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Due to Amount of Unpaid Labor, Experts Say Women Should Have Shorter Work Weeks

"We're basically confronting women with a trade off between their health and gender equality."
An exhausted woman rests her head facedown on top of a pile of papers while she holds a pen in one hand
Photo by BONNINSTUDIO via Stocksy

A 2017 study has revealed what women already knew: Our health is being compromised by long-working hours combined with unpaid domestic duties.

The research, conducted by the Australian National University, shows that the healthy work limit for women is just 34 hours per week versus up to 47 hours per week for men—thanks to the time women lose on domestic and care duties.

But most women with full time positions work much, much more than 34 hour-weeks: Using data from 8,000 adults from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, researchers found that two thirds of Australia's full time employees work for more than 40 hours.


Men have a time advantage in the labour market that women don't have.

"Long work hours erode [people's] mental and physical health, because it leaves less time to eat well and look after themselves properly," Dr Huong Dinh, the lead researcher of the study, writes. "Given the extra demands placed on women, it's impossible for women to work [the] long hours often expected by employers unless they compromise their health."

OECD data from 2016 shows that women do an average of 4.5 hours of unpaid work every day, made up of domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, while men contribute less than half of that time. Add that to the increased expectation of long work hours, and women are walking into their work places at a disadvantage.

Read More: Men Are Getting Slightly Better at Doing Chores, But They Still Suck

It's called time-inequality, and it's something co-researcher Professor Lyndall Strazdins feels strongly about: "Men have a time advantage in the labour market that women don't have," she tells Broadly.

On average, Australian men work 41 hours a week full time, and full time women work 36 hours a week. Men work these hours because they're able to, Strazdinssays, thanks to having less responsibilities on the domestic front. They therefore have a "significant" head start in their career, in the form of an extra 100 hours per year.

"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."

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The research found the "tipping point" to be 39 hours: Working more than 39 hours a week led to an increased chance of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. Mental health is the number one chronic disease burden for women in Australia, costing eight billion dollars a year in healthcare, and eleven billion dollars a year in lost productivity in the workforce.

So what's the solution?

Professor Strazdins says we need to start with men: "Until we can bring men's long hours down, it will lock women out of the workforce. We need to reward people who work closer to our official working week of 38 hours … It's going to be a slow and difficult process because it's a major social change."