Time Spent on Informal Childcare and Parents’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Is there a Gender Difference?
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Introduction: It is important to understand the potential positive and negative consequences of COVID-19 measures. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the impact of changes in informal childcare time on parents' well-being, with a focus on gender. It was hypothesized that increased childcare time would negatively impact mental health, moderated by gender. Methods: This study merged three datasets from the LISS panel, encompassing comprehensive information on childcare time, mental health, gender, and other relevant factors. Data were analyzed with multiple linear regression and the PROCESS tool. Results: Contrary to expectations, changes in childcare time did not significantly influence parents' mental health. Gender did not moderate the relationship between childcare time and mental health. However, parents' mental health in 2019 appeared to influence their mental well-being in 2020, indicating pre-existing conditions were important during the pandemic. Discussion: The study revealed that mothers increased their time in childcare more than fathers, aligning with previous research. However, contrary to expectations, these changes in childcare time did not significantly influence parents' mental health. Moreover, gender did not moderate the relationship between childcare time and mental health as hypothesized. Notably, the study demonstrated that parents' mental health prior to the pandemic significantly influenced their mental health during the lockdown. This finding emphasizes the importance of considering pre-existing mental health conditions when addressing the well-being of parents during crisis situations. Conclusion: Overall, this study adds valuable insights to the existing literature, challenging preconceived notions about the relationship between childcare, gender, and mental health. By considering the complexities of these factors, policymakers can create informed policies that prioritize the mental health of parents and promote a more equitable and supportive society.