Research project

Intergenerational mobility of housework time in the United Kingdom

Examining the relationship between the time devoted to housework by parents and that by their children, and the link between the housework time of those children when they are adolescents and the housework time of the same individuals in early adulthood, for a sample of couples with children from the United Kingdom

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Start date

June 2015

Completion date

April 2017

Using the Multinational Time Use Study for the UK, we find positive correlations between parents’ and children’s housework time.

In our preferred specification, we find that a higher father–mother housework ratio is positively related to a higher child–mother housework ratio, with this relationship being smaller for boys relative to girls. However, one limitation of cross-sectional data is that it does not allow us to identify the effect of parents’ housework time net of (permanent) individual heterogeneity in preferences.

Moreover, other unobservable factors may be related to both parents’ and children’s housework time, so we cannot speak definitively about a causal relationship between parents’ and children’s housework time.

Following prior recommendations (e.g., Gimenez-Nadal and Molina 2013; 2014) we use a panel data with information on housework time. Using data from the British Household Panel Survey to account for permanent household unobserved heterogeneity, we find that only fathers’ housework time, relative to that of the mothers, appears to have a statistically significant effect. However, with short panels such as ours, FE estimates may be biased towards zero as a result of exacerbated measurement errors. When parental housework time is instrumented using father’s and mother’s lagged weekly working hours, we find the IV estimates are not only
highly statistically significant, but also of a magnitude more in line with those from the time use data.

To the extent that there may be parental control in a given household, it could be that when those parents do more housework, their children also do more housework at a given point in time. This effect would occur if the parents doing more housework instructed their children to also do more housework.

Two arguments lend further support to the notion that parents may, in fact, be transmitting their preferences for housework to their children. First, in a collective model framework with household production (Chiappori 1997), a public good is defined at the household level and both members of the household contribute to it. Within this framework, partners bargain about who contributes what to the household public good and, in this context, more time devoted by the parents to housework does not necessarily mean that children devote more time to housework. Second, the long panel of the BHPS allows us to link the housework time of the children when they are adolescents, and again when they are in their early adulthood, and we find children’s housework time is related to housework time when the children become adults. To the extent that parents’ housework time is related to children’s housework time, we can interpret our results as evidence of the existence of intergenerational mobility of housework time, even though we cannot talk about causality.

Of the three main possible channels that explain the intergenerational transmission of housework time, the fact that there appears to be substantial correlation of housework time observed when aged 16–18, and when the same respondents are observed in their late 20 s(in the BHPS), suggests that imitation may not be the main channel. Furthermore, we observe a high positive correlation between parents’ and children’s attitudinal questions (e.g., All in all, family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job; A husband’s job is to earn money; a wife’s job is to look after the home and family; both husband and wife should contribute to household income) that have been found to be representative of gender role attitudes (Scott 2008), or associated with the domestic division of labor in Britain (Crompton et al. 2005).

All this evidence may indicate that gender roles and gender identity could be transmitted from parents to children according to a parental role model (Akerlof and Kranton 2000), although more research on this issue is needed.

Our results may be helpful in targeting public policies towards greater gender equality. In particular, and given the reported gender gap in housework time in the UK (Gimenez-Nadal and Sevilla 2012), policies aimed at increasing the participation of fathers in housework may foster a greater gender equality in housework time in the future. This issue is important because adolescents and young individuals have been identified as target groups for policies to eliminate gender inequality (United Nations Millennium Project 2010).

Ignoring such effects may lead to the sub-optimaldesign or use of these policies, which may include equalizing work arrangements(e.g., flexibility, commuting time), working time (e.g., duration, organization, predictability, irregularity), or equalizing parental leave conditions, as a way to increase the participation of men in housework tasks. Other policies may target children directly, and may include educational programs at school focusing on the formation of more equal gender roles in younger generations, and addressing the unequal share of paid and unpaid work between men and women.


Project team

Professor Yu Zhu

External team members

Spanish Ministry of Economics

Related groups

School of Business

Project type

Research project