Household work: More equal, but far from equal

Hi! I’m Linus, the most recently added developer on Datawrapper’s app team. Welcome to my first Weekly Chart! This week we’ll take a look at how unpaid household work is shared and how that has changed over time.

There is an old pattern of men doing nothing around the house, while women take care of everything. In my mind, the younger generations are more aware of the importance of equality here. I recently had a discussion with my wife about the fact that she was doing more household work than me. After we decided on a plan to fix that, it made me wonder about how much progress there really has been in this area. Let’s take a look at some data!

Share of household work

When the Swedish bureau of statistics did a survey on unpaid housework in 2010, it showed that women, by a large margin, spent more time doing different kinds of household work than men.

The survey actually measured many kinds of time use, and was a repeat of a time survey taken in 1990. If we take a look at all main categories and compare the values between 1990 and 2010, we see that women are doing more paid work and less unpaid work in 2010 than they were in 1990. Men are doing less paid work, but only slightly more unpaid work. But the trend is indeed towards a family structure where men and women share the paid and unpaid work more equally.

Childcare and parental leave

The changing structure of parental benefits has mirrored the general view of gender roles in parenting. Childcare benefits were introduced in Sweden in 1931, but until 1974 only women got state-funded benefits for childcare. The benefits were modeled on a family where the parents were a man and a woman, and married women were assumed to not be working — meaning the benefits were only aimed at the direct costs of raising a child, not to cover a loss in family income.

During the 60's and 70's, equality movements advocated for a family model based on two working parents sharing housework and childcare equally. In 1974, Sweden replaced the “moderskapsförsäkring” (motherhood insurance) with a new “föräldraförsäkring” (parental insurance), a set of benefits available to both men and women.

But a couple can choose to divide this parental leave unequally. Since the introduction of benefits for both parents, fathers’ share of days taking care of their children has steadily increased. Still, mothers take the absolute majority of these days.

The state has made several attempts to increase the amount of leave taken by fathers, using both carrot and stick. In the late 70's, a campaign featuring the popular weightlifter Lennart "Hoa-Hoa" Dahlgren was widely run in Sweden, encouraging men to use their parental leave.

"On paternity leave!"

The state has also limited couples' ability to shift leave days onto the mother. In 1995, benefit rules changed so that 30 days (about 6% of the total) could not be transferred to the other partner; for parents of children born after 2002, that was increased to 60 days (about 12.5%).

While the use of parental leave for infants has seen changes, the use of temporary childcare benefits hasn't. Swedish parents have right to sporadic leave throughout their kids' childhood (for example, to stay home with a sick child), and the use of this benefit has been stalled at a 60-40 split over the past five decades.

The share of housework and childcare is becoming increasingly more equal between men and women, but we shouldn't let that lead us into thinking that it is equal. There is still a long way to go before reaching a place where paid and unpaid work are divided equally in most families.

Thank you for reading my Weekly Chart — I hope it has been a good reminder of these important issues and maybe inspires you to sit down to a discussion on how these tasks are divided in your household? Then come back next week for a chart by my teammate Jack!