Work flexibility and divisions of unpaid work in UK dual-earner parent couples: a mixed methods study

  • Joanna Wilson

Student thesis: Phd


The UK's gender pay gap persists, part of which is attributable to unequal divisions of paid and unpaid work (housework and childcare) between mothers and fathers. To accomplish gender equality in work and family roles it is important that both parents are able to make work changes so that they can be involved in family life and work-family policies play a key part in this. This research used a mixed methods design that incorporated quantitative and qualitative techniques to explore the impact of one of these policies, the right to request flexible working. The research was conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic. It used longitudinal data (2010-19) from the UK Household Longitudinal Study and semi-structured interview data from 2019. First the study investigated how fathers' use of flexible working changed in comparison to mothers over the period 2010-2019. Next it examined patterns in how dual-earner parent couples divide housework and childcare and to what extent this was related to worker-led flexibility and other factors. Results suggest that small increases in the use of worker-led flexible working over the period 2010-19 appear to be mainly due to increases in the use of home working at the highest job levels and that UK fathers have changed very little in comparison to UK mothers in their use of reduced hour flexible working over the same period. However, dual-earner parent couples in which the father does work flexibly (particularly part-time work and flexi-time) may be more likely to have more equally-shared divisions of the housework and childcare as opposed to mother-dominant divisions. Other factors operate alongside work flexibility to inform more equally-shared divisions of unpaid work and may include mothers' full-time hours, her earnings being the same or more than her partner and time out of paid work for the father after the birth of a child. More equally-shared divisions of the physical aspects of unpaid work may also inform sharing of its more unseen, cognitive aspects. Policy-makers should focus on developing effective ways of encouraging more fathers to work flexibly and to take time out of paid work after the birth of a child. This focus must be on reaching fathers in lower occupational classes and household income brackets who, along with mothers, are less likely to have access to worker-led flexibility or paid parental leave. While the recent pandemic is widely regarded as a catalyst for change in the world of flexible working, it has also highlighted inequalities between certain groups with regard to access to it, particularly home working. Without intervention these inequalities are likely to deepen.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorEmma Banister (Supervisor) & Wendy Kay Olsen (Supervisor)


  • Gender pay gap
  • Fathers
  • Dual-earner couples
  • Unpaid work
  • Flexible working
  • Domestic division of labour

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