Women’s unpaid work is the backbone of the American economy
On Equal Pay Day, it’s also important to recognize the unpaid work women do.
Women in countries that are members of the intergovernmental economic group, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, spend about 271 minutes or about 4.5 hours per day on average doing unpaid work, according to the OECD. That’s compared with 137 minutes, or slightly more than two hours, for men. In the U.S., that division of labor is just slightly more equitable, with women doing an average of 242 minutes of unpaid work compared with 148 minutes for men, the OECD found.
If women’s paid participation in the formal economy was equivalent to that of men, it would add $28 trillion or 26% to global GDP, according to McKinsey.
That balance has gotten more equal over time, said Kim Parker, the director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center. In 1965, when the government began keeping track of how Americans spend their time, women devoted the bulk of their waking hours to unpaid work and men barely did any of it. That’s changed. But, even as women are increasingly taking on a larger role in the paid workforce, they’re still expected to take on the bulk of chores, like laundry, cooking, cleaning and child care that allow households to function.
“It’s become much more equal, but with women still doing more unpaid work,” Parker said. The result: Whether by choice or not, men still end up doing more paid work. “Women, even full-time working women, spend fewer hours on average doing paid work than their husbands or partners do. That may be due in part to the fact that there’s this expectation or default arrangement where they are doing more of the child care or housework.”
That dynamic is costing the economy, as philanthropist Melinda Gates noted in her annual letter earlier last year. If women’s paid participation in the formal economy became identical to men’s, we’d add $28 trillion or 26% to global gross domestic product, according to a September 2015 report from McKinsey, a consulting firm. But the time women spend on unpaid work is affecting their individual careers and families as well.