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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1994  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/05/1994   
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Contents >> Work >> Unpaid Work: Unpaid household work

Unpaid Work: Unpaid household work

In 1992, on average, women spent twice as many of their waking hours as men on unpaid household work but half as many on labour force activity.

Unpaid work is a major category of activity in Australian households. In the course of a year Australians spend almost 18 billion hours on unpaid work, compared to 16 billion hours on paid work.

Given that a large part of the day is generally spent sleeping (on average 8-8.5 hours), for most Australians, decisions about their use of time pertain to what should be done during waking hours. In 1992, unpaid household work occupied a substantial proportion (an average of 31%) of women's waking hours. The combination of paid and unpaid work with voluntary and community activities occupied almost half their time (47%). While 16% of men's waking hours was devoted to unpaid work, the total of paid and unpaid work, and voluntary and community activities occupied the same proportion of their waking hours as women.

Time spent on eating and personal care (washing, dressing and grooming etc.) has much the same obligatory character as time spent on sleep. Time spent in education might be considered time which, like paid work, is contractually committed. This leaves on average just over one-third (36% for both men and women) of waking hours available as discretionary or free time for leisure pursuits.

Neither income, education nor occupation have a significant effect on the amount of unpaid work an individual does. Rather, there is a general trade-off between hours of paid work and the amount of time devoted to unpaid work for both men and women.

In contrast to many other activities, a substantial amount of unpaid household work occurs while individuals are engaged in another (primary) activity. This is most evident in child care/minding. When this accompanying (secondary) activity is taken into account, the average time Australians spend caring for, or minding, children increases from 32 minutes a day to 2 hours 11 minutes a day, a four-fold increase. Including the component of secondary activity time that accompanies leisure and personal care when estimating annual hours of unpaid work in Australia adds a further 5.4 billion hours a year and increases the estimate of total time spent in unpaid work by about 30%.

PROPORTION OF WORKING HOURS SPENT ON MAIN GROUPS OF ACTIVITIES, 1992

Men
Women
Activity
%
%

Labour force
28.6
13.4
Unpaid household work
15.9
30.9
Eating and personal needs
12.9
13.6
Community participation(a)
2.7
2.8
Education
3.5
3.1
Social and leisure
36.3
36.1
Total waking hours
100.0
100.0

(a) Includes voluntary work.

Source: Time Use Survey


Paid and unpaid work

Work is generally defined as activity that uses labour and other factors of production to produce goods and services for sale in the market. Unpaid work receives no payment as the majority of the services are not produced for the market. As a result there are no appropriate monetary prices to use in the valuation of these services. Accordingly, the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA) excludes the value of unpaid work from its definition of economic production as it aims to measure only market activity and activity for which satisfactory near market values exist.

Data on the time spent on unpaid work are collected through time use surveys where respondents keep a diary record of every activity undertaken in the course of a day. In this review unpaid household work includes the following household activities:
  • food preparation and clean up;
  • cleaning and tidying;
  • laundry, ironing and clothes care;
  • purchasing goods and services;
  • physical care of own and other children;
  • playing with, teaching, minding children;
  • garden, pool and pet care;
  • home maintenance and car care;
  • household management;
  • travel associated with the above activities;
  • transporting household members.

In measuring unpaid work by the time spent on each activity no account is taken of the productivity of the time used or of the quality of output achieved. Nevertheless, the data can be used to produce estimates of the value of unpaid work within a national accounting framework. Such estimates are being prepared for 1992 by the ABS. Once data are available from another time use survey, they should provide a basis for producing satellite accounts which will enlarge the boundary of economic production. Generally, the unpaid assistance provided by relatives and others in family businesses is grouped with (paid) labour force activities.


Segregation of unpaid work
Much of the discussion of sex discrimination has revolved around the assignment of social roles by gender. Legislation such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 has sought to ensure and promote the rights of women to participate equally in all areas of Australian society.

