Gender equality in the domestic division of labour

Domestic work has been distributed more equally since the 1950s, but women still shoulder the majority of housework and childcare responsibilities. Although new technologies and women’s increasing participation in paid work have contributed to balancing the load, there is evidence of a lingering dual burden for women. Factors such as ethnicity, education, and social class also influence these dynamics.

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Karl Thompson

Do men and women do equal amounts of housework and child care today or is there evidence of a dual burden for women? What do the trends suggest about women’s empowerment? 

Before reading this post, you might like to read this preceding post: Conceptualising Gender Equality. This post covers some of the concepts sociologists have developed over the years to describe trends towards gender equality in domestic life.

A useful resource for exploring ‘raw data’ on who does the housework is the Understanding Society UK Longitudinal Study.

The domestic division of labour: more equal since the 1950s

  • Numerous surveys carried out since the 1950s show a narrowing of the gender gap in the domestic division of labour.
  • Liberal Feminists and Young and Willmott would argue that more women are in paid work means families become more symmetrical.
  • Another reason for this is the ‘commercialisation of housework. New technologies such as washing machines, hoovers and fridge-freezers (think ready meals) have reduced the amount of housework that needs doing and narrows the gender divide in the domestic division of labour.

Gender inequality in housework just before lockdown

A 2019 study UCL study based on interviews with 8 500 opposite sex couples found that:

  • Women do 16 hours of household chores every week, men do closer to six.
  • Women did the bulk of the domestic chores in 93 per cent of couples .
  • There was a 50-50 split of domestic chores in 6% of couples
  • Only 1% of couples had men doing more domestic work than women.

This work is summarised in this Independent article.

Lockdown narrowed the Gendered Division of Labour Gap

A 2020 study from the ONS found that before Lockdown, in 2104-15, women did 1 hour 50 minutes more housework and childcare per day than men. This reduced to 1 hour and 7 minutes per day during Lockdown.

graph comparing housework done by men and women.

After Lockdown: more inequality

In 2022 women did 30 minutes more housework per day than men. They did one hour more childcare.

Interestingly, men seem to do slightly more housework post-lockdown compared to before lockdown. The difference is less for childcare, which has reverted back to being mainly women.

Housework – Gendered Variations by Ethnicity

A 2016 study found that women do three times as much housework than men in Indian households, and four times as much in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households. This compares to twice as much housework than men in White British and Black British households.

table of stats showing how housework varies by gender and ethnicity.

The study found that gender attitudes and lack of education were predictors of housework imbalance. More educated women in all ethnic groups did proportionately less housework.

Do women who do paid work do less housework than men?

It seems obvious that women going into paid work has resulted in greater equality. As most women are now in paid work this means they have more financial independence than ever before.

The statistics above clearly show that the gendered division of labour has become more equal since the 1950s and this is correlated with women and men doing more similar amounts of housework.

HoweverRadical Feminists argue that paid work has led to the dual burden and triple shift.

Even in relationships where both men and women work women do more housework and childcare than men.

This data seems to support the radical feminist view that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal. Men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’.

Housework: what chores do men and women do?

We need to go back a bit further in time to get the data.

A survey of almost 1,000 users of the Mumsnet website revealed similar findings:

  • Changing lightbulbs, taking the bins out and DIY were the only three of 54 common domestic tasks done mainly by men.
  • Most often done by female partners were organising playdates, health appointments, childcare and birthday parties, cleaning and laundry. Parents were most likely to view parents evenings, school plays and bedtime stories as shared activities.
  • Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet said: “One in three working mums is the main family wage earner, a rise of one million over the last 18 years… But despite this, women are still busting a gut back home, responsible for the vast majority of chores and domestic responsibilities. It’s not surprising we still talk about glass ceilings and the lack of women at the top. Most of us are just too exhausted to climb the greasy pole.”

According to a 2011 survey by the Social Issues Research Centre, The Changing Face of Motherhood, there has been hardly any change in domestic division of labour over the last 20 years (since the mid 1990s):

  • In 1994 it emerged that for 79 per cent of couples the woman did most or all of the laundry. Partners shared laundry duties in only 18 per cent of cases. The latest survey (in 2011) showed that the proportion sharing the role has only risen by two percentage points. 70 per cent of households still see laundry as women’s work.
  • In the kitchen, there has been virtually no change in the last 10 years. Women still do the lion’s share of the cooking in 55 per cent of couple households.
  • When it comes to tasks such as shopping for groceries, women’s workload has increased slightly the early 1990s. The same is true for cleaning and caring for sick family members.
  • By contrast, 75 per cent of households see DIY as solely men’s work. This is exactly as it was almost 20 years ago


Analysis – Who does the Housework? Men or Women?

  • Looking at the above statistics it seems reasonable to conclude that Radical Feminist concepts such as the dual burden and the triple shift still apply.
  • We can also conclude that women going into paid work has not yet resulted in total equality in the domestic division of labour.
  • It also seems reasonable to assume that there may be social class differences in the gendered division of labour – the top 10% of households will be in a position to hire cleaners and child care thus reducing the dual burden on middle class, professional women.
  • Another way in which middle class women will be advantaged compared to working class is that because of their husbands’ hire earning power, they will be more able to take time off work to be full time stay at home mums – meaning that they may do more domestic labour, but at least they don’t suffer the dual burden and triple shift.
Signposting and Related Posts

The material above is relevant to the families and households module, usually studied as part of the first year in sociology.

To what extent are gender roles equal?

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