Women’s Work: Defining the Costs of Unpaid Labor

It will be another 75 years before men do half of all household work, according to Darcy Lockman’s New York Times’s editorial, “What ‘Good Dads” Get Away With.” This essay has launched yet another national conversation about the unfair division of labor in the home.

A number of studies confirm persistent gender gaps in household labor. The amount of time men spend on household work peaked two decades ago, and has plateaued since. For heterosexual couples with both parents working outside of the home, women consistently perform 65% of the childcare while men perform 35%. Also, mothers with spouses who work long hours spend more time on childcare, but fathers with spouses who work long hours tend to sleep more and watch more television.

Gaps emerge across the board when it comes to household activities. For example, men with babies spend twice as much time on weekend leisure activities as women with babies. Moms married to men perform more housework than single moms– 32 minutes more per day, which quickly adds up.

Unpaid labor in the home keeps the paid economy moving. Women spend about 4.5 hours per day performing unpaid labor that “produces” future workers and consumers, and 70% of men with incomes in the top 1% have stay-at-home spouses who manage the household.

Despite shifting norms of fatherhood and masculinity, women continue to be the societal default when it comes to managing the details of their children’s lives. The unfair division of labor in the home costs women’s well-being as they pass up leisure time and professional ambitions, and it also hurts marriages and romantic partnerships. Melinda Gates is campaigning for gender equality in the private sector, sharing her marital struggles to raise awareness of inequalities in the home. As she says at the end of family dinner: “No one leaves the kitchen until I leave the kitchen.” At the end of the day, women just want “to be treated as equal partners. Respected.”

Take Action! Try this calculator to measure the yearly value of invisible labor. Women and men can define the unpaid labor imbalances in their households and work together to correct them.