Nevertheless, the assignment of unpaid work tasks remains stereotyped and there is little evidence of rapid short-term change1. Most unpaid tasks around the house appear to be classified as either men's work or women's work. Australian women, on the whole, are responsible for indoor housework such as cooking, laundry, cleaning and the physical care of children, while men are responsible for the outdoor tasks like lawn, garden, pool and pet care, and for maintaining the home and the car. Shopping and playing with children are the activities most likely to be gender neutral, although in both cases women spend more time on these activities than men.

The extent of segregation in unpaid work activities can be measured using an equality ratio. In 1992 women spent twice as much time as men on unpaid work. Women worked eight and half times longer than men on laundry, ironing and clothes care, more than five times longer on the physical care of children, between four and five times longer on cleaning, and three times longer on cooking. On the other hand, men spent five times as much time on home maintenance and car care.
While these comparisons indicate a high degree of segregation, it is important to remember that men's high commitment to paid work greatly reduces their time available for unpaid work. However, even when this reduced availability is taken into account a distinct segregation continues to be evident. For example, laundry occupied 3% of men's average unpaid household work time and 13% of women's. Laundry, physical care of children, cleaning and cooking were disproportionately female activities while garden, pool and pet care, home maintenance and car care were male activities. Shopping and playing with children were the tasks most likely to be shared.

Patterns of time use also vary considerably depending on age, family and life-cycle status, and labour force status. Both the total amount of unpaid work and the allocation to different activities are affected.

AVERAGE WEEKLY TIME SPENT ON SELECTED UNPAID HOUSEHOLD WORK ACTIVITIES, 1992

Men
Women
Equality ratio(a)


Activity
hours
%
hours
%
no.

Laundry, ironing and clothes care
0.5
3.1
4.0
13.1
8.5
Physical care of own children
0.6
3.8
3.0
10.0
5.2
Cleaning
1.1
6.9
4.9
16.2
4.7
Food preparation and clean up
2.8
18.3
8.3
27.3
3.0
Shopping
4.1
26.7
6.4
21.2
1.6
Playing with own children
0.5
3.1
0.7
2.3
1.5
Garden, pool and pet care
3.5
22.9
2.6
8.5
0.7
Home maintenance and car care
2.3
15.7
0.5
1.5
0.2
Total
15.3
100.0
30.3
100.0
2.0

(a) Ratio of average time spent by women on an activity to the average time spent by men.

Source: Time Use Survey


The transition to marriage
The effect of marriage on time spent on selected household tasks can be illustrated by comparing time spent by people living with parents or living alone with the average time spent by younger married couples, who have not yet had children,

There are substantial differences in the time spent on unpaid work activities between the groups, most obvious in the low times spent by adult children living with their parents. Even in this category young men spent less than half as much time as young women on cooking, cleaning and laundry. These findings are consistent with the notion that girls are socialised to accept a greater role in unpaid household work than boys and that parents (mainly mothers) continue to undertake a substantial amount of the housework generated by their young adult children.

For people living alone, marriage has opposite effects for men and women. For men cooking, cleaning and laundry time are all reduced by marriage, whereas for women they all increase. Compared to a single woman, marriage increases cooking time by 40%, laundry by 56% and cleaning by 11%.

AVERAGE WEEKLY TIME SPENT ON SELECTED UNPAID WORK ACTIVITIES, 1992

Laundry
Cleaning
Cooking
Total
Life–cycle stage
hours
hours
hours
hours

Women
    Married, under 45 years, no children
3.0
4.1
6.3
13.4
    Under 60 years, living alone
1.9
3.5
4.5
9.9
    Daughter, living with parents
0.7
1.8
2.6
5.1
Men
    Married, under 45 years, no children
0.3
1.2
2.6
4.1
    Under 60 years, living alone
1.1
1.9
4.9
7.9
    Son, living with parents
0.2
0.9
1.1
2.2

Source: Time Use Survey


The effect of children
In 1992 the amount of unpaid household work time of mothers of pre-school age children was more than double that of married women who had not had children. Mothers of infant children (0-1 years) spent over 59 hours a week in unpaid work. Unpaid household work time decreased as the age of the youngest child increased. For older married women whose children have left home (who form the majority of women aged over 45 years, without children), time spent on unpaid household work was still 40% greater than that of younger married women who had not yet had children. However, it is to be expected that time spent on paid work would be greater for younger married women without children than for the older group.

