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30 April 2021

Relative education levels 'key driver' of attitudes towards responsibility for childcare

The attitudes of men and women towards responsibility for childcare is shaped more by their relative power within the household than the cost of deviating from stereotypical gender roles, a new study has found.

father childcare
The study examined attitudes towards childcare across Europe.

Both men and women who have greater levels of education relative to their partners show a stronger preference for a division of household labour that sees their partner take on more of the work and care responsibilities.

This runs contrary to theories that women who have higher status than their partners compensate for that by conforming to traditional gender norms and taking on more responsibility for the household and childcare work—and vice versa for men.

The findings were revealed in a new paper, Household education gaps and gender role attitudes, authored by Dr Marco Giani and Dr David Hope, from the Department of Political Economy at King’s, and Dr Øyvind Søraas Skorge, from Bjørknes University College, Oslo.

The researchers say their findings, published in Political Science Research and Methods, suggest that relative education levels are a key driver of attitudes towards responsibility for childcare.

The researchers note: “We provide evidence that the gender childcare bias—the extent to which individuals disapprove more of women working full-time with children under three than men—is greater for men with more education than their partners, whereas the opposite holds for women.

“The effect is sizable and takes place even though men and women on average hold a very similar bias. Thus, the household education gap is a key driver of the gender childcare bias.

“While our results pertain specifically to attitudes to childcare, which is only one dimension of gender role attitudes, they are more in line with a resource-bargaining than a gender-identity approach to the formation of gender role attitudes.

“They suggest that the partner with the greater educational resources in the household favours a division of work and care responsibilities that sees their partner taking on more of the non-paid work in the household.”

Data for the study was gathered from the 2018 European Social Survey and featured responses from thousands of men and women across 19 European countries.

In this story

Marco Giani

Senior Lecturer in Political Economy

David  Hope

Senior Lecturer in Political Economy