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Abstract

In this paper, the authors focus on unpaid work from the perspective of gender inequality. The authors explore drivers of unpaid work around the world and analyze recent trends in advanced economies using evidence from time use surveys. Specifically, they use average time use statistics by gender at the country-level as well as more granular time use surveys at the level of the individual. Finally, they identify policies that can reduce and redistribute unpaid work and estimate the gains from addressing gender imbalances in unpaid work.

On average, women do more than two more hours of unpaid work per day than men. We find that as countries get richer, the hours people spend on unpaid work fall, particularly in domestic chores. Richer economies can afford “engines of liberation.”3 In developing economies, unpaid work is often linked to subsistence requirements—providing food, shelter and caring for family members in a very labor-intensive fashion. As economies develop, improved household technologies, and the introduction of labor-saving consumer durable goods results in less time spent on domestic chores, which account for the largest share of unpaid work.

Unpaid work, such as caring for children, the elderly, and household chores represents a significant share of economic activity but is not counted as part of GDP. Women disproportionately shoulder the burden of unpaid work: on average, women do two more hours of unpaid work per day than men, with large differences across countries. While much unpaid care work is done entirely by choice, constraints imposed by cultural norms, labor market features or lack of public services, infrastructure, and family-friendly policies matter.

This undermines female labor force participation and lowers economy-wide productivity. In this paper, authors examine recent trends in unpaid work around the world using aggregate and individual-level data, explore potential drivers, and identify policies that can help reduce and redistribute unpaid work across genders. Conservative model-based estimates suggest that the gains from these policies could amount to up to 4 percent of GDP.