The Household Chore Disparity Starts Young

by Emma Cueto

If you feel like you did an unreasonable number of chores as a kid, you might actually not be wrong. A new Unicef report finds that girls spend 40 percent more time on chores than boys, worldwide. In other words, the global trend where women are expected to perform free labor in the home as a matter of course starts when we're still just children. Fun times.

Although this trend is also present in developed nations like the United States, the greatest gender disparity in children's chore time is actually in the developing world, according to the report. Globally, girls aged 5 to 9 spend 30 percent more time on unpaid chores than their male counterparts; for girls age 10 to 14, it's 50 percent. However, in both Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, girls age 5 to 14 spend nearly twice as much time as boys on unpaid household responsibilities.

And apart from being unfair, this also has a real impact on girls' opportunities.

"It is increasingly acknowledged that the unequal distribution of household chores has negative impacts on girls’ and women’s lives," Unicef writes in their report. Although they note that chores are not automatically bad for girls, they explain:

The types of chores commonly undertaken by girls – preparing food, cleaning and caring for others – not only set the stage for unequal burdens later in life but can also limit girls’ outlook and potential while they are still young. The gendered distribution of chores can socialize girls into thinking that such domestic duties are the only roles girls and women are suited for, curtailing their dreams and narrowing their ambitions.

In addition, notes the report, "Household chores are usually not valued by the family and community the way income-earning activities are, rendering the contributions of girls less visible and less valuable, and having lasting effects on their self-esteem and sense of self-worth."

And, indeed, this trend of girls doing more household chores is very much in keeping with trends we see among adults, even in the developed world. For instance, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report from earlier this year found that, even though women spend less time on average per day at work, we still have less leisure time per day than men, primarily because we spend so much more time on housework and child care. These activities aren't paid, but they are still a form of labor, which women are expected to perform free of charge.

This is despite the fact that splitting the chores evenly not only gives women more free time, but also has other benefits as well. (Fun fact: Couples who split chores have more sex!) So if that's the case why don't we all split our household responsibilities evenly? I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that we weren't raised that way.

"To achieve the [sustainable development goals]," Unicef writes, "disparities in the burden of household chores and negative gender patterns must be addressed before they become cemented in adulthood."

These household responsibilities, they note, can interfere with a girl's education and also get in the way of many girls' opportunity to simply enjoy childhood. Some chores in developing nations, like gathering firewood, can also put girls at risk of violence.

They write, "Supporting girls to stay in school and be involved in sports, play and other leisure and asset-building activities – and investing in infrastructure, technology and childcare to ease uneven burdens – can help put girls on the path to empowerment and the world on course to greater gender equality."

Images: Giphy (2)