Britain’s Unpaid Labour: Women are Overworked and Underpaid

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By Shawna Healey 

British people, and British women in particular, are being overworked and underpaid, both in domestic and public work settings. The fight for equality in the private sphere has been long and hard, and while women are increasingly encouraged to enter the workplace, working women still face inequality. Even more significantly, there is substantial inequality in the private home sphere.  Women frequently carry out invisible emotional labour, which is largely ignored and rarely reqarded.

In 2016, the Office for National Statistics found that women do 40% more unpaid household chores than men, with women averaging 26 hours a week while men contribute around 16 hours.  These chores include cooking, cleaning, housework and transport.  Eleanor Taylor, a researcher at Natcen which conducts the British Social Attitudes survey, said the ONS findings were “no surprise”.

According to the World’s Economic Forum (WEF), women work an average of 50 more minutes than men per day, contributing to economic inequalities between men and women that could take up to 170 years to close. In the UK, women work around 39 more days, on average, than men.

One reason men do more paid work and less unpaid, private sphere work is because of parental leave. Despite parental leave including leave for maternity, paternity and adoption leave, mothers in the UK receive 52 weeks of maternity leave, paternity leave lasts just 56 days. Studies have shown that, on a global scale, women with full time jobs also still do more housework than their male partners.

The 2016 Australian Consensus showed that ¼ of men who are in full time employment contribute zero hours of household chores each week, while most men who work 35 hours a week complete fewer than 5 hours of domestic chores per week, compared to their female counterparts, who contribute between 5 and 14 hours per week. Additionally, women in Australia are twice as likely to do more than 15 hours per week of unpaid domestic labour compared to their male counterparts.

The Everyday Sexism Project launched a project called #ChoreChallenge in 2016 in conjunction with human rights organisation Breakthrough and the writer and activist Soraya Chemaly, where they asked couples to keep a diary for two weeks of all the chores they did, including emotional labour, and then asked them to “gender swap” for a year. A Mumsnet survey of 1,000 women found that only 5% of their male partners took responsibility for giving the house a weekly clean, compared with 71% of women. The survey also found a stark division in the unpaid labour of childcare, with women being more likely to look after children at weekends, and being expected to take time off when children are sick. This was the case even for women with unemployed male partners.

Among same-sex couples, however, studies show that there is likely to be a fairer division of chores. A survey by the Families and Work Institute found that lesbian couples use “a lot of mixing and matching” when it comes to household chores, though some argue that there is still a somewhat “gendered” division of labour, where the lower-earning partner usually takes on chores that are traditionally deemed to be “women’s work”, such as cooking and cleaning.

When it comes to welcoming women into the workplace, we are further ahead now than we have ever been, but there is evidently still a lot of work to be done.

About the author / 

Shawna Healey

I'm Shawna, 19 and Welsh studying Geography at MMU. I have varying interests and opinions but usually its all things feminism

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