement to leave, and thus, the overall division of care remains largely unchanged. New Zealand's parental leave evaluation found a similar pattern, with women using the vast majority of entitlements, and both men and women reporting that it was more important for mothers to use the full leave entitlement.
What are the lessons for New Zealand? The literature suggests that there is no silver bullet that will address men's lesser participation in care and that, even in the Nordic countries, entrenched gendered patterns of care remain. However, the literature also suggests efforts to remove barriers to men's participation in care could reap rewards.
The review of the literature also highlighted that men often receive mixed messages about their appropriate role in the care of children and other family members. Awareness-raising campaigns encourage men to be more involved with their children, while simultaneously, there has been a decline in the number of men in paid care roles. There are also competing messages within the academic literature as researchers engage over debate as to whether fathers should encourage their children to engage in risk-taking play or whether they should be more nurturing.
Because of these messages, and the other structural and cultural barriers that impede men's greater participation in care, it is perhaps not surprising that men are significantly less involved in the care of children and other family members than women, particularly when it is remembered that the issue of gender equality in care has arisen only in the last 50 years. In contrast, traditional roles have a significantly longer history! However, significant change in the distribution of care is unlikely without government support, either in removing barriers to choice, incentivising care by men, or both.
International research indicates that there is a role for policy in setting norms about men's involvement in care. A policy package that includes generous ring-fenced leave entitlements for men and incentives for partners to divide shared leave entitlements more equitably may further this change; however, care is needed around the language and messaging of any government work in the area. In line with this, the literature highlights the need for recognition of competing policy priorities, with the result that family-friendly leave legislation may further reinforce barriers to the participation of men in unpaid care.
Changes to working arrangements and working hours are potentially more powerful in facilitating men's participation in care; however, research internationally indicates that men are significantly less likely to take up such arrangements, even when they are available. As such, to realise the potential of these supports would require a significant cultural shift, both within the workplace and more broadly.
Another policy issue relates to the mix of care that is unpaid and carried out in the home and that which is carried out in institutional settings such as childcare centres, after-school care and residential or paid home care for the elderly. 'Professionalising' such care reduces the total amount of unpaid care needed to be shared between women and men and presents potentially an easier gender equity target. However, professionalisation of care brings with it major issues of gendered occupational segregation within the paid care sector.
A further issue for government is that, while there is specific institutional support for gender issues specific to women (such as the work of the Ministry of Women's Affairs) and for women's participation in paid work (such as the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women), there is currently no specific institutional support for increasing men's participation in care or for gender issues specific to men. The lack of such support in itself sends a message about the importance of men's caring - a message that is reinforced in many settings.
Some important social and demographic drivers may already be in place that seem likely to help change the distribution of care. There are now considerably more well-educated young women than men, and this change in qualifications and income earning may provide incentives to encourage men's greater participation in unpaid care and women's increased labour force participation.
In conclusion, this review suggests that there may be significant benefits for men, women, children and the economy in increasing men's participation in care; however, the strategies to provide this support are complex and will require a multi-faceted and sometimes sensitive approach from a number of directions.
5.3 Areas for further work
As indicated earlier, the literature on men as carers has been expanding worldwide. Yet despite all this new literature, this review has highlighted a number of gaps in our understanding of the barriers and supports to men's greater participation in care, particularly with regard to the New Zealand context. Part of the reason for the gaps is the recognition of the increasing diversity of men's lives. Even just in relation to fathers, there is now an interest in gay fathers, military fathers, separated fathers, fathers with disabilities, full-time fathers and fathers who work long hours. Each group could easily be the subject of further research. There is also an increasing recognition that cultural context matters. For example, while we may learn something useful from studies of black fathers in US prisons, there will also be factors that limit the applicability of those results to New Zealand.
A key area where further work is needed is the analysis of the larger New Zealand official datasets. In a number of areas discussed in this paper, data are available, but have not been analysed. One example of this is the trend in the number of men who are not in the labour force and state their main activity is looking after children; work is also needed to determine why, despite the growth in non-employment of prime-aged men and the growth of men looking after children, overall, fewer men than might have been expected have left the labour force to become full-time caregivers. A further example cited in this paper relates to 2006 Census analysis of the working hours of fathers with young children. In addition, in the 1999 time use survey, some couple level data were collected but never used.
A number of datasets will become available in the next few years, including data from re-runs of the childcare and time use surveys. Attention to the research questions that shape the data collected in these is necessary to ensure that these instruments maximise the opportunity to collect data relevant to both women and men as carers. Full utilisation of the data these surveys will provide may also require specific funding streams.
Major benefits could also be gained if New Zealand deposited data with some of the major international institutes, including the Multinational Time Use Survey (Essex) and Luxembourg Income Survey. The lack of participation in cross-national datasets such as these significantly limits the ability to compare New Zealand data with data gathered in other countries.
Another key area where further work is needed centres on gathering information on men's preferences for the division of paid work and unpaid care. There is little evidence analysing the drivers of couple-level decisions about the divisions of work and care, and the degree to which current arrangements reflect the preferences of both men and women. Men's views on a number of important issues of relevance to this paper are not routinely collected, for example, we know little internationally about men's fertility preferences.
While there has been research on parental leave that explored the views of both mothers and fathers, there is little research on the provision and use of other domestic leave arrangements by gender, with research in this area having the potential to provide information on further strategies to support men's caring.
In addition, further investigation is needed on the impact on parenting of residing away from children, including the impact of imprisonment. For example, there is little New Zealand evidence on the impact of imprisonment on men's parenting and limited data on differences in this area by ethnicity.
Finally, as the bulk of this paper indicates, research on men as carers for other relatives or friends is significantly more limited. The ageing population, coupled with the current proportions of older men providing care to their spouses, suggests that more work in this area is essential.