Jun 9, 2020 - Economy & Business

The unpaid labor of working from home

An illustration of a laptop hanging from a clothing line. Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There are a slew of tasks — cooking, cleaning, child care — that come with the at-home economy, and these burdens are disproportionately taken on by women.

Why it matters: Prompting stay-at-home orders around the country, the coronavirus has exacerbated the consequences of this unequal division of unpaid labor.

  • In many households in America and around the world, women are doing more work than ever, and the stresses and sacrifices that come with that work could set them back in their careers.
  • It's a phenomenon that sociologist Arlie Hochschild labeled "The Second Shift" in a seminal 1989 book (reissued in 2012 with updated data). Hochschild found that in dual-career households, working moms do a month's more of work than working dads — when you count paid work, housework and child care.

The big picture: "If American women earned minimum wage for the unpaid work they do around the house and caring for relatives, they would have made $1.5 trillion last year," the New York Times' Gus Wezerek and Kristen Ghodsee write.

  • Per a recent Morning Consult poll conducted for the Times, 80% of mothers say they're doing most of the home-schooling, 70% say they're handling the bulk of the housework, and 66% say they're responsible for all or most of the child care.
  • There's also a perception gap among parents. Nearly half of fathers say they're doing more of the home-schooling, but only 3% of mothers agree with that.
  • In two-parent households in the U.K., mothers are getting just a third of the uninterrupted paid work hours as fathers, according to a University College London survey.

The stakes: There is already evidence of the toll of work-from-home's unpaid labor. The UCL survey found that mothers were 47% more likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The bottom line: "The effects of this lockdown are gendered," says Sarah Lux-Lee, founder and CEO of Mindr, a consultancy that works with tech companies to help retain women and parents as employees.

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