The Reality and Benefits of Doing Something for Nothing

Who does most of the unpaid labor in the world? This includes child care, housekeeping, taking care of and  nursing those in ill health, running errands,  transportation and volunteer work. The chart below is from an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development working paper titled “Cooking, Caring and Volunteering: Unpaid Work Around the World.”

Is this a bad thing or a good thing? Are women just naturally more willing to work for no pay? Do women feel pressured to do all the unpaid work that they do?

It might be more accurate to say that men are less willing to work for no pay, partly because of economic necessity (especially if they’re a family’s sole provider). Obviously if a woman does not work outside of the home, she’s going to be the one “tagged” to do all the things in a family’s life that no one gets paid to do. But even when both spouses work, women spend a disproportionate amount of time on these activities compared to men. For example, take child care:

On average, working fathers spend only 10 minutes more per day on child care when they are not working, whereas working mothers spend nearly twice as much time (144 minutes vs. 74) when not working.

I know that many women do these things willingly and wouldn’t have it any other way. But in many cases the woman isn’t given any choice; it’s just assumed that she will be the one to take off work to care for a sick relative, for instance.

This is certainly one of the factors that account for the wage gap. If women are the ones who are more likely to take off time to do unpaid labor, they are less likely to be promoted.

There’s nothing wrong with giving of one’s time to do things for others. You could even argue that it’s good for one’s soul.

So why not encourage men to do more unpaid labor? They might learn something that women have known for centuries: there’s more to life than a paycheck.