Time Is Money: Why the Gender ‘Chore Gap’ Matters

Studies
Time is Money: Why the Time Gap Matters in America

It’s been called the “chore gap” — the difference in the way men and women apply that most finite of resources, time, to household work. The data show that the gap is real, and NerdWallet wanted to learn how it plays out across income groups.

We analyzed over 62 million data points from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey and discovered stark differences, across all income groups, in how women and men use their time. This finding has implications for financial security and quality of life.

After all, time is money.

Key findings

Income matters, but less than you might think. We see a smaller differences between the use of time when looking at higher-income women and men. However, women in the top 20% of earners still spend 137.6% more time cleaning and 78.5% more time preparing food than men in the same income bracket. For women, that means 30.9 minutes daily on cleaning (vs. 13.0 minutes for men) and 29.2 minutes daily preparing food (vs. 16.3 minutes for men).

We aren’t that progressive and it could be costly. The average American still follows traditional gender roles. Men with jobs spend 115.8% more time on yard work compared with working women, who devote 168.6% more of their time to cleaning up the kitchen. Allowing tradition to dictate how we allocate chores and time could be leading to inefficient allocations of labor and costing the U.S. economy.

Weekends, the great equalizer? During the week, women spend, on average, 199.7% more of their time caring for children than their male counterparts. The difference drops to 125.5% on the weekends, not the equal share that might be expected when 9-to-5 schedules are out of the picture. Similar patterns hold for time spent on cleaning, laundry, food preparation and grocery shopping.

 

Time is Money: Why the Gender Time Gap Matters in America

Embed this on your own site:

copy and paste the following snippet into your site

<a href='http://nerdwallet.com' ><img src='http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2-time-money-gender-gap-story.jpg
' alt='Time is Money: Why the Gender Time Gap Matters in America'/></a><br/>
Via:<a href='http://www.nerdwallet.com'>NerdWallet</a>

Time and opportunity cost

We talk about gross domestic product as a measure of a nation’s economic activity, but economists have increasingly recognized that this overlooks the unpaid labor that makes a society function. Attempts to measure this “non-market household production” in dollars show that it would have added as much as 26% to nominal GDP in 2010, although the amount of this kind of work has been declining as more women enter the workforce.

However, traditional divisions of household labor seem to hold sway even for working women. To understand the potential financial impacts of men and women spending their time in different ways, the economic notion of “opportunity cost” is instructive. When faced with a choice, the opportunity cost is equal to the value of the other option. For example, if we spend time doing laundry, say for an hour, we give up working for a wage for that hour. In this way, the opportunity cost of doing our laundry is an hour’s salary.

To illustrate these opportunity costs, it helps to put the time spent on household work in dollar terms. In NerdWallet’s analysis, women in the top 20% of earners make an average $38.72 an hour. At that rate, the time these women spend on “inside cleaning” is equal to $139.60 a week, and the time spent on “food and drink prep” is worth $131.89 each week. The idea of opportunity cost helps us value our time, making it easy to see why spending more time on household chores has an impact on our ability to earn. When women spend more time on chores than their male counterparts, they are missing out on potential earnings.

But no one can work all the time — and there will always be housework. Does opportunity cost come into play? Indeed it should, as women can choose to delegate housework to paid providers and instead spend their time either earning money or enjoying leisure activities. The numbers indicate that may be happening, as the amount of time women spend on household work declines when income rises.

Where our time goes

For high-income Americans, the top 20% of earners surveyed, here’s how time is used differently by women and men:

Activity Minutes per day for women Cost per day for women Minutes per day for men Cost per day for men % that women do more of this activity
Laundry 15.29 $9.87 4.86 $3.01 214.30%
Telephone to and from family 3.21 $2.07 1.18 $0.73 172.85%
Inside cleaning 30.90 $19.94 13.00 $8.05 137.67%
Kitchen and food clean up 8.40 $5.42 3.94 $2.44 113.08%
Food and drink prep 29.20 $18.84 16.36 $10.13 78.48%
Grocery shopping 9.27 $5.98 5.33 $3.30 74.04%
Shopping 23.94 $15.45 15.69 $9.71 52.60%
Care for children in the house 17.41 $11.24 11.43 $7.08 52.33%
Grooming 48.53 $31.32 33.89 $20.98 43.18%
Reading for personal interest 24.82 $16.02 18.08 $11.19 37.30%
Household and personal organization and planning 8.45 $5.46 6.28 $3.89 34.64%
Homework help 2.74 $1.77 2.09 $1.30 30.97%
Socializing and communicating 35.06 $22.62 32.24 $19.96 8.72%
Sleep 496.97 $320.72 487.28 $301.69 1.99%
Attending or hosting parties 7.72 $4.98 7.59 $4.70 1.74%
Eating and drinking 70.34 $45.39 76.39 $47.30 -7.93%
Financial management 2.85 $1.84 3.17 $1.96 -10.09%
Relaxing and thinking 9.05 $5.84 10.22 $6.33 -11.44%
Playing games 4.78 $3.09 6.06 $3.75 -21.05%
TV and movies 98.75 $63.73 130.28 $80.66 -24.20%
Tobacco and drug use 0.11 $0.07 0.15 $0.09 -30.23%
Sports and recreation 16.77 $10.83 24.39 $15.10 -31.22%
Computer for leisure 6.92 $4.46 10.51 $6.50 -34.17%
Yard work 7.89 $5.09 18.02 $11.16 -56.24%
Interior arrangement, decoration and repair 3.59 $2.32 8.29 $5.13 -56.69%

 

For middle-income Americans, the middle 20% of earners surveyed, here’s how time is used differently by women and men:

