“There was a time earlier on this year when I wondered whether it would actually take a pandemic to trigger a shift in this very sticky social norm which we know has been there for a long time,” Ms Hollonds said. “And I think this data is showing the answer is: not yet.”
Ms Hollonds said it often took a major event to stir societal shifts, and she stressed it was still possible for change to occur as we transitioned through the pandemic, particularly among younger families, where she said more equal sharing had been observed.
“It still takes a lot of courage to sit down with your partner and say ‘let’s see if we can work out an arrangement that works better for both of us’,” she said.
“In the midst of a crisis, it all happened very quickly, it’s probably not a time we’ll feel able to do that and we will slip back into familiar patterns.
“While [change] didn’t happen immediately in the first months of the crisis, we’re yet to see what will happen as we go forward.”
Like many parents, Lucy Fogarty, 32, says the division of labour in her home did not change.
Ms Fogarty, who is mum to 15-month-old twins Poppy and Mia, returned to her marketing job part-time in April after maternity leave. She said she felt lucky that her mother was visiting from the UK and was able to care for the girls while she worked from home and her partner, Kevin Evans, continued his construction job.
“It was the perfect transition back to work because I had support,” she says. “I was very lucky I didn’t have to stop work or juggle another option.”
Ms Fogarty’s mother flew home in early May and the girls returned to daycare. Ms Fogarty and Mr Evans share their parenting responsibilities equally and she described him as an “awesome father”. But housework is different.
“He provides in so many ways but when it comes to the household labour, it still sits with me, which is a juggle of its own when I’m learning to juggle a new job too,” she said.
“I still do all the cooking and the cleaning. That hasn’t changed during and it won’t change post either.”
Ms Fogarty said they both came from “quite traditional families” but said this was “not a preferred arrangement”.
“It’s been a conversation we’ve been having more as I share my experience of being a mum and juggling that in this current climate.”
She said they’d come up with some solutions, including hiring a cleaner and staggering their start times when she returned to the office so that they equally share the drop-offs and pick-ups.
The AIFS report found that seven in 10 parents were actively or passively caring for children while they worked from home. For Ms Fogarty, with two toddlers, that was “not an option”.
There were also big changes to childcare. Only a quarter of parents used formal childcare during COVID-19, a drop from half. And while a third of grandparents said they provided care at least weekly prior to the pandemic, most stopped entirely during COVID-19.
On the economic impacts, a third of respondents aged under 30 said their income had decreased and one fifth lost their job.
“We also saw 21 per cent of 50 to 59 year-olds reporting the kids had moved back in,” Ms Hollonds said. “It’s a demonstration of how families are pivoting and changing everything about their lives to support each other.”
Thursday’s report is the first of several that will be released on the AIFS coronavirus survey, as part of an ongoing series that will track how households are changing over time.
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Sophie is Deputy Lifestyle Editor for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.