The Gendered Nature of Labour and Leisure

Women spend two to ten times as much time as men on unpaid care jobs across the world. This unfair and skewed distribution of responsibilities is associated with discriminatory gender roles. “Gender differences in unpaid care work is the missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labour outcomes, such as labour force participation, wages and job quantity” (Ferrant, 2014). Unpaid care work is an essential aspect of economic activity and an indispensable factor contributing to the well-being of individuals, their families and their societies. Unpaid care labour is frequently left off policy agendas due to the widespread misconception that, unlike regular market work metrics, it is too difficult to quantify and hence less important to policies.

The Gendered Nature of Labour and Leisure

Women often devote a disproportionate amount of time to unpaid care tasks than males. Women across diverse geographies, financial groups, and cultures spend an important part of their day satisfying the expectations of their domestic and reproductive tasks due to gendered societal norms that consider unpaid care work as a female prerogative.

Connecting labour to leisure- the example of parenthood

Though the gendered division of work and care has received significant attention from researchers, the gender differences in leisure have not received even a quarter of the coverage they deserve. Regardless of the limited scholarship, the existing literature makes it evident that gender inequality across the occupational domain directly influences each gender’s quality of life, i.e., their leisure. The existing research claims that gender inequality in leisure is influenced by differences in gender norms and time constraints.

Women’s leisure time is less than a man’s free time due to their unpaid child care and other domestic duties. Women’s free time often overlaps with family time since mothers are more likely to include their whole family in their leisure activities. It is infrequent to get child-free leisure is ‘contaminated’ due to their intensive mothering responsibilities. Hence, their free time tends to be more demanding and less relaxing than their father’s leisure time. A mother’s sense of responsibility for others prompts them to adjust their downtime to the needs and preferences of their partner and children. When mothers do participate in their interests or hobbies, the stereotypical intensive and 24/7 mothering norms force them to feel guilt for their actions for ‘neglecting’ their child. Consequently, a mothers’ downtime activities are less in line with their preferences. Thus gendered institutions and division of care, power relations and gender role expectations are likely to shape men’s and women’s experiences of leisure quality, leading to gender inequality. (Baxter et al., 2018)

The meaning of leisure for women

The methods through which women practise leisure activities range from everyday family and friendship experiences to less stereotypical female activities like playing sports or doing martial arts. According to the leisure perspective, women feel a sense of empowerment while participating in physical activities since, historically, strenuous physical activities were deemed dangerous for older women. “Today’s cohort of older women appears to be taking part in a range of activities that may not have been approved of as recently as 20 years ago” (Auster, 2008)(Parry, 2008)

Theories about leisure and the family have been emerging; social expectations on parenting responsibilities for men and women concerning their leisure emerged in (Henderson and Gibson’s, 2013)’s research. This aspect leads to another issue that arises is of the work-life balance. (Henderson et al., 2002) claimed that researchers were more likely to emphasise feminist theory as a basis for findings related to empowerment and resistance. A method for examining girls’ and women’s leisure opportunities were provided by a recurrent focus on resistance.

Additionally, (Henderson and Gibson, 2013) observed a focus on the detrimental effects of leisure time restrictions to a more positive emphasis on empowerment. This empowerment tended to emphasise both individual and collective empowerment on par because resistance was emphasised (Shaw and Henderson, 2005). Furthermore, it mirrored the justifications for recreation and athletics that (Aitchison, 2003) referred to as the socio-cultural nexus. The definition of this nexus was given as “a site and a process of building, legitimization reproduction and reworking of gender relations”. This connection emphasised the need to investigate how organisational factors affect perceptions and attitudes. In 1990, Henderson concluded that the discussion regarding this topic has sparked a discourse into the 21st century that has progressed well beyond determining a singular concept of leisure for women. The study highlighted how leisure in many forms might be empowering across cultures and social networks (friends and family) when incorporated in feminist frameworks that recognise the intersections of people’s lives. The findings identify potential areas for further study on women, gender and leisure.

Gender inequalities and unpaid care work

The everyday lives of women across the globe share one common but significant characteristic- unpaid care work. Women spend between three to six hours a day on unpaid care duties in all regions of the world, while men spend between half an hour and two hours. As a result, gender discrepancies in unpaid care work are observed all across the world, with regional variations. Overall, women spend more time than men on unpaid care work, accounting for two to ten times the time spent by men. Women in Ethiopia, for example, collect twice as much water and firewood than males (71% and 54% for women and 29% and 28% for men). Furthermore, the average length of these activities is longer for women (more than 7 hours) than for men (less than 6 hours) (Suarez and Robles, 2010).

Despite not being an affordable or realistic option for most women, their household’s day-to-day well-being depends on them carrying out these outsourced unpaid care activities, such as cooking, cleaning, and fetching water. This unequal distribution of jobs between men and women within the household consequently translates to unequal opportunities when it is time to participate equally in paid activities. Therefore, we can conclude that gender inequality in unpaid care work is the key in the evaluation of gender gaps in labour outcomes in three areas- gender gaps, in labour force participation rates, quality of employment and wages. “The higher the inequality in the distribution of care responsibilities between men and women, the higher the gender gap in labour force participation” (Ferrant et al., 2014). Caring obligations also influence the quality of female employment; the more time women spend providing unpaid care, the more likely they would be to work part-time jobs or in risky positions. These jobs don’t pay much and often do not have a healthy and safe work environment. Unpaid caregiving is a time and energy-intensive profession that prevents women from entering the workforce, forcing them into low-paying, precarious jobs. The gender pay gap is related to gender disparities in unpaid care work. A cross-country study that was reviewed in (Ferrant et al, 2014) revealed that the gender income gap is also greater in nations where women spend a lot of time providing unpaid care work, and there is a significant gender discrepancy in the time spent doing so. In nations where women devote twice as much time to the caring tasks that men do, they only make 65% of what men do for the same work. When women devote five times as much time to unpaid caregiving, this figure falls to 40% (for full-time employees).

Conclusion – Leisure differences in the Covid Lockdown

(Deshpande, 2021) evaluated the labour and leisure dynamics during the Covid crisis in India. They noted that the gender gap in the hours spent on domestic work observed a decline in April 2020 due to increased male participation, but just a few months later, in August, the male hours declined again (although not to the pre-pandemic levels). However, by December 2020, women’s hours spent on domestic work had increased significantly, whereas the men’s hours had dropped to below the pre-pandemic level. This implies two things-

  1. Due to the long hours of unpaid work, the women’s leisure time got cut down significantly to a very unfair extent.
  2. The majority of the time men spent in lockdown was leisure time, all granted to them due to gender stereotypes and unfair gender roles.

The non-availability of suitable work is a significant barrier preventing women from participating in economic activities. Additionally, there is a significant supply-side limitation. The middle east, North Africa, and South Asia (India and Pakistan in particular) have some of the pst uneven gender standards in sharing domestic duties, including care work and household tasks. While women worldwide spend more time than males do, these locations are at an extreme. One of the main barriers to women being able to enter paid labour from the supply side is the societal convention that they are primarily responsible for household duties.


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    • Deshpande, A. (2021). The Covid-19 pandemic and gendered division of paid work, domestic chores and leisure: evidence from India’s first wave. Economia Politica, 39(1), 75–100.
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