A 2010 US study on the imbalance between the amount of unpaid work done by male and female scientists found that female scientists do 54% of the cooking, cleaning and laundry in their households, adding more than ten hours to their nearly sixty-hour work week, while men’s contribution (28%) adds only half that time. The women in their data set also did 54% of parenting labour in their households, while male scientists did 36%. In India, 66% of women’s work time is spent on unpaid labour, while only 12% of men’s work is unpaid. In Italy, 61% of women’s work is unpaid compared to 23% of men’s. In France, 57% of their work is unpaid compared to 38% of men’s.
All this extra work is affecting women’s health. We have long known that women (in particular women under fifty-five) have worse outcomes than men following heart surgery. But it wasn’t until a Canadian study came out in 2016 that researchers were able to isolate women’s care burden as one of the factors behind this discrepancy. ‘We have noticed that women who have bypass surgery tend to go right back into their caregiver roles, while men were more likely to have someone to look after them,’ explained lead researcher Colleen Norris.
This observation may go some way to explaining why a Finnish study found that single women recovered better from heart attacks than married women – particularly when put alongside a University of Michigan study which found that husbands create an extra seven hours of housework a week for women. An Australian study similarly found that housework time is most equal by gender for single men and women; when women start to cohabit, ‘their housework time goes up while men’s goes down, regardless of their employment status’.
It's interesting to see the research in numbers as opposed to just anecdotal versions.
The chapter on maternity leave and payment of maternity leave across different countries, and the impact of the differences in and on other social security payments is just as rage-inducing as my colleague warned me it would be.
With the exception of the US, all industrialised countries guarantee workers paid maternity leave, but most countries aren’t hitting the sweet spot either in pay or the length of leave allowed. And they certainly aren’t hitting them both together.
A recent Australian analysis found that the optimum length of paid maternity leave for ensuring women’s continued participation in paid labour was between seven months to a year, and there is no country in the world that offers properly paid leave for that length of time.
Twelve countries in the OECD offer full replacement wages, but none of these countries offers more than twenty weeks, with the average being fifteen weeks. Portugal, for instance, one of the countries that offers 100% replacement wages, offers only six weeks of leave. Australia, by contrast offers eighteen weeks of maternity leave – but at 42% of earnings. Ireland offers twenty-six weeks – but at only 34% of earnings. For women in these countries the full length of time they’re technically allowed to take off can be, as a result, academic.
British politicians like to boast (particularly in the run-up to the EU referendum) that the UK offers a ‘more generous’ maternity leave than the fourteen weeks mandated by the EU’s 1992 Pregnant Workers Directive. This is technically true, but it doesn’t mean that women in the UK get a good deal in comparison to their European counterparts. The average length of paid maternity leave across the EU is twenty-two weeks. This figure hides substantial regional variation in both pay and length. Croatia offers thirty weeks at full pay, compared to the UK’s offering of thirty-nine weeks at an average of 30% pay. In fact a 2017 analysis placed the UK twenty-second out of twenty-four European countries on the length of ‘decently paid maternity leave’ it offered its female workforce (1.4 months).
And now that Britain is leaving the EU, the country is likely to fall even further below its European neighbours. Since 2008, the EU has been trying to extend its maternity-leave ruling to twenty weeks on full pay. This proposal was stuck in stalemate for years, and finally abandoned in 2015 thanks in no small part to the UK and its business lobby, which campaigned strenuously against it. Without the UK, the women of the EU will be free to benefit from this more progressive leave allowance. Meanwhile Martin Callanan (now a Brexit minister) made a speech to the European Parliament in 2012 in which he included the Pregnant Workers Directive in his list of the ‘barriers to actually employing people’ which ‘we could scrap’.