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Gender Pay Gap Linked to Unpaid Childhood Chores, New Study Reveals

Unpaid Childhood chores
Young women’ and girls’ time spent in unpaid household work contributes to the gender pay gap, according to new research from the Universities of East Anglia (UEA), Birmingham and Brunel. The research shows women’s later employment participation is affected by taking on the weight of this care burden in childhood, thus adding to existing inequality gaps in the study countries.

Women are taught from childhood to be good at housework so it’s easier for their parents to find a good suitor for marriage. Household chores have never been considered worthy of payment in return. Thus women who have been unpaid labourers at home grow up to halt their careers or even a life of their own for ages now.

This study, ‘The contribution of girls’ longer hours in unpaid work to gender gaps in early adult employment: Evidence from Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam’, was published in the journal Feminist Economics.

How are unpaid childhood chores related to gender pay gap?

According to the research, the team examined data from the Young Lives project, a longitudinal cohort study of childhood poverty following the lives of 12,000 children from India, Ethiopia, Peru and Vietnam. The India sample data is from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They analysed the employment participation of children from age 8 to 22 in any paid work in any sector and their type of employment and wages.

According to a report released by UNICEF, girls between the ages of five and fourteen spend 40 per cent more time, or 160 million more hours a day, on unpaid household chores and collecting water and firewood compared to boys their age.

The reports clearly show how girls are expected to be involved in household work and often prioritise it over their education and career. Figuring out time for school becomes a problem causing them to drop out and eventually continue being stuck at home for their entire lives. Prof Fiona Carmichael, Professor of Labour Economics at Birmingham Business School, said: “Longer hours of unpaid household work that reduces girls’ time for study may therefore limit their future lives by constraining employment opportunities. This confirms that the care burden to women of their greater share of household work starts back in childhood.”

Policy to address gender inequality in paid work needs to take into account unpaid work in childhood, said Dr Nicholas Vasilakos, of UEA. Investing in youth employment is central to development agendas and would help countries meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal of decent work for all by 2030.

At age 22, there was already a gender gap in employment participation (85.72 per cent of men versus 70.64 per cent of women). Moreover, women’s hourly wage of US$1.46/hour is significantly less (p=0.001) than men’s US$1.77/hour.

Household work is negatively related to job quality — both types of jobs and earnings — said Dr Christian Darko, a Lecturer in Applied Business and Labour Economics at the University of Birmingham.

Prof Shireen Kanji, Professor of Human Resource Management at Brunel University London, said: “It seems that in comparison to men, women’s employment is likely to be driven to a greater extent by lack of choice or by need, and is characterised by fewer opportunities for well-paid, higher-quality employment.”

In an interview with SheThePeople, Navya Naveli Nanda shared how even at her house when guests come over her mother asks her to host them and take care of their concerns as opposed to her brother who could do the same thing but isn’t expected to do it. Young women coming from a privileged background don’t face the severities of choosing their career or family. Their parents have higher aspirations for them and thus when they find jobs for themselves the payment in comparison to their male counterparts has less gap.

According to UDISE+, 14.6% of women drop out of secondary school in India annually showing how difficult it is for women to cope with demands at home and making themselves capable of high-paying jobs becomes a big challenge. When will we acknowledge the contribution of women in holding up the households? When will they be free of the burden of gender roles at home and choose a life of freedom and financial independence? Can we start bringing up our children without imposing gender roles?


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