Picture this: your long, eight-hour workday has drawn to a close. Tired, hungry and ready to relax, you send out your last email, shut down your laptop and switch your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode. It’s time to unwind.

But wait — aren’t you missing something? Isn’t there a mountain of dirty dishes in the sink? What about that overflowing basket of laundry you haven’t put on yet? Oh, and don’t forget about the hoovering. Or the ironing. Or the cooking. You get the point. 

Whether you’re a key worker or working from home, almost everybody has a second shift to clock into. But figures show that it’s predominantly women who take on the bulk of the household chores — and are we really that surprised?

The idea that women are responsible for the home sphere, and the household jobs that come with it, is woven deeply into our social fabric. For years, this fixed belief has driven a wedge between women and their careers, relationships and overall happiness — and with the pandemic thrown in, it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

So, why is the home a place where traditional values continue to dominate? And what can we do to ensure we find enough hours in the day to focus on the things that are most important to us? Let’s find out.

The Data

To really delve into this, we’re going to need to look at some of the proposed data. In 2016, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that the average UK woman spends 26 hours a week on unpaid work, compared to 16 hours for men. Fast-forward to the lockdown period, and things haven’t drastically improved. 

A recent study revealed that women were spending an average of 3-hours and 32 minutes on unpaid work a day, compared to 2 hours and 22-minutes for men. Despite both partners staying at home during lockdown, women are putting in 7.7 hours more on unpaid work than men each week.

So, it’s pretty evident from the statistics that in four years, attitudes haven’t changed — and there can be a tonne of reasons for this. Some researchers simply think that while men are happy to have another partner bring in a pay check, they’re not enthusiastic about having to do more chores.

But perhaps the most common and complex reason boils down to the deep-rooted gender stereotypes that we all fall victim to. 

Masculine and Feminine Roles

From a young age, we’re fed thoughts and images that tuck men and women neatly into boxes. In terms of relationships, we borrow our ideas from our caregivers and the heteronormative society we live in — and breaking free from them may be more challenging than first thought. 

It’s no secret that social attitudes are changing; men are becoming more accepting of women in authoritative positions, and calls to end gender bias in the workplace is becoming widespread. 

But it’s inside the comfort of our own homes where gender norms seem to seep in and monitor our every move. It’s as if generations of men and women are residing there with us, influencing how we delegate our home services. 

For example, men may be more compelled to carry out household jobs that are deemed ‘masculine’; like DIY jobs, washing the car or changing lightbulbs. On the other hand, women take on ‘feminine’ home services that are associated with nurture, such as childcare, cooking and cleaning.

So, this way of thinking suggests that a home is a place where heterosexual couples perform gender. Men will get their hands dirty by taking the bins out; women will nurture by maintain cleanliness by hoovering. So, what’s the problem?

Gender Inequality Starts in The Home

Let’s not beat around the bush. The gender inequities you see riddled in wage gaps and work promotions are almost always down to gender imbalances at home. But why? 

To put it simply: gender roles can be harmful. They hold both men and women captive to expectations that can be difficult to maintain. 

By conditioning men that they have to ‘man up’ when they’re struggling or that women should be ‘accommodating’, both parties can feel the strain in other aspects of their lives without realising why. 

So, how does this fit into the delegation of home services? Well, the nurturing, ‘feminine’ services are tasks that need to be completed daily — and there lies the problem. 

We don’t need to wash the car or put up a shelf regularly. But preparing food, washing the dishes and looking after children is essential to home life, and their repetitive nature can take its toll on working women.

More Unpaid Work, Fewer Wages

We already know that the average woman spends more time on unpaid services, but what about the value of their time? According to the ONS, the average women would earn £259.63 more if their unpaid work was paid. 

The average man, on the other hand, would make £166.63. In 2016, the ONS estimated the total value of unpaid household service work at a whopping £1.01tn — roughly 56% of the UK’s National Income. 

So, not only do women take on the bulk of home services, but their work is also of a higher value. Unfortunately, this has had a direct impact on the value of their paid work too. 

As societal norms condition women to nurture others before themselves, WFH mothers are more likely to have their paid work disrupted by children and household chores — even during the lockdown period. 

Whereas the ‘Motherhood Penalty’ creates the tendency for employers to pay mothers less after their return from maternity leave, as well as stripping important assignments and opportunities to climb up the career ladder

Rocky Relationships

It’s not just a woman’s career that can suffer from the inequities of home services, but their relationships too. 

A 2015 ONS study found that men enjoy five hours more leisure time per week than women. Compared to the previous results in 2000, the data suggest there’s been a growth in inequality between men and women when it comes to leisure time; with men taking more and women taking less. 

It’s no surprise that finding the time to relax and focus on yourself is crucial. Catching up on your favourite series, socialising with friends or dedicating a few hours for ‘Me Time’ can do wonders for our well-being, and both men and women deserve it equally.

So, watching your partner kick their feet up while you hoover around them will undoubtedly evoke resentment in women towards their partners. An American study found that women’s relationship satisfaction is deeply affected by whether or not the chores are equally divided. 

If they were, female participants reported a significant improvement in happiness. But when they’re not, the added time and stress is enough to cast a cloud over any marriage or relationship.

Prioritise Finding The Time

So, what can we take away from all of this? Well, two things: gender roles have consequences, and leisure time is essential. 

To break free from the gender roles that float around our homes, we’ll need to communicate with one another. Rethink the system of how the home sphere operates and reclaim it in a way that works uniquely to us. 

We can do this by hiring cleaners, organising rotas or coming together to make household chores more enjoyable. Taking that step to rethink your home as a service can be empowering, and a means of finding the time for the most important things in life.

But at the end of the day, your home is yours. You get to decide how you run it — not the generations who came before. 

Time for another? Head to our Property section for more interesting articles looking at the home.

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