Monday, January 20, 2020

Worldwide gender differences in amount of paid versus unpaid work

A few weeks ago, I wrote about National differences in the amount of paid and unpaid work. This involved a look at the time that people spend per day on each of various different activities, averaged across each year. The data came from the time-use surveys conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for its 30 member countries. I concluded that there are many similarities among countries that share strong cultural ties, although some countries stand out as unusual within this context.

Four main categories of time use are reported in the surveys: Paid Work or Study, Unpaid Work, Personal Care, and Leisure Time; these are described in more detail in my previous post. The aggregated results for each country are available online, including data for three non-OECD countries, for comparison (China, India, South Africa).

Of particular interest is that these data are actually aggregated separately for males and females (see Balancing paid work, unpaid work and leisure). This allows us to look at the various national time-management behaviors in the light of potential differences in gender roles within those countries.

Obviously, we expect some consistent gender differences, not least because in most cultures it is the females who have traditionally been the primary care-givers in a family, and this is one of the main unpaid work activities. We can use the OECD data to look at this in a bit more detail.

Overall gender differences

First, we can look at the overall time-management differences between the two genders.

In order to get an overview of the current differences between the 33 countries (30 OECD, 3 non-OECD), I have performed this blog's usual exploratory data analysis. The available data are multivariate, since there are five measured variables for each country — total paid work, total unpaid work, total personal care time, leisure time (each measured in average number of minutes per day), plus Other (to make a total of 1,440 minutes per day). One of the simplest ways to get a pictorial overview of the data patterns is to use a phylogenetic network, as a form of exploratory data analysis. For this network analysis, I first calculated the gender differences as Male time minus Female time (for each variable separately), and then calculated the similarity of the countries using the manhattan distance. A Neighbor-net analysis was then used to display the between-country similarities.

The resulting network is shown in the first graph. Countries that are closely connected in the network are similar to each other based on their average gender difference in time management, and those countries that are further apart are progressively more different from each other.

At the bottom of the network we see those countries with the biggest gender differences, progressing up to the top with those countries with the least difference.

So, the non-European countries show the most traditional separation of gender roles, with Portugal standing out as being the only one from Europe. China is not situated with the other two Asian countries (Japan, Korea), although why it should be similar to South Africa is not clear.

Indeed, the English-speaking part of the southern hemisphere does not do well, with all three countries (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand) showing stronger gender differences than any of the other English-speaking countries (Canada, USA, UK), except for the Irish (who thus have some explaining to do).

The Scandinavia countries are at the top (Sweden, Norway, Denmark), with the smallest gender differences, which will not surprise anyone who knows these people. On the other hand, the location of France may surprise those people who have a clichéd image of the behavior of Frenchmen. France is clearly separated from the more traditional societies of the other Mediterranean countries (Spain, Greece, Italy), appearing in the network with other northern countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany).

Finland and Estonia have strong historical ties, and they are distinct from the other Baltic countries (Latvia and Lithuania).

Work time differences

Having thus noted that there are some strong gender differences in time-management between countries, we can now proceed to look specifically at Paid versus Unpaid work.

First, we can simply take the total amount of reported Paid + Unpaid work, and compare gender differences across the various countries. This table lists the reported differences expressed as Male time minus Female time, in average minutes per day:
New Zealand
South Africa

These time differences between males and females become very large towards the bottom of the table, where in India it amounts to 1.5 hours per day, and is >1 hour for all of the bottom 8 countries. Note that only in the first four countries (out of the 33) does the total work time for males exceed that for females. It is unclear why the reported gender difference is so large for Norwegians; but maybe some of my readers might think that this could be a useful role model for the other countries!

We can now look at the balance between paid and unpaid work for the two genders. The following graph shows the difference as Male time minus Female time (in average minutes per day) for Paid work (horizontally) and Unpaid work (vertically). The pink line indicates the balance between the two types of work (ie. a decrease in paid work is balanced by a corresponding increase in unpaid work, and vice versa).

Gender differences in amount of paid versus unpaid work

The horizontal axis makes it clear that males always do more paid work than do females, on average, in every country, and up to 4 hours more in Mexico and Turkey. The vertical axis makes it clear that females always do more unpaid work than do males, on average, in every country, and up to 5 hours more in India.

These two variables must be correlated, since most people do either the one type of work or the other. However, in most countries the gender balance is not equal, as shown in the table above (females usually do more total work than do males). Some countries come close to a balance (indicated by the pink line), including the USA.

Note that the country with the closest gender equality is the one with the best reputation in this regard: Sweden. For example, Swedish couples frequently share their workplace parental leave for new-born children, so that there is very little gender bias in who is the primary care-giver in a family. However, the gender bias still amounts to 5–7 minutes of work per day, even in Sweden.

At the other end of the scale, there are a number of countries that still abide by the traditional model of gender roles, of which five are labeled at the bottom of the graph. These cover quite a diversity of cultures, so that no generalizations can be made. However, the gender bias in India exceeds that in Mexico — the Indians report less total work time than do the Mexicans, but that time is organized in a more gender-biased manner. Once again, Portugal stands out among the European countries — the Portuguese work longer hours than do other Europeans, and that time is organized in a more gender-biased manner.

Other differences

Gender differences occur among the other survey variables, as well. As one simple example, we can consider the time reported as being spent Eating & Drinking. This graph shows the time (in minutes per day) spent by the males (horizontally) and the females (vertically) for each of the 33 countries.

Gender differences in amount of time spent eating and drinking

As you can see, there is not a big difference between the two genders, in any country. However, in most countries males do report spending more time feeding themselves than do the females (ie. the points are to the right of the pink line, which represents equal time).

The Mediterranean countries spend the most time eating and drinking, with Greece showing the biggest gender difference. The fast food preferred by Canadians and Americans clearly does not take much time to consume, in any given day, and females can apparently eat it just as fast as males.


The conclusion surprises no-one — all countries have clear gender differences in who does most of the unpaid work. Two Scandinavian countries stand out — Norway, because males do more total work than do females; and Sweden, where the gender balance between paid and unpaid work is smallest. Some countries still show strong gender bias, including India, Mexico, Turkey and Portugal

No comments:

Post a Comment