Women still work fewer paid hours despite gap shrinking, report finds

28 Jul 2020 By Francis Churchill

Study also shows staff as a whole are enjoying less leisure time, with experts warning a shorter working week won’t solve this for many

The gap between the number of hours worked by men and women has shrunk to its smallest in four decades, but women are still working fewer paid and more unpaid hours, a report has found.

The report, The time of your life by the Resolution Foundation, found that over the last 40 years women had increased the amount of paid work they did by five hours 18 minutes a week, while men had reduced their number of paid hours by eight hours, 10 minutes a week. However, men still did substantially more paid work at 34 hours a week compared to just 22 hours a week for women.

Women had also reduced the number of unpaid hours they did – including cooking, cleaning and childcare – by two hours 44 minutes, to 29 hours a week. Meanwhile, men had increased their unpaid work by five hours 34 minutes a week.

But despite men doing more unpaid work than before, they still put in significantly fewer hours than women – just 16 hours a week compared to 29 for women.

This meant both men and women did around 50 hours of both paid and unpaid work a week, according to the report.

The change in working hours was also affected by household earnings – which the report termed a new “working time inequality”. Women in high-income households saw the biggest increase in paid work, while a fall in paid work among men was largely driven by low-income households – who were found to be working three hours less a day than they did in the mid-1970s.

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One in seven workers in low-income households wanted more work, compared to just one in 30 in high-income households. “This fall in paid work for lower-income households is a cause of concern and should not be written off as a lifestyle choice,” the report stated.

The report also found that the amount of leisure time enjoyed by both men and women has dropped over the last four decades, with less time spent socialising and more on paid work, unpaid work and childcare.

George Bangham, economist at the Resolution Foundation, said the debate around working hours often focused on moving to shorter working weeks to enable more time for socialising, sports and hobbies. But, he said: “This isn’t how people’s lives have changed over the past four decades, desirable as it may be. Men are doing less paid work, while women are doing more. Both have less time for play – with childcare up, and leisure time down.”

Bangham added that it was important to remember that while some people wanted to work fewer hours many wanted or needed to work more, and that “control of working hours can be as important as the amount they do”.

This was echoed by Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD. He said the report was right to highlight the potential unintended consequences of moving to a shorter working week, especially for those working irregular hours or with no control over their hours.

“The likely employer response of a four-day working week in many cases would be to intensify work and cause higher levels of stress, which incidentally has been rising steadily over the past decade. Policymakers and employers should therefore tread this path with some caution,” he said.

But, Davies said: “It should be added that a shorter working week will make perfect sense in the short term for those employers keen to avoid making redundancies in response to reduced demand.”

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