Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care


Caring in lockdown: who bears the brunt?

5 March 2021

Research shows that women bore the brunt of unpaid care work during the first lockdown and that there are implications for their mental health


Research from Baowen Xue and Anne McMunn at the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies shows  that women spent considerably more time than men undertaking housework and childcare during the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Using specially-collected Understanding Society data from the early months of lockdown, their analysis confirmed  that women spent much more time on housework and childcare than men. Mental health was worse for the man/woman in a couple where he/she was the only one to adapt or reduce work hours for childcare. 

Single mothers exhibited considerably more symptoms of poor mental health and this finding stayed strong even after accounting for their mental health pre-lockdown. 

Participats in the Covid-19 sub-study were asked a range of questions about how much time they spent each week doing housework and childcare/homeschooling. They were also asked whether they had had to adapt working patterns or reduce working hours due to childcare/homeschooling. On top of this they were asked a range of questions to gauge the state of their mental health.

On average, the women in the study spent about 15 hours per week in April and May doing housework compared with men who spent 10 hours. When it came to caring for the children and doing homeschooling, women spent nearly twice as much time on this as men – 20.5 hours per week in April increasing to 22.5 hours in May. For men the figure was 12 hours per week for each month.

Only 12 percent of working fathers reduced work hours due to caring responsibilities compared with 17 percent of working mothers.

The researchers say the research adds further weight to calls from the Women’s Budget Group’s for a care-led approach to the recovery and expressed concern that years of progress towards a more gender equal society will be derailed if nothing is done. 

Gender differences in unpaid care work and psychological distress in the UK Covid-19 lockdown is research by Baowen Xue and Anne McMunn and is published in the Plos One journal.

Read our WorkLife blog about the research