How we share unpaid labour at home informs employment policy

A young woman and man are in a kitchen in a home, washing and drying dishes.

This story was first published on Friday 22 February 2019. If you wish to use this content, please contact to confirm that the information is still current.

Analysis of two national surveys is helping our understanding of the division of unpaid household labour and how flexible employment can help families share the load.

Data from ‘How Australians Use Their Time 2006’ by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and ‘Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia’ by the Melbourne Institute give valuable insights into how households allocate their time between paid and unpaid labour.

Department of Jobs and Small Business economics analyst Bruce Cunningham said the surveys help to understand the economic value of unpaid work, a key factor in the workforce participation gap between men and women.

“Knowing how families share parenting, household duties and unpaid labour are important factors in designing employment policy that provides people with greater opportunities,” Bruce said.

“For example, we know that offering flexible work arrangements improves women’s participation in the workforce. However, there is both international and domestic research to suggest that men are more likely to have their requests for flexible work denied compared with women, which makes it difficult for households to distribute unpaid labour fairly.”

Women are still doing the bulk of unpaid household work — childcare, housework, caring, volunteering, errands and purchasing. Additionally, the total work burden including paid and unpaid work, is larger for mothers than for fathers.

The overall gender difference in unpaid labour reduced from 14.9 hours per week in 2002 to 11.5 hours in 2015.

This can mostly be attributed to a decrease in housework done by women and to a lesser extent, an  increase in the amount of housework and errands done by men, Bruce said. 

“There is also evidence of an increase in time spent by grandparents looking after their grandchildren.

“Gaining a clear understanding of the dynamic between workforce participation of men and women and the unpaid household labour they each undertake can help us design better employment policy,” Bruce explained.

“For example, flexible work can extend beyond part time arrangements, like remote or off-site work, flexible start and finishing times, condensed hours and job sharing.”

“Helping men and women access flexible work arrangements is crucial to ensuring they have the capacity to fairly share the unpaid labour that comes with running a household — this may help women to access more paid employment,” Bruce said.

As part of the Women’s Economic Security Statement, the Government announced in 2018 that the ‘How Australians Use Their Time survey’, which was last done in 2006, will be reinstated in 2020–21.  

In announcing this measure, the Statement said:

“Our lives have changed a lot since the last Survey was conducted by the Government more than 10 years ago and the way we work, and the technology we use, has also changed… The ABS Time Use Survey will help the Government design policies to fit the way people actually live their lives.”

More information

Correct at time of publication.