Although the figures only include the time spent in primary child care, mothers of infant children spent over 30 hours a week on child care, regardless of time spent shopping, preparing meals and cleaning and tidying. There is a clear relationship between the age of the youngest child and the time spent on child care. The younger the child, the greater the demand on the mother's time. Time spent on domestic activities (cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, home maintenance, car and pet care, paper work, transport and travel) generally increased with the age of the youngest child, while shopping time remained fairly constant.

Fathers of infants did 45% more unpaid household work than young married men without children, including about 8 hours a week in direct child care as a primary activity. Mothers of infants spent two and a half times more time than fathers on unpaid household work but their labour force activity was substantially less than that of fathers of young children. For fathers this stage of the life-cycle represents a heavy commitment to long hours of paid work.

EFFECT OF CHILDREN ON AVERAGE WEEKLY TIME SPENT ON UNPAID HOUSEHOLD WORK ACTIVITIES, 1992

Married men
Married women


Shopping
Child care
Domestic
Total(a)
Shopping
Child care
Domestic
Total(a)
Life-cycle stage
hours
hours
hours
hours
hours
hours
hours
hours

Under 45 years, no children
4.3
0.1
11.0
15.4
6.2
0.5
17.7
24.4
Age of youngest child
    0-1 years
3.3
8.2
11.0
22.4
5.6
30.5
23.2
59.3
    2-4 years
3.3
6.3
11.4
20.9
7.2
17.9
26.4
51.3
    5-9 years
3.0
3.6
11.7
18.2
5.7
11.7
26.4
43.6
    10-14 years
3.3
2.3
12.3
17.9
6.7
5.6
25.9
38.2
    15 years and over
4.3
0.1
15.2
19.6
6.7
0.6
29.2
36.4
Over 45 years, no children
4.6
0.6
15.4
20.4
5.6
1.2
27.0
34.1

(a) Includes cooking, cleaning, laundry, home management and maintenance, gardening, transporting family members etc.

Source: Time Use Survey


Life-cycle stages

Individuals pass through a variety of life-cycle stages in the course of a lifetime. Transition through life-cycle stages involves movements between distinct social states e.g. when an individual moves from being a child living with parents to independence, the formation of a partnership, parenthood, retirement, widowhood etc. The sequence of these stages is not rigid, neither can the stages be arranged in any order.

The life-cycle stages considered are:
  • son or daughter living at home with parents;
  • sharing with unrelated others;
  • living alone but under retirement age;
  • married, under 45 years, without children;
  • married with children
      youngest child aged 0-1 years
      youngest child aged 2-4 years
      youngest child aged 5-9 years
      youngest child aged 10-14 years
      youngest child aged 15 years or over;
  • lone parent
      youngest child aged 0-14 years
      youngest child aged 15 years or over;
  • married, over 45 years, without children;
  • married, above retirement age;
  • living alone, above retirement age.

In this categorisation, retirement age is taken as 65 years for men and 60 years for women, married includes de facto, and the presence or absence of children refers to children living at home with their parent(s).


The effect of widowhood
Older retired women living alone did 24% less unpaid work than women above retirement age living with a male partner. Most of this reduction occurred in cooking and laundry. The time released by this reduction was chiefly devoted to extra social life and entertainment.

For men, on the other hand, the loss of a partner leads to substantial increases in unpaid work. Time spent on laundry trebled while time spent cleaning and cooking more than doubled.

AVERAGE TIME SPENT PER WEEK ON SELECTED ACTIVITIES, 1992

Laundry
Cleaning
Cooking
Life-cycle stage
hours
hours
hours

Men over 65 years
    Married
0.5
1.6
4.6
    Living alone
1.5
3.9
9.3
Women over 60 years
    Married
4.2
6.2
12.6
    Living alone
3.2
6.4
9.0

Source: Time Use Survey


The double burden
With the increasing participation of married women in the paid labour force, the question arises as to how they combine paid and unpaid work and whether they carry a double burden.

