In the United States, women spend considerably more time than men over their lifetime doing unpaid household and care work. The unequal distribution of this work—work that is essential for families and societies to thrive—not only limits women’s career choices and economic empowerment, but also affects their overall health and well-being. In recent years, the gender gap in unpaid household and care work in the United States has narrowed as more women have entered the labor market and men have taken on more of this work, yet it is unlikely that a significant further shift can occur without public policies that better support families with unpaid care responsibilities (Samman, Presler-Marshall, and Jones 2016). Increasing societal investments in care, and strengthening supports for working adults that allow them adequate time for providing unpaid care for their loved ones, would affirm the value of unpaid household and care work and contribute to the well-being of households, communities, and societies. These shifts are critical now, especially as the need for care for older adults in the United States is growing rapidly (Mather, Jacobsen, and Pollard 2015).

Many studies have examined the gender gap in unpaid household and care work and its causes, yet few consider how women’s experiences with this work might differ across demographic groups and how the size of the gender gap in household and unpaid care work might change when the full range of household and care work activities, including elder care and “secondary” as well as “primary” child care, is considered. This briefing paper draws on relevant literature and analysis of data from the 2018 American Time Use Survey to examine the relationship between unpaid work and gender economic inequalities in the United States. It begins by analyzing gender differences in the amount of time spent on unpaid household and care work by age, marital status, race/ethnicity, migration status, employment status, and education and income levels to assess how demographic factors may shape women’s experiences of this gap. The briefing paper then considers the relationship between women’s earnings and unpaid household and care work activities to assess how increased time spent on unpaid work might affect women’s earnings and economic security. It concludes with recommended changes to public policies in the United States that would recognize the value of unpaid household and care work and facilitate more equitable distribution of this work between women and men.

About the author

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Jeff Hayes is a sociologist and Scholar in Residence at American University and works on research examining women’s and men’s employment, job quality, and economic security over the life course, including retirement. He currently oversees IWPR’s work analyzing usage and cost of paid family and medical leave in the United States and provides technical assistance to several states and localities considering how they might improve workers’ access to paid leave for their own health needs or to care for family members. Dr. Hayes has been interviewed on paid leave, income security, and job quality issues in The Washington Post, MarketWatch, Huffington Post, CNN Money, CNBC, and other outlets around the country.

Dr. Hayes has testified on the costs of paid leave proposals before the New York City Council, the DC city council, and the Maryland House Economic Matters committee. He is currently serving on the Maryland Task Force to Study Family and Medical Leave Insurance. He served on the Commission to Modernize Social Security and has provided technical assistance to members of the US Congress on including credits for caregiving in Social Security. Dr. Hayes is a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance. As an experienced survey researcher, Dr. Hayes advises on IWPR’s survey work and conducts major surveys such as the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security.

Prior to joining IWPR, Dr. Hayes worked at the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy and the Harvard Project on Global Working Families, analyzing how labor conditions affect children’s health and development around the world, and taught research methods at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He holds Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Religious Studies from the University of Virginia.

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Cynthia Hess is Chief Operating Officer (COO) at IWPR and Scholar in Residence at American University. In her role as COO, Cynthia oversees the operations of the Institute while working with program staff to support the execution of research and other projects. As COO, Cynthia serves as a member of the executive leadership team within the organization and works closely with the President and staff to develop and implement organizational systems and processes to maximize efficiency and support future growth.

Prior to her position as COO, Cynthia served as Associate Director of Research, directing IWPR’s research on numerous issues including projects on intimate partner violence, workforce development, and women’s leadership and activism. Under her tenure, IWPR expanded its longstanding Status of Women in States project and launched an accompanying website, Cynthia has been quoted in a number of media outlets including The Washington Post, Fortune, Governing magazine and, The Boston Globe.

Before joining the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Dr. Hess taught for two years as a visiting faculty member in the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Ph.D. in Theology from Yale University and her A.B. from Davidson College.

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IWPR Doctoral Fellow in Gender Policy Analysis in Economics

Tanima Ahmed is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at American University. She also works as a research fellow at the Institute of Women’s Policy Research and a consultant at World Bank Group. Her research covers development topics, such as labor supply, time use, collective bargaining and unionization, the wage gap, culture, gender, poverty, household well-being, eldercare, childcare, paid family leave, agriculture, and monetary economics. So far, Tanima has studied the development issues of Bangladesh, India, South Africa, and the US. Her dissertation covers topics on gender and development – the impact of child grants on time use of single parents in South Africa, the measurement of eldercare in the US, and pro-girl attitudes of mothers and childhood stunting in India. Tanima’s research has been published in journals like the World Development (conservatism and female well-being in Bangladesh) and the Journal of Development Areas (monetarist and structuralist controversy in determining inflation in Bangladesh). Prior to joining the Ph.D. program, she has also worked in various research institutes and has experience with proposal writing, survey designs, field surveys, and data analysis. Her research interests include development, gender, finance and banking, and labor economics.