Mums still bear brunt of housework

Mothers are spending more time at work but haven't cut back on housework, new data shows.

Being a parent has become more exhausting over the past 10 years as mothers and fathers devote more hours to paid work and to looking after their children, new data shows.

The gender division of labour in the home has hardly changed in 10 years.

But for mothers in particular, the pressures have intensified as they spend as much time on housework as they did a decade ago while fathers have cut back.

"The workload of being a parent has just got worse since 1997," said Lyn Craig, a senior research fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW. "It's become more and more a scramble."

Dr Craig, with colleague Dr Killian Mullan, will present the findings at an international conference of time-use researchers, starting at the Wesley Conference Centre in Sydney today.

Using Australian Bureau of Statistics data based on time-use diaries kept by almost 2000 couples, Dr Craig has tracked the growing gap between the workload of couples with pre-school age children and couples without children; and between mothers and fathers.

The diaries show that between 1997 and 2006 everyone devoted more hours to paid work - childless men and childless women, and mothers and fathers. As well, fathers and mothers devoted more hours to child-care activities, despite their longer hours at work. And everyone reduced the time they spent on housework - everyone that is, except for mothers.

"Childless men and women, as they put more hours in at work, cut back on the housework, and fathers also did less housework but mothers did not cut back," Dr Craig said. "There's a push towards men doing more at home, and while they're doing a bit more with the children, they squeezed it out of the small amount of time they spent on housework."

As a result, the gender division of labour in the home has hardly changed in 10 years, and the little progress that was made in the years between 1992 and 1997 has stalled, she said.


At the root of the problem is Australia's long hours work culture with 40 per cent of men working more than 50 hours a week in 2006, compared to 35 per cent in 1997.

"There's only so much more men can do at home," she said. "The increased time they're spending with children - and it's pretty incremental - would probably be greater if they could work fewer hours."

Women are also spending more time at work with the proportion putting in more than 50 hours a week having almost doubled from 8 per cent to 14 per cent in a decade, and more mothers returning to work earlier.

The data shows mothers of young children have a greater total workload than fathers when paid work, housework and childcare hours are combined. Childless men have a greater total workload than childless women.

"If there's been a big push in family friendly measures in the workforce, it's not showing up in the workloads of families," Dr Craig said.

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