As we celebrated Women’s Equality Day* yesterday, we want to talk about one of the most enduring signs of the gender equality gap — the differences in how men and women spend their time on an everyday basis. Many of you have probably heard of the term the “double-shift” when talking about women’s work outside and inside the home, and anecdotally, we all have examples (“I came home from a 12 hour work day and had to pick up his socks.” Or “After work I had to pick up the kids, clean the house, and cook dinner.”) The recently released American time use survey proves what we’ve known all along: women bear the burden of household work.

A couple of snippets:
• At 5:10 pm, 17% of women are doing household activities – 11% of men are.
• At 7:40 am, 11% of women are doing household activities – 6 % of men are.

Really, do check out the link – they’ve done a cool interactive chart where you can compare time use according to age, gender, race, employment, educational attainment, and size of household. Categories vary from “household activities” to “eating and drinking” to (our favorite!) “relaxing and thinking”. The only downside to the chart is that you cannot compare by multiple qualities – for example, are black women doing more household activities than white women at 5:10? Then black men? What about black single mothers? And Hispanic women over 65? (You get the picture.)

Internationally, feminist economists have been arguing for the inclusion of household work into overall GDP estimates – where traditionally, the bulk of women’s work was uncounted, as it did not take place within the marketplace. For the past few years, the United Nations Development Fund has been tracking Gender, work, and time allocation in its Human Development Report. Although only 33 countries reported on time allocation in 2007, the results are nonetheless interesting – globally women aren’t faring that much better in balancing free time and personal care and family care.

Even the “wunderkind” countries of Northern Europe women seem to be putting more time into the children and the chores then men. In Norway, while women and men spent approximately equal amount of time on themselves, women spent more time cooking and cleaning (2:14) than their male counterparts (0:52). Women also spent double the time (34 mins) that men (17 mins) did on childcare.

In Nicaragua, a moderately developed country where interestingly even the one country where women and men have relatively equal free time women, women are the primary caregivers for the children (1:01 hours compared to the 17 mins men spent with the kids), the cooks and cleaners (3:31 hours to 0:31 mins) and less likely to be involved in market activities 28% to men’s 74%.

It is no surprise that the least developed countries have the widest disparities with regards to time. Women in Benin spend much more time (8:03 hrs) on market and non-market activities combined than men (5:36 hrs). Beninese women don’t have much time for themselves (1:32hrs) their children (45 mins) or their household chores (2:49 hrs) and yet they still spend more time on everything, except themselves, than their men. I’m exhausted just blogging about it.

Virginia Woolf spoke of the need of one’s own room and time (and of course money) when writing fiction. And truly, all of these things are needed for most successes. Who knows how much more the world could gain from women if more men got more involved in activities beyond the market? There are signs that times are changing, however: although recent studies do not indicate more equality in household chores, they do point to a shift in younger men’s (Gen X) attitudes and behaviors around fathering. Looks like we are one step closer to taking ALL work activities seriously, whether inside the market or out. And that’s what we call equality.

* Don’t miss the National Council for Research on Women’s tribute to Women’s Equality Day on their blog, The Real Deal. (Full disclosure: both Tonni and I have posts up! We did them in our personal time.)