March 5, 2009
While gender gaps in the workplace continue to receive (much needed) attention, the situation in unpaid household work is rarely talked about. Recent data confirm that German women still do the lion’s share of family work, even when they have a job.
Women in full-time paid employment still spend nearly twice as much time on housework on an average work day as their male counterparts. When women live with a partner, their household work load increases significantly whereas men’s decreases. The presence of children widens the gap further. German mothers in full-time employment spend (on average per week day) 1.5 hours more on paid and unpaid work combined than fathers in full-time employment. Although female labour force participation is increasing substantially, family work at large continues to be allocated disproportionately to women within a couple.
The impact: both social and economic
This issue is significant from an equality but also from an economic perspective: as everybody’s day has 24 hours, there is an obvious relationship between women’s paid work and unpaid family work. A higher share of unpaid family work explains women’s preference for part-time paid work. Regardless of paid work intensity, it also reduces their chances of professional success. A higher double load of housework and paid work limits career opportunities: due to higher family responsibilities (occupying mental space), limited mobility, and the difficulty to handle extra work hours when required.
A more encompassing outlook: family-work systems
The concept of family-work systems includes the idea that, within households, there is demand not only for income, but also for unpaid family work, and that they cannot be considered in isolation. This concept was developed in the 1970s to encompass all activities, performed for free for the family by a family member, which are necessary for the family to function adequately. It includes housework, shopping, administrative work (dealing with utility services, banks, health services, schools, etc) and caring work (children, the elderly, or sick people). Women worldwide spend more time on daily family work than men. But the extent of the gender difference is particularly high in Germany. Other data also show that when both paid and unpaid work are taken into consideration, women in part-time employment work longer hours overall than do men who work full-time.
Factors influencing gender equality in the distribution of family work
A recent study carried out by the BiB (Federal Institute for Population Research) identifies three main factors affecting the gender gap in unpaid family work:
What can be done?
As usual, both governments and companies have a role to play, as well as individuals.
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