The Australian census numbers have been released, showing that women typically do much more hours of unpaid homework per week compared to men.
This is not a new development. In 2016, the “typical” Australian man spent less than five hours a week on homework, while the “typical” Australian woman spent between five and 14 hours a week on homework. Prior to that, the 2006 census again showed that more of the domestic workload was borne by women.
Thus, in the 15 years since the Australian Census began collecting unpaid homework time, women have been shown to do more than men. Each. Single. Time.
What is unique about these latest census figures is that Australians completed their surveys during one of the biggest disruptions to work and home life – the COVID pandemic.
Read more: Planning, stress and worry place the mental burden on mothers – will 2022 be the year they share the burden?
We have a wide range of research showing that the pandemic has disrupted women’s – especially mothers’ work and family life in catastrophic ways.
Economic closures knocked women out of service at higher rates for men, forcing them to rely more on their savings and stimulus payments to finish. All this while managing intensified homework, childcare and homeschooling.
The transition to remote and hybrid learning has meant that mothers, not fathers, have reduced their workload to meet these newfound demands.
Fathers picked up the drowsiness in the home – doing more homework at the beginning of the pandemic and holding it over time.
Yet, as my colleagues Brendan Churchill and Lyn Craig show, fathers increased their homework, but so did mothers, meaning the gender gap remained at that time.
So while men should be applauded for doing more during the unique stress of the pandemic, our mothers show were the true heroes of the pandemic, stepping into additional labor at the expense of their health and well-being.
The pandemic has simply put unparalleled pressure on Australian families. So it is perhaps no surprise that our surveys show that Australians are burnt out.
(As discussed in previous articles, it is generally found that the division of labor in same-sex relationships is more equal. But some criticisms suggest that even then equality may suffer once children are involved.)
Read more: COVID forced Australian fathers to do more at home, but at the same cost, mothers endured for a long time
Time for action
So, where to now?
We pay more than $ 640 million dollars every five years to document Australia through the census.
And in each of these surveys we find the same result – women do more homework than men.
This is consistent with decades of research showing that women do more homework, even when they are employed full time, earn more money and especially as soon as children hit the scene.
Men have increased their homework and childcare contributions over time and younger men want to be more present, active and attentive in the home.
Simply put: men want to give more care and women suffer from doing everything.
We have been documenting these trends for decades – enough. Now it’s time for action.
Read more: Flexible work arrangements help women, but only if they are also offered to men
Creating a just future
These are the critical questions we ask through The Future of Work Lab at the University of Melbourne – how do we create a future that is fair to all, including women and mothers?
A few key projects highlight some of the following steps to clear interventions. The first is to provide Australian families with a comprehensive safety net to support their caring lives.
All of us will be called at some point to care for a loved one, friend, family member or colleague. At these moments, work becomes difficult and homework demands rise.
Thus, providing care resources beyond just paid downtime is critical. It emphasizes the need for
- universal free high quality childcare
- paid caregiver leave, and / or
- better and longer term cash payments for caregivers.
Second, we need comprehensive policies that enable men to step into caring roles without fear of retaliation and punishment at work.
Australians work on average more annual hours than their Canadian and UK counterparts, working hours more similar to the overwork culture of the United States. And only one in 20 Australian fathers takes paid parental leave after childbirth, an awful rate relative to other high-income countries.
We can do better.
The pandemic has created the space for many men to enter larger care roles with great pleasure and has shown workplaces that flexible work is feasible.
Subsequently, the Australian workplace needs to support men’s right to care more.
Unpaid homework and the spiritual burden
Finally, we need to address the challenges of unpaid homework and the mental burden on women’s physical, mental and economic health and well-being.
Maybe technology has some solutions.
The demand is clearly there with some super impressive women developing concrete technological solutions to reduce the mental burden and unpaid homework – like Melo’s mental burden app or Yohana’s virtual porters.
Others use old technology solutions – such as Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play cards – to help couples balance the often invisible and undervalued household chores. We are working on a research project to more broadly understand the impact of these different resources on families’ unpaid household loads and lives.
The census is valuable in showing us that we remain unchanged.
But now is a time to invest in intervention and innovation to make us better versions of ourselves in the future.
Read more: Do not give mom chocolate for Mother’s Day. Take on more homework, share the spiritual burden and instead plead for equality