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Swedish parents are committed to the value of gender equality but sharing the care does not reach 50/50

Photo: Jake Slagle. Creative Commons.

In spite of the strong adherence to a gender equal parenting ideal, we still found that mothers retained more responsibility for childcare than fathers.

In Sweden gender equality in parenting is considered a basic value and parenting is targeted in gender equality campaigns. In a study of 33 parents, including 10 fathers, we found a strong commitment to gender equality.

Whilst these parents looked to their own parents as roles models and to a large extent wanted to raise their own children in a similar way as they themselves had been raised, they wanted to be different from their parents in one area in particular: gender equality.

Specifically, these parents said that they wanted their own parenting practices to be more gender equal compared to their own parents. One participant said: “They were never equal. My father never cooked us dinner and did not take care of us in that way. He spent time with us of course, but it was my mother who took responsibility for changing diapers, cooking, and everything that concerned taking care of us children.” Another participant reflected on the importance of gender equal parenting in relation to the examples you set for your own children “We are much more gender equal and it is important for our child to experiences that, particularly as a girl”.

The participants reflected on generational differences and the ways societal changes had contributed to these changes. They actively strived to be more gender equal than their parents and they also reflected on the importance of their parenting practices with regards to them being role models for their own children.

Nonetheless, in spite of the strong adherence to a gender equal parenting ideal, we still found among these parents that mothers retained more responsibility for childcare than fathers on average.

For example, these parents reported that their child spent more time with the mother than with the father on both weekdays and weekends. Even though the parents’ sharing of parenting responsibilities was substantial, mothers were more responsible than fathers for seven out of fifteen parenting tasks. These included tasks relating to the child’s health care and providing the child with clothes and toys. There were no areas in which fathers had more responsibility than mothers.

Both parents said they prioritised family over work, but they interpreted this in different ways. In line with Swedish national statistics showing that working part time is more common among mothers than among fathers, in this study it was only mothers who said that they worked part time. More fathers than mothers said they worked long hours and talked about how this would benefit their families financially and longer term because of their own career benefits.

Why these differences? My colleage Philip Hwang addresses this in a second article on this topic, Even when fathers take lots of parental leave, mothers end up with more responsibility for childcare. Why?