It’s Not Just Us: Women Around The World Do More Housework And Have Less Free Time

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Stressed woman

CREDIT: Shutterstock

In all of the 26 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women take on more than half of the unpaid work that needs to get done, such as caring for children or doing housework, according to OECD data reported by Shane Ferro at Reuters. That leaves them with less leisure time than men.

On average, women in these countries do 60 percent of the unpaid work, although it varies. In the U.S. it’s just over 60 percent, while in Japan and Korea it’s over 80 percent. Meanwhile, Norway gets the closest to equality at 54 percent, followed by Sweden and Denmark.


And while men spend more time in paid work — 5.42 hours a day, on average across OECD countries, versus 4.55 hours for women — they get more leisure time, finding 5.33 hours a day, while women get just 4.7. In fact, among these countries, women spend 40 minutes per day caring for family members and 168 doing “routine housework,” while men put in 16 and 74, respectively. Meanwhile, men get 21 more minutes for watching TV or listening to the radio and 8 more for watching sports. Here in the U.S., those disparities are also clear: Women put in 22 more hours on care and 44 more on housework, while men get 26 extra minutes for TV and 13 for sports.


Past OECD data have shown that children are a big culprit for why women are spending so much of their time on paid or unpaid work: each additional child reduces a woman’s discretionary time by 2.3 hours a week, but it only docks 1.7 hours out of a man’s week. And when women are doing chores, they’re more likely to be doing multiple tasks at once, spending 18 percent more time on “secondary” activities.

In the United States, there’s also a disparity in the overall numbers of men and women performing these tasks. On a given day, half of American women will be found doing housework, while just 20 percent of men will do the same. Things have improved since the days of Ward Cleaver, as men do three times as much childcare and more than double the housework they did in 1965. But given that women are still doing the vast majority of this work — while a record number of them are supplying most of their family’s income — they are far more likely to be exhausted than men.

It’s worth considering what’s going on in the Nordic countries that are much closer to equality in these tasks. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are some of the countries with the most generous paid family leave policies as well as publicly provided child care. That has given women’s labor force participation a huge boost. And it is also likely part of why the genders are better about splitting unpaid work. In Sweden, fathers get up to 240 days of paid family leave, but they have to take at least two months in order for their families to get any time off. As a result, 85 percent take leave to be with their new children. The effects of men taking paid leave go beyond those initial months, as those who take longer leaves are more involved with their children’s care later on.

Here in the U.S., just three states guarantee all workers paid family leave. The results from California’s program show similar effects as Sweden’s: before paid leave, 35 percent of dads took time off; now 76 percent do. But most dads don’t get that luxury since the country only guarantees unpaid leave. Meanwhile, child care usually costs more than food or rent for the typical American family.