It’s bad enough that women earn severely less than men, however unpaid work—childcare, food purchasing and preparation, family paperwork—creates a larger divide in the already pay gap. The wife of Microsoft’s co-founder, Melinda Gates, calls this phenomenon “time poverty.”
“This is one of those root inequalities that exist all over in society and we just don’t talk about it very much,” Melinda Gates, who was inspired to write about the issue in part from time-use data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, told The New York Times. “If we don’t bring it forward, we basically won’t unlock the potential of women.”
According to the OEC data Gates cited in the letter, women worldwide spend about 4.5 hours a day doing unpaid work—more than double the amount of time men spend doing the dishes or changing a diaper. This phenomenon hits low-income women and women in emerging economies particular impact.
As with many so-called “women’s issues,” time poverty is actually a much larger socioeconomic problem. When women do just three—rather than nearly five—hours of unpaid work each day, their labor force participation increases by 10 percent. “We need to call work what it is—work—whether you do it at home or whether you do it out in the labor force, and then give men and women options to choose what they want to do,” Gates told the newspaper.
Some of the ways to address the issue, according to Gates, are redistributing this type of labor more equitably, and reducing it with technological solutions.