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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1999   
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Contents >> Work >> Unpaid Work: How couples share domestic work

Unpaid Work: How couples share domestic work

In 1997, married women spent an average of 1hr:47mins per day more on domestic work than men. This difference, however, was smaller (1hr:16 mins) for couples who spent similar time on paid work.

Even though social and economic changes since the late 1960s have had substantial effects on the traditional roles of men as bread winners and women as home makers, the time men spent on domestic work in 1997 was still markedly less than women. Married women spent an average of 1 hour and 47 minutes per day more on domestic work, as a main activity, than their husbands. Women were also more likely than men to undertake some domestic work on an average day (97% of women compared with 81% of men).

However, men were more likely than their partners to be employed, or if both were employed, to work longer hours (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Families at work). As a result, women often had more time for domestic work than men. In order to counter the effects of different employment patterns, time spent on domestic work can be compared for those couples in which both parties worked similar hours (that is, couples in which the difference in hours worked was less than 5 hours per week, which is at most 1 hour per average working weekday).

In such families, there was less difference in the time spent by each partner on domestic work than among couples in general. However, women still averaged 1 hour and 16 minutes more than their partners (3hrs:46mins compared with 2hrs:30mins).


Measuring time use

Information on time spent on different activities is taken from the 1997 Time Use Survey. Time use data was compiled from a household questionnaire and a 48-hour diary of time use, completed by respondents aged 15 years and over. For each five-minute time slot in the diary, people could record up to two concurrent activities. In this review, the amount of time given to domestic work as a main activity (the first activity people recorded) is examined for men and women in couple relationships (married or de facto).

Domestic work refers to unpaid work about the house, excluding most child care and shopping. The types of domestic activities have been classified into broad groups as follows:
  • Food preparation and clean up includes cooking and serving meals, and washing dishes;
  • Laundry and clothes care includes washing, ironing, mending and making clothes;
  • General housework includes cleaning the bathroom/toilet, vacuuming, dusting and tidying;
  • Grounds and animal care includes gardening, pool care and feeding and tending to animals;
  • Home maintenance includes repairs or improvements to the home, equipment, and motor vehicles and chopping wood; and
  • Household management includes paperwork, bills, budgeting, organising, packing, selling household assets and disposing of rubbish.

PARTNERS IN COUPLE FAMILIES: AVERAGE DAILY REPORTED INVOLVEMENT IN DOMESTIC WORK, 1997

Partners who had similar hours of paid work
All couples


Time spent per day
Participation(a)
Time spent per day
Participation(a)




Men
Women
Men
Women
Men
Women
Men
Women
Type of domestic work
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
%
%
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
%
%

Food preparation and clean up
0:38
1:37
69.0
92.1
0:29
1:29
61.7
92.2
Laundry and clothes care
0:05
0:39
12.0
56.1
0:04
0:42
11.2
62.8
General housework
0:11
0:48
27.2
72.0
0:08
0:45
21.1
72.2
Grounds and animal care
0:49
0:23
51.2
39.7
0:32
0:22
38.1
40.4
Home maintenance
0:29
0:05
26.7
6.5
0:23
0:05
21.5
8.0
Household management
0:10
0:10
29.3
28.8
0:09
0:11
26.1
35.9
Total(b)
2:30
3:46
88.1
96.9
1:52
3:39
81.4
97.2

(a) Percentage of population who reported taking part in a particular activity per day.
(b) Total includes other miscellaneous domestic work.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.


Who does what?
As well as differences in the amount of time spent by men and women in couple families on domestic work, there was also a high degree of segregation in the specific types of domestic work they undertook.

In 1997, among couples with similar hours of paid employment, women spent an average of 1hr:37mins per day on food preparation and clean up, almost 1 hour more than their partners. They also spent 34 minutes more than their partners on laundry tasks (39 minutes compared with 5 minutes spent by men), and 37 minutes more on general housework (48 minutes compared with 11 minutes). Men, on the other hand, spent more time on grounds and animal care (49 minutes compared with 23 minutes for women), and general home maintenance (29 minutes compared with 5 minutes). Partners spent equal time on household management tasks such as paying bills and household budgeting (10 minutes per day).

Differences in time spent on various domestic activities was also reflected in the extent to which partners participated in these activities. For example, in 1997 on an average day, 56% of women did laundry-related tasks compared with 12% of men, and, 72% of women compared with 27% of men participated in general housework. Men were more likely to undertake home maintenance activities (27% compared with 7% of women), and grounds and animal care (51% compared with 40%).

