Women are working longer hours than men – and it’s hurting their health.
According to a recent study by the Australian National University, women (on average) work fewer hours at the office. But when taking unpaid domestic labour and care-giving into account, they’re going above and beyond their “workhour-health limits.”
“The gender composition of the workforce has not changed, and many women (as well as some men) combine care-giving with paid work, a change viewed as fundamental for gender equality,” researchers say in the study. “However, it raises questions on the suitability of the work time limit and the extent it is protective of health.”
Researchers looked at the data from about 8,000 Australian adults using the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. They found the average Australian full-time employee works more than 40 hours a week, but longer hours were more of an issue for women than they were for men.
“Despite the fact that women on average are as skilled as men, women on average have lower paid jobs and less autonomy than men, and they spend much more time on care and domestic work,” lead author Dr. Huong Dinh writes in a statement.
The healthy work limit for women is about 34 hours a week (once their household commitments were considered); for men it’s 47 hours a week because they spend significantly less time on childcare and chores than women.
The results, however, suggest women are currently working a 36-hour work week and men 41 hours.
Men, the researchers say, are able to dedicate more time at work because they spend less time on housework, which gives them an edge in their career, co-author Lyndall Strazdins tells Broadly.
In fact, men get 100 extra hours a year to advance their careers, she says.
“But if we encourage women to try to attain those work hours, we’re basically confronting women with a trade-off between their health and gender equality,” Strazdins says.
“Long work hours erode mental and physical health, because it leaves less time to eat well and look after themselves properly,” Dinh adds. “Given the extra demands placed on women, it’s impossible for women to work long hours often expected by employers unless they compromise their health.”
Strazdins suggests companies look at bringing men’s hours at work down so the efforts can be more balanced between the sexes both at work and at home.
“Until we can bring men’s long hours down, it will lock women out of the workforce,” Strazdins tells Broadly.
According to 2010 data from Statistics Canada, women spend an average of over 50 hours a week on unpaid childcare. That’s more than double the time men spend, which is about 24 hours a week.
However, not all women allocate the same amount of time for childcare, the data says.
Single working mothers spend the least amount of time caring for their kids (almost 27 hours a week), while women in relationships who are the sole wage earners spend more time – an average of almost 51 hours a week.
Women in dual-earner couples who work full time dedicate an average of 49.8 hours a week.
Lastly, women in relationships where neither partner works spend almost 60 hours a week on childcare.
When it comes to household chores, women continue to take the lead in Canada as well.
Women in relationships who work part time and their partners full time, spend the most on domestic work (about 21 hours a week). Full-time women spend less with just under 14 hours a week.
“During the past quarter century, the involvement of men and women in paid work and housework has changed,” Statistics Canada reports. “Despite the narrowing of the differences, men continue to have an overall greater involvement in paid work than women, and a lesser involvement in housework.”
Other factors to consider
A 2013 study by the American Sociological Association found that a man’s occupation can determine the amount of time they spend on household chores.
Married or cohabiting men who work in heavily female occupations (like teaching or nursing, for example) often spend more time doing housework, compared to men who are employed in primarily male-dominated fields.
As a result, partners of the former spend less time doing chores.
In terms of the impact of long hours and work stress on health, previous studies have linked a list of issues that both men and women face.
A 2010 study by the European Society of Cardiology found that working overtime is bad for one’s heart health. Those who worked three or more hours longer than their normal seven-hour work day were at a 60 per cent higher risk of heart-related problems like heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks and angina.
Research published by PLOS in 2010 also concluded that people who worked more than 11 hours a day were two times more likely to be depressed.
Employees who worked more than a 48-hour work week were also more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption (14 drinks a week for women, 21 drinks a week for men), a 2015 BMJ article concluded.