by Anne York
Special to CNN
(CNN) – Equal Pay Day was established in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay
Equity as a way to bring attention to the gender wage gap. Since women earn about
three-quarters of what men earn on average, it is set to be commemorated Tuesday to
symbolize that women have to work one year and a bit more than three months to earn
the equivalent salary that a man earns in one year.
There are a variety of causes of the gender pay gap, including differences in occupational
distribution, with women tending to congregate in lower-paying occupations; differences
in the accumulation of human capital; and intentional and unintentional discrimination
But even if we are able to magically fix the employment prospects between men and
women such that none of these economic issues is a factor, we would still have one
cultural issue that greatly affects the gender pay gap.
Women spend a greater number of hours doing household and caregiving duties, which
decreases the number of hours they can work for pay. Even for full-time workers, men
worked on average 8.3 hours per day while women worked 7.8 hours per day in 2011.
The differences in the daily activities that men and women perform are captured by the
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey. The survey has 12 major
categories of how we use our time, and women dominate eight of the 12 categories.
In 2011, the latest year available, we see the expected gender division in time use with
women spending an average of two more hours per day than men doing the activities of
personal care; household chores; purchasing goods and services; caring for and helping
household and nonhousehold members; organizational, civic or religious activities;
telephone calls, mail and email; and other activities not classified elsewhere in the
How did men allocate their time? They spent an average of an additional 40 minutes per
day on sports and leisure compared with women, four additional minutes on eating and
drinking, two additional minutes on educational activities, and 1 hour and 16 minutes
additional time working and performing work-related activities.
The two of the areas with the largest deficits for men were 47 fewer minutes per day
on household activities and 22 fewer minutes on caring for and helping household and
There is also a large difference in the share of men and women who are engaged in these
activities per day: 82.5 percent of women versus 65 percent of men were engaged in
household activities and 41.6 percent of women versus 30.4 percent of men were engaged
in caring for and helping household and nonhousehold members.
When women are not working for pay, these statistics show that they are spending
relatively more time on the so-called “second shift” of household and caregiving
activities while men are enjoying relatively more leisure time. Other than breastfeeding
and lifting heavy objects, there are no household and caregiving activities that have to be
defined by one’s gender.
It is only our cultural norm that is defining who does which task.
We all only have 24 hours per day to divide amongst our various activities. To achieve
greater equity, men will need to reallocate their time toward housework and caregiving
activities so that women can gain more time for working for pay and leisure. However,
by doing some household activities together for greater efficiency, they both can gain
more time for other pursuits.
Our choices for how we use our time need to be evaluated to ensure we are being
equitable. Are brothers spending as much time caring for elderly parents as their sisters
do? Are husbands washing and folding the clothes while their wives stay at work late
to finish a project? Are fathers giving the children their baths while wives watch their
favorite TV show? Do sons and daughters take turns doing certain chores so they both
learn to be proficient in all household activities?
Fortunately, the time use trend has been moving in the direction of more equality. In
2003, the first year of the America Time Use Survey, women spent an extra 1.42 hours
performing activities in the household and caregiving categories versus 1.17 hours in
Just as Equal Pay Day brings attention to the disparity in pay for men and women, it
could be useful to also establish an Equal Housework Day to benchmark the progress
men are making performing household and caregiving tasks.
Those 1.17 more hours per day that women spend on household and caregiving activities
translates to 18 days per year. So we could set January 18 as Equal Housework Day to
show that it takes men over 12.5 months to do what women do in 12 months.
As we achieve a cultural transformation regarding household and caregiving activities,
then Equal Housework Day will eventually occur on December 31. And we would no
longer need to commemorate Equal Pay Day as late as April.
Anne York is an associate professor of economics at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.