Women’s ‘double shift’ of work and household duties is a ‘myth’, claims leading sociologist

The perception that women get the brunt of housework and childcare on top of their working life is false, reveals new research. 

The perception that women get the brunt of housework and childcare on top of their working life is false, reveals new research.
Men are already doing more than their fair share, says Dr Catherine Hakim,  senior research fellow in the Sociology Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Feminists are wrong to claim men should be using more elbow grease when it comes to housework and childcare, because on average, men and women already do the same number of hours of productive work.
In fact, if hours spent doing both paid work and unpaid household, care and voluntary work together, are considered, we would find men were most definitely doing their bit, claims Dr Hakim in a special issue of Renewal: a journal of social democracy.  
Until recently, unpaid work such as childcare and domestic work had been difficult to quantify so it was mostly ignored by social scientists and policy makers.
But now the development of time use surveys across the European Union has provided data on exactly how much time we spend carrying out both paid and unpaid productive activities.
Time use surveys ask people to keep diaries recording what they do with their time for a complete day, or longer, and are usually broken down into 15 minute chunks of time.  The European Commission now asks for them to be done in all EU countries, and they are done in the USA as well.  From these, we know exactly how much time men and women spend on unpaid household work (childcare, domestic work, repairs, etc), voluntary work, and paid jobs, as well as sleeping, eating, leisure, etc.
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.
Dr 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.”
She explains that 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.
Dr Hakim argues that in societies where genuine choices are open to women, the key instigator to how work is divided comes down to lifestyle preferences, not gender.
Individuals fall into three categories:
* Work-centred
* Home-centred
* Or wanting to combine work and family (adaptive)
Dr Hakim found 80% fell into the adaptive category - only 20% wanted a work-centred lifestyle.
However, most European policies are geared to full-time worker carers and ignore unpaid work, although there are several countries who are beginning to support family work. Finland has a homecare allowance system that is paid to any parent who stays at home without using state nurseries – this effectively pays the carer for their work. In Germany, there is an income-splitting tax system for couples which recognises the work done by full-time homemakers by aggregating and then splitting the spouses’ earnings 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 Dr 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.” 

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