Thoughts on unpaid work

“Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility.”

Melinda Gates, 2016


Edit: I decided to expand this post a little more to convey my point.

Have you ever thought about unpaid work?

I am not talking( or writing) about internships, I specifically mean domestic work in households; cleaning, cooking, washing, shopping, etc.

I know we are not living in the 50s anymore, and in developed countries, the gap between paid and unpaid work is quite small. But if a group of people lives together, the burden of household maintenance mostly falls on one individual; be it the mothers, dads, or one of your housemates.

In movies and TV shows, we observe a sarcastic portrayal of a seemingly needy person asking their partner, “You don’t think taking care of our children and home isn’t work?”. We give a big laugh and move on. But is it really work? Yes, absolutely.

Some might say it’s that person’s choice, or that they love doing it and don’t mind sacrificing for their family. I agree with all that, and not trying to say everyone should rebel and let each individual fend for themselves. In fact, in my domestic environment, that person is me, and I could never give up that control.

However, there is no denying these hours come out of an individual’s lifetime, time that could be spent on self-development. So regardless of who is doing the unpaid work, sacrifices are being made.

So what is to be done?

In his discussion of Bill and Melinda Gates’ annual letter, John Green gives a viable answer to this question:

First: We need to acknowledge that unpaid work is actual labour.

Second: We should think of ways and means to make this work easier and less time-consuming, whether for ourselves or others.

Third: We should strive to divide the work fairly between individuals.

So what am I saying?

That big changes start with us and in small ratios.

If you have a person in your house that does the entire work, why not divide the work? If it’s you who is burdened with the work and no one else would make it lighter, then maybe minimize the time that you spend on up-keeping and care. (For example, I have started to limit myself to only an hour a week to do cleaning/washing).

The important thing to realize is that this issue in prevalent on the entire planet, some countries more than others. The big unpaid work gap in many under developed countries stifle women from getting proper education, advancing in their careers, and in result, women do less paid work. This has a huge impact on the country’s economy, education, and overall improvement.

Again, this gap exists in all countries:

From Gates Notes
From Gates Notes

If you’d like to read more in depth about time, women, and the impact of unpaid work, read the full letter from the Gates here.

If you prefer a short video discussing the entirety of the letter, watch here.

In short, let’s be more respectful of everybody’s time and do our part to make our dear selfless care givers’ lives easier.


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  1. An interesting take on this. But I don’t think you went far enough. Women do 95% of the mental work required to run a house hold. Even in situations where the man “helps” woman do the exhausting job of working out what it is the man does. And then there is that one questions no house manager can avoid, “What’s for diner.” That alone consumes at least 4 a day if that more.

    I hope you explore this a bit more, I like the way you wrote this.

    1. Thanks for your comment Cynthia. It made me realize I needed to expand this a bit more to express the big picture. I’ve also included resources for further reading if you’d like to explore more.

      1. Good idea. I like your POV on this.

    2. I agree with what you’re saying but rest assured that there is another psychological factor which comes into play. Most women feel compelled to do it. Men don’t. That is why this whole imbalance is created. Even in your post it seems that a man can’t cook for the household and it’s the ‘house manager’ duty to do it.

      If only women stopped doing the ‘forced labour’ they think they should do, maybe some men would realise that they’ll remain hungry, don’t have clean clothes etc etc…

      I know it seems harsh but to be honest women need to learn to love themselves a bit more.

      1. Actually, what I was meaning is there is evidence that women do 90% of the mental work in about 80% of households. What I was getting at is I think it would great if the writer dug a bit deeper. She writes very well. There are no absolutes.

        My brother does most of the work running his household because his job allows it where my sister-in-law’s job is more demanding. But that is anicdotel evidence. Sorry can’t seem to spell anticdotal today and spell check is useless. No dictionary handy.

        1. Oh sorry, cynthia. From my experience Earthly Brain is right. But once again that’s only anecdotal

          P.s. I searched anecdotal on google to correct my spelling, turns out I was right the first time round. *feeling proud*

          1. Thank you for your thoughts, I agree with both of you. Maybe we can set better examples for the next generation and see more balance in the division of unpaid work.

  2. Yes, we do a huge amount everyday which is discounted simply because we are women who do the work.
    What would it cost a man per year to hire someone to do what we do for free??!

    1. Very true, somehow culturally and socially this burden most often falls on women….

      1. If men paid all the bills so we could stay home and properly do this I wouldn’t object, but otherwise it becomes a form of slave labor

  3. My wife &I have an entirely acceptable division of labor!

    1. Wow, that’s awesome and so rare!!

  4. “However, there is no denying these hours come out of an individual’s lifetime, time that could be spent on self-development. So regardless of who is doing the unpaid work, sacrifices are being made.”

    That’s exactly how I feel!! This is what gets to me… All my extra time could be spent on cleaning and organizing (which I have been doing ) but lately I have been allowing myself to let some things “stay dirty” until I really have time to get to them. This gives me more time during the work week where I hope to work on myself and do more things that I want to do instead. A lot of unhappiness stems from the thoughts “I never have time to myself…”

    When things get rough, I always have to tell myself “You always get it done!” and done doesn’t always mean “right now!”

    1. Em says:

      I hear you, sometimes I allow myself to only spend an hour a week cleaning to minimize that time. But it is definitely always an struggle to just let go of things and chores.

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