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What a new study shows about dads who want to do more caretaking, and why they don't

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Time now to talk about some daddy issues - no, really, not mine. What we're really going to talk about are the challenges that many fathers around the world face when it comes to caretaking and gender expectations. A new international study finds that although a lot of fathers out there have a desire to take on more domestic and childcare responsibilities, stringent gender rules and a lack of social support may discourage them from doing so. The study was done by the nonprofit organization Equimundo, and here to unpack all of this baggage is Taveeshi Gupta. She's the lead researcher for the study. Welcome.

TAVEESHI GUPTA: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

CHANG: It's a pleasure to have you. OK. So we should first note that the study was done with the support of other nonprofits and also the support of big corporations and some groups in the private sector. That said, I know that this study surveyed something like nearly 12,000 people from 17 different countries. Can you just briefly tell us how substantial is this desire among men and fathers to assume more domestic roles in their families?

GUPTA: Yes, of course. And, you know, we studied, like, as you said, 12,000 people. And of those the parents, 9 out of 10 parents say that caring for children is one of the most enjoyable things in life. And many, many fathers report very high number of hours that they spend caring for their child. The one thing, of course, to note is that mothers across the board spend more hours than fathers. So we still have this care gap that needs to be closed. But our study found that there are many fathers saying, hey; I feel equally responsible for my child as my partner, and I'm willing to give up career opportunities to take care of my child.

CHANG: OK. Then what specifically are men reporting that is keeping them from taking on more household and child care responsibilities?

GUPTA: There are so many barriers to doing that, and they're all kind of at structural level. So we see, for example, in the workplace setting, if you don't have enough adequate parental leave, then it's impossible for parents to feel comfortable stepping away from their role as a breadwinner or in whatever role they're holding in their company and taking time off, right? And if you have a manager who's not supporting you taking time off, then you're worried you're not going to get promoted. Your coworkers are going to look at you and say, why are you taking so much time off? And the other thing you called out earlier was gender norms. So if the norms in the world make you feel uncomfortable for taking care of your child, then you're not going to do it. You're not going to follow through. And that's something we find in the study as well.

CHANG: What about the pay gap, that it's just more costly for a man, in many situations, to stay at home rather than the woman?

GUPTA: One hundred percent. We know that women earn less than men do. If that's the case and you have to make a choice in your household about who gets to take time off, you're certainly not going to give up more money, right? You're going to make sure that the person who's earning less is going to take time off and the person who's earning more gets to go back to work. And so if you don't close that gender pay gap, then the likelihood of women going back to work instead of the men is very, very low.

CHANG: Well, you know, one section of the study that caught my eye was called "Changing The State Of Boyhood." And, yeah, I mean, a lot of these gender norms - they often get inculcated from very early on in our lives. How do you think parents can help the next generation begin to break away from restrictive gender roles?

GUPTA: It's a great question. And time and again, across so many countries, we find that the household that you live in matters. If you grow up in a house where you see your father doing care work or where you have to do care work and household work, you are more likely as adults to do that as well.

CHANG: So you mentioned the importance of having just more generous paid leave policies all around the world. And I guess I'm curious. Did your study give you a sense of whether there is popular support for policies like that all around the world?

GUPTA: Absolutely. People care about care. It's the bedrock of their every single relationship and their day-to-day. And what we find is that more than half of both mothers and fathers said, we actually want to vote for politicians who are going to put care in the center of their agenda. So there is certainly a lot of willingness to advocate for care policies.

CHANG: Taveeshi Gupta is the director of research, evaluation and learning for the nonprofit Equimundo. Thanks very much.

GUPTA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.