Member Blog | Domestic work – why do women still do the lion’s share?
By Professor Anne McMunn, Head of the Research Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at UCL
A recent international report suggests men need to increase their time spent doing unpaid care work by a minimum of 50 minutes per day in order to do 50 per cent of the work.
The report calls for bold measures to help all men do their fair share of this work by 2030 and thus promote gender equality. So what do we know about how modern couples in the UK divide unpaid domestic work and the drivers behind that? A new study from Anne McMunn at the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies at University College London investigates why greater workplace equality has not yet been matched by a more equitable division of labour at home.
We looked at 8,513 opposite-sex couples aged 16-65 from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, to see how they shared out housework, paid employment, childcare and adult care. We also looked at their attitudes and levels of education.
Very few of the couples shared work equally. In just six per cent of couples, the woman was the main earner and domestic tasks were shared quite evenly. These women were likely to be more highly-educated than their partners. In a further one per cent of couples, the man remained at home and did more than 20 hours’ domestic labour. Even in those cases, around two thirds of the women also did some domestic work.
Almost half (49 per cent) of couples were dual-earner couples in which both members of the couple tended to be employed full-time and not have children at home. Even amongst these younger, dual-earner couples women did much more housework than men.
The third most common group, at 13 per cent, was a slightly older group of couples in their fifties or early sixties, with neither working full-time and little or no care responsibilities. Women in these couples did relatively high levels of housework, suggesting that these couples may have previously followed a traditional gender division of work.
Couples who didn’t have shared egalitarian beliefs were more likely to fall into a more traditional work pattern.
Gender divisions of paid and unpaid work in contemporary UK couples is research by Anne McMunn, Lauren Webb, Elizabeth Webb and Amanda Sacker is published in the journal, Work, Employment and Society.
Anne is on the ‘Balancing the scales of life’ panel session at the Women in Tech Festival on 17th Sept, Find out more.