The Hidden Costs of Unpaid ‘Women’s’ Work


Would you spend 4.5 hours — more than half of a traditional U.S. business day — working without pay?

Most may be inclined to say no. But that's the average amount of time women worldwide spend on unpaid work each day. And when women aren't paid for the work they do, we all pay in the end.

Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is using her platform to spark debate over the issue of "time poverty," which impacts women all over the world.

The New York Times explains the concept simply: Men spend more time working for money and on leisure activities. Women, rather, perform the bulk of unpaid work, including cooking, cleaning and childcare.

"Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it's their responsibility," Gates wrote in her 2016 annual letter, jointly penned by Gates and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Wealthier countries tend to have smaller time gaps between paid and unpaid work as compared to poorer countries. Still, Japan, one of the world's most economically powerful countries, has one of the largest time gaps. Citing the economic benefits, Japanese leaders have tried to close the time gap and increase the number of working women.

The average 4.5 hours per day women spend on unpaid work is more than double the amount of time men spend, according to the Times, citing data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

While unpaid work maintains functional households, it prevents women from pursuing other opportunities. For example, when communities don't have access to clean water, it takes time to travel to a water source and gather the family supply — and it's usually women who spend the time doing this. Furthermore, when women lack access to education, or can't spend the necessary time on it because of domestic responsibilities, they lack access to opportunities for paid work.