The housework gender gap will take 30 years to close at current rate of change

The housework gender gap will take 30 years to close at current rate of change

Women are doing less housework and men are doing more, according to the latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey released today. 

But that still doesn’t put men and women anywhere close to parity when it comes to the division of domestic work.

And at the current rate of change, we’ll be waiting 30 years before men and women are finally putting in the same amount of hours and minutes on housework at home, as HILDA report author Dr Inga Las outlines today.

Seems a little unfair. Not only because more women are in the paid workforce than ever before, but also because by the year 2048 surely the robots would have arrived to take care of the bulk of our manual labour.

The data from this component of the HILDA study was based on men and women of working age who are in heterosexual relationships.

Men were found to be doing an additional 55 minutes more housework in 2016 than they were doing in 2002, while women had reduced their output by two and a half hours.

That’s seen the housework gender gap narrow from women putting in an average of almost ten and a half hours more than men in 2002, to putting in seven hours more in 2016. For women, it’s now about 20 hours a week of housework, compared to 13 hours for men. 

But in this timeframe women have not pulled back from the work they’re doing caring for others, rather they’ve increased it — up to 11.3 hours a week, from 9.7 hours in 2002.

The good news is that we’re becoming less traditional in our views on gender, and Australians are increasingly open about non-traditional gender arrangements of paid work and parenting — although such levels of openness vary across the population.

The problem is that these shifting attitudes are not translating into a fairer division of labour at home.

And given much of the unequal distribution of paid and unpaid work begins following the birth of a first child (and then becomes entrenched), it’s contributing to a penalty for mothers that can ultimately accumulate to affect her retirement savings and potentially even her career and leadership prospects later on.

In an opinion piece this morning, report author Dr Inga Lass shared how that first year of a child’s life becomes so significant.

“Before the arrival of a child, couples share the work relatively equally,” she writes. “Men spend only slightly more time on employment than women (53 per cent of the total couple employment time), and women spend only slightly more time on housework (54 per cent of the total housework time).

“But a first child establishes a more traditional arrangement.”

At this point, many mothers will focus on full-time caring while fathers maintain their employment. A mother’s employment drops to 14% of a couple’s total employment time in the year after the birth of a child, while she does 72% of the care and 64% of the housework.

The habits developed in those first years are hard to break, and things don’t necessarily change as children get older. Ten years after the birth of the first child, women’s share of employment in a couple is still only up to 30%. They’re continuing to do 63% of the housework and 66% of the care.

And guess who is more satisfied with this division of work? Men. Women’s satisfaction in such labour divisions drops after the birth of a first child and continues to decline for the next five years.

“Once these new roles are established, it may be difficult for those women who want to get back to work or increase their working hours to demand more engagement at home from their partners,” Inga writes.

There are a number of factors that entrench these breakdowns on labour at home, including the gender pay gap, childcare costs and the fact certain family benefits favour single-income families. There’s also the fact fathers simply can’t access the same level of paid parental leave that mothers can.

Started in 2001, the HILDA Survey is a nationally representative longitudinal study of Australian households that’s federally funded and managed by the University of Melbourne.

Given we no longer have time-use surveys — although a Shorten government has promised to reintroduce them if elected — this HILDA research offers vital insights and research into how we’re using out time, and what more can be done to try and address the imbalance and ultimately reduce the load on women.

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