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  • Katica Roy

Bringing the Gender Equity Conversation to the Homefront

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

By 1989, the labor force participation of women had been increasing for more than three decades, when sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s book, “The Second Shift”, came out the same year. The book noted that despite the increased labor force participation of women, women in the workforce were also responsible for the majority of domestic duties such as cleaning, cooking and childcare. The book’s research found that women worked an extra month of 24-hour days each year, compared to their husbands.

We’ve certainly made progress since 1989. Women work an extra four days of 24-hour days each year as compared to their husbands, versus an entire month, and men have doubled the time they spend on housework and tripled the time spent with children.

Unfortunately, women still spend more time on domestic duties than men and the unequal distribution of domestic duties takes an economic toll.

How Does Domestic Labor End up on Women’s Plates?

A 2018 United Nations report showed women complete 2.6 times more unpaid domestic labor than men and it’s an issue that transcends borders, occurring globally. In fact, one study in Sweden found that, even when fathers were full-time stay-at-home dads, women averaged 45 more minutes of chores daily. Another study found that if a woman is the breadwinner, her husband will contribute less to domestic duties than if he was the breadwinner.

However, this is not an issue of man versus woman, husband versus wife. Rather, like many gender equity issues, it can often be traced to incorrect assumptions or ideas that have evolved over time.

  • One study found that women are less likely to “allow” a husband to contribute domestically, due to the belief that he is unable to satisfactorily complete the necessary tasks.

  • Others feel women have been conditioned to believe their domestic duties are tied to their value.

  • In some cases, men report viewing domestic duties as not a “must” for their wives, but a “want” (e.g.,I don’t mind a little clutter around the house, but if she’s picking it up, she must want to for her own reasons”).

The Impact of Equalizing Domestic Duties

The economy could benefit everyone if we simply split domestic duties equally. When labor is allocated in a gender-neutral way, output per hour increases by 5.4 percent, as people are able to better use their skills and their time.

Additionally, only 34 percent of women who do the majority of housework and childcare aspire to become top executives. When the housework and childcare is distributed equally, that percentage rises to 43 percent. The second shift contributes to more women falling out of the leadership pipeline and ending up in fewer leadership roles. Eliminating the second shift contributes to fixing the leaky pipeline. It’s a labor economics issue.


Steps can be taken toward resolutions for the second shift from both the business and policy standpoints.

There is currently a stall in workplace flexibility. When provided, options such as telecommuting, flextime and compressed workweeks support employees’ need to balance personal and caregiving responsibilities.

Likewise, if we want to equalize domestic duties, we have to equalize the benefits which encourage equitable caregiving. Currently, new fathers in the United Kingdom are eligible for two weeks’ paternity leave, but only 22 percent of fathers take advantage of the benefit, as compensation levels are too low and men do not feel they have the support of their bosses and colleagues to actually take the time off.

From a policy perspective, federal support for paid parental leave and affordable childcare can further lessen the need for the second shift. Sweden, for example, provides tax breaks to encourage families to hire maid services. The domestic load is alleviated and economic benefits are realized.

A Necessary Change

There is a great deal to gain by eliminating the second shift. Increased female labor participation leads to a healthier global economy and expanded availability of talent. Eliminating the second shift isn’t solely about fairness — it’s a necessity as we move toward gender parity and improving the economic pie for all.


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