COUPLES IN WHICH BOTH PARTNERS HAD SIMILAR HOURS OF PAID WORK: AVERAGE TIME PER DAY SPENT BY EACH PARTNER ON DOMESTIC WORK, 1997

Housework(a)
Other domestic work(b)
Total(c)
Proportion with dependent children(d)
Proportion employed
full-time



Males
Females
Males
Females
Males
Females
Age of male partner (years)
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
%
%

15-29
0:48
1:56
0:25
0:12
1:14
2:09
20.7
80.8
30-39
0:58
2:30
0:54
0:31
1:57
3:12
68.9
52.3
40-49
0:42
2:27
1:01
0:35
1:52
3:05
50.1
67.5
50-59
0:49
3:02
1:40
0:50
2:34
3:53
11.2
33.8
60 and over
0:58
3:29
1:49
0:41
2:56
4:12
1.2
2.1

(a) Includes food preparation and clean up, laundry and clothes care, and general housework.
(b) Includes grounds and animal care, home maintenance, and household management.
(c) Total includes other miscellaneous domestic work.
(d) Children aged 0-14 at home.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.


Life stage
The time people spent on domestic work generally increased with age.1 This might, in part, have been associated with the increased likelihood that older people own their homes and gardens, and have more possessions (e.g. furnishings, household equipment) - all requiring care and maintenance. However, it might also have been that older people prefer certain types of domestic work (such as cooking and gardening) to activities that younger people might do in their free time.

The increasing time spent on domestic work with age was evident among couples in which both partners had similar hours of paid employment. In 1997, women in couple families with a male partner aged between 15 and 29 years spent 2hrs:9mins per day on domestic work, while those with a male partner aged over 60 spent nearly twice this time (4hrs:12mins). While consistently lower for the corresponding age groups, the time spent by men on domestic work also increased with age. Men aged over 60 spent over twice as much time (2hrs:56mins per day) on domestic work as men aged between 15 and 29 (1hr:14mins).

Differences between men and women in time spent on various types of domestic tasks were more evident among older couples than among younger couples. With increasing age, women did more of the housework such as cooking and cleaning, while men gave increasing amounts of time to general maintenance and other activities. In fact, older men spent only 10 minutes more time on housework activities than younger men while the time women spent on housework increased substantially with age.

Whether a couple had dependent children or not also had an effect on how much domestic work was done on an average day. Of couples aged between 30 and 49 years in which both partners had similar hours of paid work, those with children (aged 0-14) spent more time on domestic work than couple-only families. Moreover, mothers spent more time than women without children on housework such as cooking and cleaning (2hrs:54mins compared with 1hr:50mins), while fathers spent slightly more time than men without children on domestic work such as home maintenance tasks and grounds and animal care.

In particular, of women in couple families, mothers spent over one hour more on housework than women without dependent children. The time men spent on housework changed by only 12 minutes, whether they had children or not. Similarly, the time mothers spent on other domestic work changed little, whether they had children or not.

The increased time spent on domestic work by couples with dependent children, compared with couple only families, is related to the need to provide for more people (e.g. more people to cook for and clean up after). In addition, of couples who work similar hours in paid work, couple-only families are more likely to work longer hours than couples with children. In 1997, 68% of these couple-only families had both partners working full-time compared to 54% of couples with children.

COUPLES IN WHICH BOTH PARTNERS HAD SIMILAR HOURS OF PAID WORK: AVERAGE TIME PER DAY SPENT BY EACH PARTNER(a) ON DOMESTIC WORK, 1997

Housework(b)
Other domestic work(c)
Total(d)
Proportion employed
full-time



Males
Females
Males
Females
Males
Females
Family type
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
hrs:mins
%

Couples with children(e)
0:56
2:54
1:06
0:33
2:11
3:36
53.7
Couple only families
0:44
1:50
0:50
0:30
1:37
2:22
67.7

(a) Couples where the male reference person was aged 30-49.
(b) Includes food preparation and clean up, laundry and clothes care, and general housework.
(c) Includes grounds and animal care, home maintenance, and household management.
(d) Total includes other miscellaneous domestic work.
(e) Children aged 0-14.

Source: Unpublished data, Time Use Survey, 1997.


Endnotes

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1997, Time Use Survey, Australia, cat. no. 4153.0, ABS, Canberra.


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