Examining the “second shift” for working women


An article entitled “Chore wars: why do women still do more housework?” in the last edition of FT Weekend highlights the issue of working women performing unpaid labour at home – the so-called “second shift.”
The sum of household work, which includes care-taking for dependent children and adults, domestic cleaning, shopping for the household, transport related to household duties and other unpaid activities, is generally ignored as a measure of output or productivity in the economy. But the people who perform these duties are vital economic actors an argument hammered home in a recent book called “Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?” 

In the UK, the Office of National Statistics estimated the value of this unpaid labour as more than GBP 1 trillion annually, equivalent to 56 per cent of the country’s GDP. This study also found that women perform twice as much unpaid cooking, childcare and domestic cleaning than men. This means that women are coming home from their primary jobs to work a “second shift” at home, where they perform double the amount of labour than their partners (in a male-female arrangement) without the economic recognition.

The gender divide even impacts the type of jobs that are done in the home, with women picking up the bulk of housework and child-rearing, and men tending to perform flexible tasks such as helping with homework or paying bills. This task segregation reflects the mechanism of gender expectations, even in our own personal relationships.

As can be expected, the size of this gender gap varies according to geography, due to differences in economic development stages and cultural/social norms. Mexico, India and Portugal are among the worst performers, as shown in the FT graph below, although the gaps are also sizeable in China, Japan and South Korea.

And for those that suggest the division of labour at home reflects the traditional earning structure of men versus women (and hence their capacity to perform such work), the FT article even suggests that “when women far out-earn their husbands, they will do even more housework.”

If you have any thoughts on the gender gap in unpaid labour, or want to highlight other insights related to gender diversity, please email us at [email protected]



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