Via Twitter I came across this report which attempts to tell us that women actually do more work than men:
Across all world regions, women spend more time on unpaid care work than men. On average, women spend between three and six hours on unpaid care work per day, while men spend between half an hour and two hours. If we consider the sum of paid and unpaid work, women tend to work more than men – on average, 2.6 extra hours per week across the OECD.
Women spend more time on unpaid care work than men. Okay, but what about other sorts of unpaid work? You know, stuff like mowing lawns, clearing gutters, painting sheds, unblocking drains, changing car batteries, assembling wardrobes, replacing loose slates, bleeding radiators? Or does the report only take into account care work when looking at unpaid work? Indeed it does. All that unpaid work done by men just gets ignored (incidentally, I raised this with the author on Twitter, and got no reply.)
It is therefore not surprising that the factors driving change in female labor supply – whether they are improvements in maternal health, reductions in the number of children, childcare provision, or gains in household technology – all affect unpaid care work. Because time allocation is gendered in this way, female participation in labor markets tends to increase when the time-cost of unpaid care work is reduced, shared equally with men, and/or made more compatible with market work.
So changes in technology, healthcare, and societal expectations have changed in ways that primarily benefit women, and they’ve used the spare time to go off and work. Yet somehow they’re still crushed under the patriarchal yoke.
With this said, an obvious question remains: why do women perform a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work in the first place?
Why do men spend a disproportionate amount of time doing unpaid maintenance work on the family home?
As we discuss below, although time-use should be a choice, evidence shows that social norms play a large part in determining gender roles and consequently, gendered time-use.
Men and women split the household tasks between them, each taking those they’re best at? Who knew?
In 1890, only 24% of US households had running water. In 1900, 98% of households in the US washed their clothes using a scrubboard and water heated on a wood or coal-burning stove. It is not hard to see then why in 1900, the average American household spent 58 hours per week on housework. By 1975, that figure had declined to 18. Progress in labor-saving consumer durables in the household has thus been another factor contributing to the rise in female labor force participation, especially in early-industrialized countries. Of course, this is feasible especially because women – both in 1900 and now – take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid domestic work.
Greenwood et al. (2005) present evidence for this by calibrating a quantitative economic model to show that the consumer goods revolution – which, as we can see in the chart below introduced washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and other time-saving products – can help explain the rise in married female labor force participation in the US.
So basically, women’s lives got one hell of a lot easier thanks to technological improvements. Rather than sitting back and enjoying their free time as any man would have done, they demanded to join men in the labour force. That’s fine, I have no problem with that: why shouldn’t women have careers? What I don’t understand is why they are now complaining about doing more work than men.
Some argue that there is a “natural” distribution of gender roles, with women being better suited to domestic and child-rearing responsibility and men to working outside of the home. Such assertions lack compelling evidence and more importantly, perpetuate a status quo that limits the choices available to both men and women.
Several thousand years of observing how household tasks are divvied up voluntarily between couples doesn’t constitute compelling evidence, I suppose. Or do these people think the man of the house orders his wife to feed the kid while he fixes the hole in the roof against against her will?
Instead, it is known that social norms and culture influence the way we see the world and our role in it. To this end, there is little doubt that the gender roles assigned to men and women are in no small part socially constructed.
Well, yes. Society being the result of humans interacting with each other over centuries or millenia, this is hardly surprising. A study of human behaviour which ignores societal norms and culture is of questionable value.
And while it is possible that socially-assigned gender roles emerged in the distant past, our recent and even current practices show that these roles persist with the help of institutional enforcement.
Presumably the millions of men and women in happy, cooperative partnerships are all under the influence of this “institutional enforcement”.
Social norms and culture are clearly important determinants of female labor force participation. So how can social norms be changed?
So western women, having suddenly found themselves with an abundance of free time, joined the labour force to work alongside men. If we take into account the unpaid care work women do at home, and ignore all the unpaid work men do, women work slightly more than men. Therefore we must change society.
In the context of ‘private’ family life, social norms across the world have long dictated that women should perform unpaid care work – taking care of children and elderly parents, making meals, doing laundry, maintaining family relations – while men engage in market work.
I’m beginning to see where the idiots who dreamed up this homework got their ideas from.
Rather, the hope is that with sustained social change, neither women nor men will be obliged to make decisions about time allocation on the basis of their sex.
Only when we have reshaped society will men and women be able to do the household tasks they want to.
If this is what passes for research at Oxford University these days, they might as well merge with the old poly.