Since 1961 the amount of time parents spend looking after children has doubled. Contrary to expectation, says Jonathan Gershuny, full time working mothers spend more time on childcare in 1995 than non-employed mothers did in 1961by Jonathan Gershuny / January 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
We keep records of the grand, if distant, facts of social and economic life: we have data on job creation, levels of production, income differences, changing infrastructure and so on. But what do we know of our daily lives at home? What is most familiar to us goes largely undocumented; it is as a result hidden from future historians.
When Joanne Vanek argued in a famous article in Scientific American in the mid-1970s that the amount of housework done by women had remained constant throughout the period of the maximum advance of labour-saving domestic technology, there was little evidence either to support or contest her claim.
Thanks to “time budget diary” surveys, however, it is now possible to unearth a small amount of systematic data on how we spend our time in our daily lives. By putting together surveys by the BBC, the ESRC and the Office of National Statistics, we can build a picture of how daily life in Britain has evolved over the last three and a half decades.
Consider the evolution of time devoted to that core domestic activity: cooking. According to BBC surveys, overall, in 1961, women (as in all the statistics subsequently cited, adults aged between 20 and 60) spent 117 minutes per day in food preparation. By the mid-1990s, cooking time has come down to just 65 minutes per day. Why?
Much of the explanation lies in the changing public economic role of women. In 1961 barely one quarter of women had jobs; today they form more or less half of the paid workforce. Obviously, this spectacular growth in the number of women who go to work means that there is less time available for women to spend on housework.
Figure 1 shows the evolution of time devoted to the full range of domestic tasks, including housecleaning and clothes-washing. As might be expected, at each point in time, women employed full time do less of these unpaid tasks than non-employed women. So the increase in the numbers of full time working women, particularly during the first half of the period we are considering (most of the more recent growth in women’s employment has been in part time jobs), has substantially reduced the overall time spent on housework. But this does not tell the whole story, since domestic work has also fallen substantially for part time and non-employed women. Moreover, the average woman with…