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Utah Women & Leadership Project identifies gap between women and men in unpaid work

5 June 2017 No Comment

University Marketing & Communications: Layton Shumway | 801-863-6863 | LShumway@uvu.edu

Written by: Barbara Christiansen | 801-863-8208 | BarbaraC@uvu.edu 

It’s been called “the work that makes all other work possible.” It’s unpaid care work, and is often done by women. It can include caring for children or elderly family members, doing household chores, or the providing emotional and mental work involved in relationships, households, and families.

The Utah Women & Leadership Project at Utah Valley University has compiled a snapshot of its research on the topic that shows the various types of unpaid work have one common thread: there is a gap between the involvement by women and men in the work. And the gap in Utah is higher than the national average.

Women worldwide spend between three and six hours per day on unpaid work, while men spend half an hour to two hours a day. In the United States the gap is smaller but still significant. American women who participate in unpaid work average 4.92 hours per day compared to 3.79 hours per day for their male counterparts. In Utah the gap is even wider. Women spend 5.55 hours per day in unpaid work, while men average 3.22 hours per day

Greatly affecting those statistics are Utah’s highest fertility rate and largest household size in the nation. One-fourth of U.S. women care for household children on an average day compared to nearly 16 percent of men. The number of hours also indicates a gap with 2.14 for women and 1.6 hours for men.

“In Utah, the gap between women and men’s childcare activities is greater; 36.2 percent of women care for household children on an average day versus 23.1 percent of men,” the snapshot says. “The women who give childcare each day in Utah spend an average of 2.3 hours versus 1.25 hours spent by men.”

Fifty-nine percent of caregivers serving the elderly in Utah are women caring for parents, the snapshot indicates. Sixty-five percent of them have been giving that care between three and 10 years. Many are also caring for their own children and are called the “sandwich generation.”

Both locally and globally, men spend more time than women doing paid work activities each day, which accounts in part for them not spending as much time on unpaid care. As women both near and far are joining the work force in greater numbers, their combined paid and unpaid work hours continue to be higher than those for men.

“Women may increasingly find themselves overburdened with the combined load of paid and unpaid work unless efforts are made to redistribute tasks more equally,” the snapshot says. “Both individuals and society as a whole can do more to recognize and applaud the value of this unpaid work while at the same time ensuring that women are not carrying too much of the responsibility alone.”

The gaps often begin early in life and can have long-lasting effects. In the U.S., girls spend an average of two hours more per week on household duties than boys and are less likely to be paid for their chores.

“These early gaps can interfere with girls’ education and establish long-standing patterns,” the snapshot says.

“When women are disproportionately responsible for unpaid care work, they are less able to complete college and pursue professional interests,” it continues. In Utah the gap between men and women who hold a bachelor’s degree is one of the largest in the nation and Utah women rank highest in the nation for part-time work.

The concerns go beyond educational and financial.

“Women who bear a heavy share of unpaid care work may also struggle with physical, emotional, and mental health issues, especially those who are also working for pay,” the snapshot says. “Depression, stress, and feelings of isolation are also extremely common among caregivers for the elderly. Even though many Utah women willingly choose to prioritize unpaid care work, they still may suffer ill effects if their burden is unequally shared with other family members.”

Along with women having better emotional health as men contribute more to unpaid care, the men also benefit.

“Family satisfaction depended on both partners contributing to decision-making and housework,” said BYU professor Dr. Renata Forste in a 2017 study quoted in the snapshot. “In particular, we found that satisfaction was highest among men that reported greater involvement in childcare and household chores.”

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