• Rachana Kadikar

Gender Gaps in Unpaid Labor — A Background

As many contemporary societies move beyond traditional patriarchal gender specializations, women’s fight for equal opportunity and against unfair societal stereotypes continues. One of the largest issues that burdens women around the world is the unequal division of unpaid labor. Unpaid labor is a broad spectrum of household work one performs without the goal of compensation or benefits. This could include routine housework such as washing the dishes or laundry, shopping for necessary goods, taking care of children and the elderly, and other economically invisible unpaid activities related to maintaining a household.

If women were paid the federal minimum wage for their work, the total global monetary value of unpaid labor by women would sum up to about 10.9 trillion a year, which, to put in perspective, exceeds the combined revenues of the fifty largest companies on the Fortune Global 500 list, or an eighth of the 2020 global GDP of 84.54 trillion U.S. dollars. However, this unpaid labor isn’t a part of GDP calculations, so it remains a largely behind-the-scenes contributor to our economy. For this same reason, the gender disparity of unpaid labor remains an overlooked issue.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that for OECD economies, women spend on average 126.9 minutes more than their male counterparts on unpaid work on a daily basis. Sweden, Denmark, and Norway have the most equal distribution, while India, Turkey, and Portugal have the largest gender gaps of unpaid labor, with Indian women spending on average 300.1 more minutes on unpaid work on a daily basis, and 94.3 more minutes daily on unpaid work and paid work combined.

The graphic above outlines the amount of time men and women are spending daily on average in each country, outlining the gender disparity in unpaid labor distribution.

Ultimately, society is limited by these disparities in unpaid labor due to women’s limited financial and social independence, limited economic prosperity due to a significant portion of the population devoting time and energy toward unpaid labor, and perpetuated stereotypes about mothers’ working productivity. Therefore, it is crucial that public policymakers and private entities address these disparities in unpaid labor so that globally, society can thrive and grow further, and women’s empowerment can reach new highs.