Activity Minutes per day for women Cost per day for women Minutes per day for men Cost per day for men % that women do more of this activity
Laundry 19.30 $5.34 5.62 $1.45 243.26%
Kitchen and food clean up 8.85 $2.45 2.84 $0.73 211.82%
Inside cleaning 31.26 $8.64 12.73 $3.28 145.64%
Telephone to and from family 2.75 $0.76 1.13 $0.29 143.13%
Homework help 2.69 $0.74 1.11 $0.29 142.07%
Care for children in the house 15.04 $4.16 7.07 $1.82 112.66%
Food and drink prep 27.45 $7.59 15.41 $3.97 78.18%
Reading for personal interest 17.89 $4.95 10.48 $2.70 70.78%
Grocery shopping 8.22 $2.27 4.82 $1.24 70.65%
Financial management 1.78 $0.49 1.08 $0.28 64.55%
Grooming 50.54 $13.97 34.04 $8.77 48.47%
Shopping 22.10 $6.11 15.06 $3.88 46.76%
Household and personal organization and planning 6.30 $1.74 4.47 $1.15 41.01%
Attending or hosting parties 7.05 $1.95 5.66 $1.46 24.48%
Socializing and communicating 39.11 $10.81 37.54 $9.68 4.18%
Sleep 510.91 $141.26 504.85 $130.12 1.20%
Tobacco and drug use 0.46 $0.13 0.48 $0.12 -5.35%
Eating and drinking 62.96 $17.41 67.32 $17.35 -6.48%
Interior arrangement, decoration and repair 3.83 $1.06 4.62 $1.19 -17.03%
Computer for leisure 6.61 $1.83 8.73 $2.25 -24.33%
TV and movies 120.14 $33.22 164.01 $42.27 -26.75%
Relaxing and thinking 11.42 $3.16 16.13 $4.16 -29.17%
Playing games 5.44 $1.50 8.82 $2.27 -38.34%
Sports and recreation 10.82 $2.99 19.42 $5.00 -44.29%
Yard work 7.08 $1.96 15.18 $3.91 -53.37%

 

For low-income Americans, the bottom 20% of earners surveyed, here’s how time is used differently by women and men:

Activity Minutes per day for women Cost per day for women Minutes per day for men Cost per day for men % that women do more of this activity
Care for children in the house 15.80 $2.11 2.48 $0.31 536.26%
Kitchen and food clean up 9.60 $1.28 2.13 $0.27 349.81%
Homework help 2.61 $0.35 0.59 $0.07 339.06%
Laundry 16.79 $2.24 4.08 $0.51 311.86%
Telephone to and from family 2.84 $0.38 0.86 $0.11 231.51%
Inside cleaning 33.81 $4.51 10.81 $1.34 212.72%
Food and drink prep 31.68 $4.22 10.56 $1.31 200.02%
Grocery shopping 7.79 $1.04 3.88 $0.48 100.53%
Financial management 1.53 $0.20 0.86 $0.11 79.24%
Shopping 20.22 $2.69 12.31 $1.53 64.29%
Household, personal organization and planning 6.12 $0.82 3.87 $0.48 58.34%
Attending or hosting parties 6.62 $0.88 4.48 $0.56 47.65%
Grooming 49.24 $6.56 34.64 $4.30 42.14%
Reading for personal interest 16.09 $2.14 12.77 $1.59 26.02%
Socializing and communicating 45.22 $6.03 41.39 $5.14 9.25%
Eating and drinking 59.49 $7.93 60.27 $7.49 -1.29%
Sleep 528.96 $70.49 538.48 $66.88 -1.77%
Relaxing and thinking 14.85 $1.98 16.69 $2.07 -11.01%
Interior arrangement, decoration and repair 2.55 $0.34 3.03 $0.38 -15.82%
TV and movies 135.02 $17.99 169.13 $21.01 -20.17%
Tobacco and drug use 0.47 $0.06 0.69 $0.09 -32.01%
Yard work 6.28 $0.84 10.27 $1.28 -38.82%
Computer for leisure 7.13 $0.95 11.96 $1.49 -40.41%
Sports and recreation 11.35 $1.51 25.58 $3.18 -55.62%
Playing games 7.19 $0.96 21.35 $2.65 -66.34%

 

Methodology

The Bureau of Labor Statistics sponsors the American Time Use Survey, which since January 2003 has collected responses from over 130,000 people on how they use their time. The study asks Americans to account for all of their time in a single day, including sleep, work and personal activities. Using this detailed data from 2003 to 2012, NerdWallet sought to understand differences between how women and men use their time.

We organized the data into subsets that included day, employment status, labor force status and income bracket. The groups were divided by gender, and a new data frame was created with the mean of each newly created group’s weekly income and time spent per day on all activities recorded by the survey. Next, we compared the average time spent on a particular activity between groups, ultimately finding the percentage change between women and men who shared other characteristics, such as employment status and income.

To determine the cost to a particular group for time spent on an activity, the mean income of the group was divided by the group’s mean hours worked to produce a mean hourly wage. Then, the hourly wage was multiplied by the number of hours spent on a given activity to assess the cost of performing the activity.

It is important to note that while we can say the average woman spends more time on a given activity than men who were surveyed, we cannot make the connection that being female is the cause of the differences in time allocation. There likely are variables that aren’t included that are correlated with being female that amplify or minimize the effect of gender on time use.

We assume all utility, both positive and negative, a group might gain from an activity. This assumption is made to place a monetary cost on activities. Given that the goal of this study is to compare women and men, this assumption is stronger if we also assume that women and men get the same utility from a given activity.


Infographic by Dora Pintek.

Image via iStock.