In order to assess the extent to which other family members increase their hours of unpaid work in support of married women's labour force activity, the average amount of unpaid work of husbands and adult children has been examined for different categories of women's hours of paid work. While some fluctuations are evident, in general there is a slight trend downwards suggesting that, on average, the amount of unpaid work of other family members tends to decrease rather than increase as women's paid work increases. The one exception is in the move from part-time to full-time work when both husbands and daughters increased their unpaid work hours. On the other hand, sons did more unpaid work when their mothers worked part-time. On average, husbands' unpaid work time was 50% greater than daughters' living at home and 100% greater than sons' living at home.

When all other relevant factors, such as life- cycle stage, the presence of children and the age of the youngest child, are held constant, a wife's hours of paid employment have only a weak effect on her husband's weekly hours of unpaid work. Everything else being equal, the husband of a woman moving from no employment to long hours of full-time employment (over 50 hours a week) would undertake an extra three and a quarter hours of unpaid work a week. Men's own hours of paid work and the presence of pre-school age children have the most influence on husbands' hours of unpaid work.

A move into the labour force does not mean that the hours of paid employment can simply be added to the domestic load of women who are not in the labour force. While the total paid and unpaid work of these women is higher than that of a full-time housewife, there is a reduction in the amount of unpaid work done. When all other factors such as age, income, numbers of children and age of youngest child are held constant, there is a significant reduction in the time devoted to unpaid work. The rate of this reduction for cooking, laundry and cleaning, all other things being equal, is estimated at about five and a half hours a week for a woman working 40 hours a week. However, this reduction is not because others in the household have increased their amount of unpaid household work substantially to compensate. Rather, some of the work is either not being done or market substitutes have been made, for example with child care, cleaning, ironing, meals out etc.

As well as the reduction in the amount of unpaid household work that takes place when married women enter into full-time employment, there is a question of whether the allocation of tasks changes. When the segregation of unpaid work tasks is examined for full-time employed married couples with children under 15 years, a similar pattern is observed as in the population as a whole, although men spent more time in the physical care of their own children. It would appear that women's move into the full-time labour force has not impacted greatly on role stereotypes in the allocation of unpaid work tasks. Again part of the explanation for the extent of segregation observed relates to the constraint on time availability imposed by men's paid work commitments. Even among full-time workers, Time Use Survey data indicate that married men with children spent 52% more time on full-time paid work than did their full-time employed wives (51 hours a week compared to 33 hours a week).


CONTRIBUTION OF FAMILY MEMBERS AGED 15 YEARS AND OVER TO UNPAID HOUSEHOLD WORK, 1992



Source: Time Use Survey
AVERAGE WEEKLY TIME SPENT ON SELECTED ACTIVITIES BY FULL-TIME EMPLOYED MARRIED COUPLES WITH CHILDREN, 1992

Men
Women
Equality ratio(a)


Activity
hours
%
hours
%
no.

Laundry, ironing and clothes care
0.4
2.2
3.6
11.1
10.3
Physical care of own children
3.0
19.3
9.5
29.0
3.1
Cleaning
0.8
5.2
4.1
12.5
5.0
Food preparation and clean up
2.5
15.5
7.6
23.3
3.1
Shopping
3.0
19.3
4.9
15.1
1.6
Playing with own children
0.9
5.9
1.3
3.9
1.4
Garden, pool and pet care
2.6
16.3
1.2
3.6
0.5
Home maintenance and car care
2.6
16.3
0.5
1.4
0.2
Total
15.8
100.0
32.6
100.0
2.1


(a) Ratio of average time spent by women on an activity to the average time spent by men.

Source: Time Use Survey



Endnotes

1 Bittman M. (1992)
Juggling Time - How Australian Families Use Time AGPS, Canberra.




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