Universiteit Leiden

nl en

How can we get dads to work less and do more around the house?

Would more dads work fewer hours if other dads decided to do the same? Would paid parental leave prompt them to do more around the house? How do social norms affect inequalities within the labour market? Researcher Dr Max van Lent investigates.

It’s a well-known fact that once children are born, women in heterosexual families start doing fewer hours of paid work than men. Why is this, and what can we do about it? ‘When it comes to solving labour shortages, there’s often a focus on women and how to ensure that more women continue to work once they’ve had children,’ says Max van Lent, Assistant Professor of Economics. ‘But it’s actually a bit odd just to look at what women are doing, because parents make these kinds of major decisions together.’ Within the field of economics, the focus has therefore shifted in recent years from the woman towards the whole family – including the father. Dr van Lent says that what we should be asking is: ‘If it’s difficult for both parents in a family to work full time, why does the mother reduce her hours rather than the father?’

'In lesbian families, partners spend roughly an equal amount of time on domestic tasks and childcare.’

‘Dad earns the money, mum takes care of the kids’

The gender gap in the labour market is partly to be explained by social norms, and particularly traditional attitudes held by straight couples. Van Lent adds: ‘Research has shown that within lesbian couples, the differences between the birthing parent and the non-birthing parent are much less than within heterosexual couples. In lesbian families, the time spent on domestic tasks and childcare is divided between each partner more equally.’ In short, he says there’s no biological explanation for the difference in the number of hours worked by men and women, as that would mean the birthing mother within a lesbian relationship would also work less. He continues: ‘When a heterosexual couple adopts a child, those traditional patterns – ‘dad earns the money, mum takes care of the kids’ – remain intact and the mother reduces her hours.’

‘When the penny drops’

Van Lent, himself a father to two young children, has received a grant to conduct research on how families organise their work and family time. His main focus will be on fathers’ social networks. Using data from Statistics Netherlands (CBS), he will explore whether fathers would work less if other fathers around them chose to do so as well. ‘We’ll look at decisions taken by their families, neighbours and colleagues.’ He expects that all of these networks affect a person’s decision to work a certain number of hours: ‘Suppose your brother or cousin decides to work part time after the birth of their child. That might prompt you to work part time, too.’

‘Suppose your brother decides to work part time after their child is born. That might prompt you to work part time, too.’

What about parental leave?

Let’s be honest: the financial implications of working less shouldn’t be underestimated. Van Lent believes that if working part time resulted in less financial ‘pain’, fathers would be willing to work fewer hours. He feels that’s reason enough to consider more attractive parental leave schemes. Van Lent: ‘In recent years, fathers in the Netherlands have gone from two days to six weeks of paid paternity leave. They’re also entitled to parental leave. If it’s more affordable and convenient for parents to work fewer hours, I expect more fathers will start working part time – at least temporarily.’

Dads working less: what will that mean?

If fathers do decide to work less due to people in their social networks doing the same or the option to take leave, it will be interesting to see whether social norms also change as a result. Van Lent expects this to happen. He will also investigate whether it actually becomes more normal for men to be more involved in childcare and take on more household tasks rather than solely focusing on paid work.

From an economics perspective, it remains to be seen whether fathers reducing their hours will have long-term advantages. Van Lent explains: ‘With such a tight labour market, it’s a case of all hands on deck. If fathers as well as mothers decide to work part time, the available workforce will become even smaller.’ What might help, however, is if – in return for the total loss of hours worked by fathers – mothers decide to work more hours. ‘Especially if those hours are in healthcare, education and childcare – sectors that are already experiencing staff shortages,’ Van Lent adds.

NWO grant

Dr van Lent has been awarded an NWO SGW XS grant for his research. The grant supports researchers with fundamental research projects and is allocated to promising ideas that can be rapidly explored through small-scale, innovative projects. Van Lent was awarded the maximum grant amount of €50,000 and will launch the research project in December 2024 in collaboration with his colleague Dr Jordy Meekes.

Text: Helena Lysaght 
Photo: Freepik

This website uses cookies.  More information.