How far are we from achieving gender equality in the division of labor at home and at work? Across the world, women spend more time on unpaid domestic work, and men do more labor market work. This gender division of labor is the cause and the consequence of many other forms of gender inequalities, such as the gender pay gap and the tendency for men and women to work in different jobs.
Yet gender relations are changing. Nowadays in most industrialised societies more women than men go to the university. More women have jobs than before, even after they have become mothers. Have we witnessed a gender revolution in the division of labor accordingly? In other words, are men doing more housework, and are women doing more labor market work?
Earlier research based on data from Western countries found that the gender gaps in paid work and unpaid work time were closing slowly but women still undertake the lion’s share of cleaning, cooking and caring. We know little about East Asian societies, as well as trends in the most recent decade. It is often assumed that East Asian societies lag behind European and Anglophone countries in the progress of gender equality because of the strong emphasis on family ties and men’s long work hour culture. Is it really the case? What about the total amount of work, if we consider both paid work and unpaid work? Are women doing more total work than men, since many of them look after the family as well as having a job?
In a recent study published in Gender & Society, we seek to answer these questions by looking into the gender gaps in time on paid work, domestic work, and total work from diary data of 4 East Asian countries (China/Beijing, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) and 12 Western countries (Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, UK, and US) between 1985 and 2016.
Stalled progress in the closing of gender gaps in both East Asian and Western societies
Our findings paint a bleak picture for gender equality. We compare three periods: 1985-1996, 1997-2007, and 2008-2016. The gender revolution in the division of labor has stalled in several countries in the most recent period. The gender gaps in paid and unpaid work time were closing in the first two periods but have stalled in the most recent period across a range of countries, including the Liberal welfare policy countries (Canada, UK, US), Social Democratic welfare policy countries (Norway, Finland, Denmark), Southern European countries (Spain and Italy), China, and Japan.
In Japan, Korea, Italy and Spain, the gender gaps in paid work and domestic work time have been large throughout the periods (about 1 hour for paid work and 3 hours for domestic work). These gaps have been closing extremely slowly in Japan and Korea and have remained stably large in Spain and Italy.
In China, Canada, US, and UK, the gender gaps in paid work and unpaid work time are relatively small (about 1 hour in paid work and less than 2 hours in domestic work) and these differences have stopped closing in the most recent period.
There are some exceptions. In Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands (the Conservative welfare policy countries), the gender gaps in paid work and unpaid work time were relatively large in the first period (over 2 hours for both paid work and domestic work) but have been continuously closing over time.
Women work longer hours (considering both paid and unpaid work) than men in both East Asian and Western societies
Another important dimension of gender inequality is the total amount of work. Do women do more total work than men (considering both paid and unpaid domestic work)?
Unfortunately, our findings confirm that women do have longer total work time than men in both East Asian and Western societies across all 3 periods. The size of the gender gap is substantial, ranging from about half an hour (e.g. in Norway, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands) to 2 hours a day (e.g. in Korea, Italy, and Spain).
What makes the differences in the trend of closing of gender gaps in time use among the countries?
The initial size of the gender gaps, cultural contexts, and policies all play an important role in the progress of gender equality in time use. In Conservative welfare policy countries, the gender gaps in paid and unpaid work time are both large but those in total work are relatively small. That is, women in these countries spend relatively long hours on domestic work and relatively short hours on paid work, and the opposite holds for men. Therefore, the gender difference in total work time is small. The closing of the gender gaps in paid and unpaid work has been continuing.
In Liberal and Social Democratic welfare policy countries, Beijing, and Taiwan, the gender gaps in paid work, unpaid work, and total work time are relatively small. There has been stagnation in the progress of the gender division of labor.
In Southern European countries where the gender gaps are large in paid, unpaid, and total work time, the closing of these gaps has been stagnant. In Japan and Korea, the gender gaps in paid and unpaid work time are large but that in total work time is relatively small. The changes in gender differences in paid and unpaid work time have been extremely slow and even stalled.
Our findings imply that social policies dependent on women’s unpaid care, such as those in Japan, Korea, Italy and Spain, will hinder progress towards gender equality in the division of labor. It is time for social planners to design policies more carefully to tackle the social norms that maintain and reinforce women’s domestic and caring responsibilities.
Man-Yee Kan, Muzhi Zhou, Kamila Kolpashnikova, Ekaterina Hertog, Shohei Yoda, and Jiweon Jun. “Revisiting the Gender Revolution: Time on Paid Work, Domestic Work, and Total Work in East Asian and Western Societies 1985–2016” in Gender and Society 2022.
Image: authors’ own