Whatever Beyonce may think, data released this week by the OECD suggest that women most certainly are not running the world, although they are clearly spending a great deal of time cleaning up after those who are.
To coincide with International Women’s Day on 8th March, the OECD published data on gender inequality in paid, unpaid work and leisure. This revealed that although women are doing less paid work than men, they do carry out a disproportionate amount of unpaid work and continue to take on the bulk of caring responsibilities, while men, on average, spend more time on leisure activities.
On average across the 26 OECD countries women spend around thirteen hours a week less than men in paid work. However, they are spending more than 32 hours each week on unpaid work, more than twice as much time than men. When it comes to routine housework, across the OECD states, women are doing around twenty hours a week compared to eight hours for men. Similarly women spend twice as much time each week caring for other household members, this includes childcare but also presumably involves running around after the men in their lives. In short while the trend has been towards greater parity in terms of paid work (if not pay) the gender inequalities in unpaid work, including housework and caring responsibilities have remained. As the OECD observed, ‘Over the last 50 years, women decreased their hours of unpaid work as they increased the hours of paid work. Men have been doing more housework and child care, but they didn’t take up the slack so gender inequalities in the use of time are still large in all countries.’
The gender inequalities in the UK are stark. The UK has the longest working hours culture with more than 40% of men working in excess of 40 hours a week, and 20% of men working more than 50 hours a week. In contrast less than 20% of British women are working more than 40 hours a week while around 75% of women in the UK work between 1 and 39 hours a week a large proportion of whom are in part-time work.
However, the disparities in unpaid work are also marked. British women spend around 30 hours a week doing unpaid work, compared to 16 hours for men. In particular British women spend twice as much time than men each week, doing housework, looking after children and caring for other adults.
Interestingly the OECD figures did receive some coverage in the British press. The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph both ran stories under the headline ‘British women are the leisure queens of Europe.’ This was based on data which indicated that British women spend more time each week on leisure activities (around 40 hours) than women in every other OECD country except Norway. Although, as both newspapers also pointed out, (in much smaller print), this is still five hours a week less leisure time than British men. The simple fact is that British men may work longer hours, but they also spend more time enjoying themselves, while women are busy doing the housework and looking after the children.
It is important to remember that this is not just an argument about who does the washing up. Feminists have long argued that the power structures which one finds in the home are reflected in wider society, encapsulated in the maxim, ‘the personal is political’. These inequalities also present some very real and practical barriers to the representation of women in other areas of public life, includiong politics. There are significant disparities between the presence of women and men in a host of professions, and particularly in senior roles. Without wishing to make excuses for the obvious discrimination of women in the workplace, it is clear that the problems facing many British women who want to advance in their chosen profession begin long before they even leave home for work in the morning.
It’s a depressing picture and it is tempting in these cases to say that there are no simple solutions, but it seems to me that in this case there may be one. Men need to spend less time at work, less time on the golf course (sorry terrible gender stereotype there, but live with it) and more time at home doing the housework and engaging with their children.