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Women do more grunt work at home, no matter their pay or education

Women do majority of unpaid work
Women do majority of unpaid work 01:19

It's widely known that women do most of the grunt work when it comes to taking care of the house and looking after family. Perhaps more surprising, a new analysis shows: This burden falls on women no matter how glitzy their job or advanced their education. 

The study, from Oxfam and the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), zeroed in on how U.S. women and men spend their time and, in a twist, adjusted for factors such as educational attainment and work status. What researchers found was that working women are also putting in extra shifts at home. Women with full-time jobs do 4.9 hours of unpaid work per day — that compares with 3.8 hours for men with full-time jobs. 

The gender gap in unpaid work cuts across income and education, the study found. In families with annual income of at least $100,000, women spend 5.7 hours per day doing unpaid work, compared with 3.8 hours for men. Women with bachelor's degrees spend 5.8 hours daily on unpaid labor, compared with 4.1 for male college grads.   

That imbalance can limit women's ability to advance in their careers and stunt their potential lifetime earnings and retirement savings, according to the study. It also helps explain why women on average earn about 80 cents for every $1 earned by men. Because many women earn less than their male partners, women often choose to work less outside the home to focus on family care and chores around the house.

Why the gender pay gap isn't going away 01:08

Although that thinking might make financial sense for individual households, it feeds into the cycle of lower pay for women, with many employers judging that female employees aren't as dedicated to their jobs as male workers. In the end, American women and girls provide a subsidy of $1.4 trillion dollars worth of unpaid labor to the U.S. economy, Oxfam said in a separate study earlier this week.

"We wanted to highlight that there is a need for real policy change that would provide both men and women with real choices," said Cynthia Hess, one of the research paper's authors and chief operating officer at the IWPR. "Even though many men may want to provide more care and value the time they spend with their children, the structure of the labor market makes it hard to share equally" in unpaid work.

Among part-time workers, women pick up even more of the scut work — 6.8 hours of unpaid labor per day versus 2.8 hours for men. That's likely because women with part-time jobs often may be working scaled-back hours because of their family obligations, the IWPR said. 

Tips for closing the gender wage gap 03:10

At the same time, women now hold a majority of U.S. jobs. The share of women drawing a paycheck edged above 50% in December. That shift is likely to be permanent because women dominate the nation's fastest-growing industries, such as health care and service jobs. 

New policies could help equalize the burden and break the cycle, the IWPR said. Those include affordable childcare and universal pre-kindergarten programs, aligning the school day to better fit with pareents' work schedules and workplace leave policies that equally encourage men and women to take time off for family care, among other options. 

The IWPR also noted that the U.S. is the only country in the OECD — a group of 36 developed countries such as Canada, Germany and the U.K. — without a national guarantee of paid parental leave.

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