Feminists are wrong to claim that men should do a larger share of the housework and childcare because on average, men and women already do the same number of hours of productive work. In fact, if we consider the hours spent doing both paid work and unpaid household, care and voluntary work together, men already do more than their fair share, argues LSE sociologist Catherine Hakim in a special issue of Renewal: a journal of social democracy.
Until recently, unpaid work such as childcare and domestic work has been hard to quantify and so mostly ignored by social scientists and policy makers. The development of Time Use Surveys across the European Union, however, has provided data on exactly how much time we spend carrying out both paid and unpaid productive activities. The findings show that on average women and men across Europe do the same total number of productive work hours once paid jobs and unpaid household duties are added together - roughly eight hours a day.
Catherine Hakim said: ‘We now have a much more specific and accurate portrait of how families and individuals divide their “work” and this data overturns the well-entrenched theory that women work disproportional long hours in jobs and at home in juggling family and work. Feminists constantly complain that men are not doing their fair share of domestic work. The reality is that most men already do more than their fair share.’
While men carry out substantially more hours of paid work, women will often choose to scale down their hours of paid employment to make time for household work when starting a family. In Britain, men are shown to actually work longer hours on average than women, as many will work overtime to boost family income when the children are at home while wives switch to part-time jobs or drop out of employment altogether.
Couples with no children at home and with both in full-time jobs emerge as the only group where women work more hours in total than men, once paid and unpaid work hours are added up.
The article argues that in societies where genuine choices are open to women, the key driver to how work is divided comes down to lifestyle preference, not gender. Individuals fall into three categories: work-centred, home-centred or wanting to combine work and family (adaptive). 80% of women fall into the adaptive category, Catherine Hakim finds, with only 20% wanting a work-centred lifestyle.
Despite this, most European policies are geared towards full-time worker carers and ignore unpaid work, although there are several countries that are starting to support family work. Finland, for example, operates a homecare allowance system that is paid to any parent who stays at home without using state nurseries, effectively paying the carer for their work. In Germany, the income-splitting tax system for couples recognises the work done by full-time homemakers by aggregating and then splitting the spouses earnings between into two halves, reflecting the idea that both benefit from the home/work arrangement.
‘Instead of looking for the one ‘best option’ policy, governments should offer several’, says Catherine Hakim. ‘One-sided policies that support employment and careers but ignore the productive work done in the family are, in effect, endorsing market place values over family values. But the altruistic and community values embraced by home-centred or adaptive individuals, such as sharing, trust and cohesion, are equally as important to a social democracy.
‘Furthermore, there is evidence that men are beginning to demand the same options and choices as women, with more claims of sex discrimination from men. Policy makers need to be aiming for gender-neutral policies that cater for all three main lifestyle choices.’
(How) can social policy and fiscal policy recognise unpaid family work? by Catherine Hakim is published in a special issue of Renewal: a journal of social democracy, out now.
A copy of the final report can be found here| (PDF).
Dr Catherine Hakim, LSE,