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Time: Australia’s scarcest resource

Once in a blue moon the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) undertake a survey of how Australians use their time. Last month they released the results of the 2020-21 survey, the first in 15 years! 

The new data shows that each day Australians aged 15 years and older spend, on average, about three hours on domestic activities such as cooking, cleaning and doing housework.

The survey also shows that the division of labour between men and women remains persistently gendered. For example, employed men spend, on average, an hour more a day on paid work compared to employed women, while women spend about an hour more on (unpaid) domestic work.

How long men and women spend on different types of domestic work also varies. Women spend much longer on housework, cooking and shopping, while men do the bulk of gardening and maintenance around the house. Looking after children is also highly gendered, with women spending more than double the amount of time on child related activities compared to men. 

Chart 1: Average time spent on domestic activities a day (minutes)

Source: ABS, How Australians Use Their Time

The type of domestic work that people tend to do can be as important as the amount. Tasks that have to be done at a certain time, such as cooking and child care, can be more difficult to plan other commitments around compared to more flexible tasks such as home maintenance or gardening. As this time-inflexible work tends to be more the domain of women, this has a larger impact on their ability to participate in paid employment. 

Differences in the type of tasks also impact people’s wellbeing. While the total time men and women spend in paid and unpaid work (taken together) is similar, the proportion of women who feel “rushed or pressed for time” is substantially higher. The difference is greatest during the stage of life that most people work and  raise children and decreases as children grow older and people retire. 

Chart 2: Proportion of people feeling “rushed or pressed for time” by age

Source: ABS, How Australians Use Their Time

These gendered differences in unpaid domestic and care work are increasingly being recognised as barriers to women’s workforce participation, and consequentially productivity and economic growth. Last week’s Federal budget looked at this theme with measures to increase the affordability of childcare and encourage men to take up more of the domestic load through changes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme.