Melinda Gates showed some serious disdain this week for how, when it comes to unpaid work, women everywhere end up doing much more than men. Her comments were included in the annual Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation letter.
“I know from listening to my kids and their friends—and from looking at polling data about how teenagers see the future—that most girls don’t think they will be stuck with the same rules that kept their grandmothers in the home. And most boys agree with them.
I’m sorry to say this, but if you think that, you’re wrong. 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.”
She also states the fact that women on average do 4.5 hours a day doing unpaid work in every country around the world.
One of the big reasons for that, she claims, is that many cultural norms make it seem like women are expected to do the household chores. Think of the last TV commercial you saw, she asks, what did you see?
“In TV commercials you see, how often are men doing laundry, cooking, or running after kids? (The answer: 2 percent of the time.) How many of the women are advertising kitchen or cleaning products? (More than half.)
Once we see these norms, though, we can replace them with something better.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Ms. Gates also said that it doesn’t matter what kind of work is being done, it should still be considered just that, work.
” We need to call work what it is — work —whether you do it at home or whether you do it out in the labor force, and then give men and women options to choose what they want to do,” she said.
That same article links to the earlier story about how changing that can be done through work policies, such as paid family leave.
An older story talks about how women are more apt to return to a job after having a baby when they’re given paid leave and how men who take paid leave,”spend more time on child care later.”
If you think the U.S. is somehow different, don’t — women here do over 60 percent of all unpaid work, according to data from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Among the 26 countries included in the study, women reported doing the most unpaid work, 85 percent of it, in Japan and Korea, while Norway came in the most equal, at 56 percent.
Melinda Gates pays heed to the progress being made in countries such as Norway and Sweden, too. She says that while it’s an awful worldwide trend, she says that she’s hopeful about the future.
“I’m writing this because I’m optimistic,” she states. “Though no country has gotten the balance perfect yet, many have narrowed the unpaid labor gap by several hours a day. America and Europe have come a long way. The Scandinavian countries have gone even further.
The world is making progress by doing three things economists call Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute: Recognize that unpaid work is still work. Reduce the amount of time and energy it takes. And Redistribute it more evenly between women and men.”
Getting back to cultural norms, Gates says that she sees the solution starting with how we approach daily tasks in general. It starts with, “not thinking it’s funny or weird when a man puts on an apron, picks up his kids from school, or leaves a cute note in his son’s lunchbox.”
How about you? Do you share household chores evenly? What about bigger work activities? Do you expect your wife, girlfriend, mom or sister to do more work than your dad, brother, father or husband? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.