Women do more housework than men even when their partners are unemployed

Women in the UK spend around twice as much time doing housework than men, even if they are in work and their partners are unemployed, new research shows.

Researchers analysed survey data on almost 30,000 men and women in 27 European countries and Israel and found that on average UK women did 15.7 hours housework a week and men 6.3.

Professor Tanja van der Lippe and Lukas Norbutas, of Utrecht University, and Professor Judith Treas, University of California, found that in households where men were unemployed, the gap closed by two hours on average.

In an article in the journal Work, Employment and Society, published by the British Sociological Association, they say that:

  • in households where men were unemployed, men did 3.3 hours extra housework a week. But, in a "counter-intuitive" finding, in these households women did over an extra hour of housework, even if they were employed, so the gap lessened by around two hours.
  • men in households where the woman was employed did not do more housework than men in households where the women were unemployed.
  • unemployed women did 4.4 extra hours' housework a week than employed women.

The researchers say that: "Both men and women perform more housework when unemployed. However, the extra domestic work for unemployed women is greater than for unemployed men.

"Women reacted more strongly to unemployment than men. Not only was being unemployed linked to doing more housework hours for women than for men, but also having an unemployed partner led to more housework for women."

The researchers suggest that one reason that women do more housework even if their partner is unemployed may be that "women display their femininity through homework while men demonstrate masculinity by avoiding what has traditionally been seen as 'women’s work'."

But, "whatever the explanation, gender-neutral, time-availability notions are insufficient to account for any counter-intuitive pattern of women doing more housework when the partner is unemployed.

"If unemployed men do not step up their housework enough to compensate for extra work that they create by spending more time around the house, women’s domestic workload will be higher than is the case for men with an unemployed partner."

The researchers found that these results applied in all 28 countries studied, and that in countries where unemployment was higher, unemployed women spent even more time on housework.


1. The researchers used data from the European Social Survey, using answers to surveys carried out in 2004 and 2010 from 13,414 men and 15,898 women aged 18-65 living with a partner. The 28 countries covered were: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and United Kingdom. In all the countries, women did more housework than men.

2. The paper is entitled ‘Unemployment and the division of housework in Europe’. It is published online, and will be published in a print edition of Work, Employment and Society, published by the British Sociological Association.

3. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235 www.britsoc.co.uk