On average across the globe, women spend 30 hours each week performing household tasks. The pandemic added 15 hours more to it. This might not surprise you that much. But I have a hard time believing that in such a technologically advanced society, women are still spending most of their time carrying out household chores.
I have a hard time believing because, today, we can access our daily needs with just a click of a button, or more like a tap on a screen. Everything is geared towards efficiency and timesaving, giving people more opportunities to focus on important work.
So why is it that women must extend themselves so much today? Yes, patriarchy does play a major role in this. But something much more is at play here. And to know this, it is worth visiting western households during the 1960s when technological innovations started making their way into homes.
Make way for Machinery!
When household appliances such as dishwater, washing machines, coffee maker etc. were adopted, it was assumed and marketed as something that would drastically reduce the burden for women, giving way to leisure time. Before such technological intervention, women carried heavy sacks of coal or wood to fire their stoves for cooking. On top of this, a single load of laundry took 9 hours to wash and iron. Moreover, fetching water from distant wells was a common practice. All this meant that women had little time to themselves, to learn, to educate, and take part in activities outside the home.
Source: Interesting Engineering
However, as machines started helping women to blend produce, toast bread, make coffee and wash clothes and dishes, it was supposed to change the nature of work for women for the better. But this did not happen.
With machines aiding household work, the standard and quality of those chores increased. This meant that if a pair of jeans were worn 3 days a week – the adoption of a washing machine now required fresh jeans every day. What this led to was women putting 2-3 loads of clothes for washing in a week. This almost equated to the time they spent washing clothes before.
So, even with such advances, many women were still stuck at home, performing higher standards of household chores. Standards that were definitely not set by women themselves but almost expected of them anyways.
Enabling the next generation?
Though not much relief was seen for that generation of women, the adoption of technology did enable their daughters to move from the chores and invest their time to educate themselves. This led to greater opportunities for women to find jobs in the market and become part of the paid workforce. One of the most significant changes to the U.S. labour market during the 20th century was the increased participation of married women. In 1900, fewer than 6% of married women engaged in paid work. By 2000, their participation rate was over 60%.
Today, things look a lot different – from the appliances to women now conquering fields dominated by men. Some would even label this change as progressive. If this is the case, then why are women still spending so much time doing household chores?
We still don’t have an answer. We need to look a little deeper.
Women’s unpaid work
History has failed to recognize women’s work at home as something economically productive. Even the large body of feminist studies and research papers is unable to even make a dent in this area.
In the case of the adoption of modern appliances, the already unrecognized work of women was relegated as something easy, and devoid of any skills once technology intervened.
To give you a context, today, these very skills such as home-cooked meals, laundry services, Ironing, freshwater, gas are all services that have been commercialized and are even profitable.
So, when women are becoming employable, such household services are becoming commercialized. Sure, this commercialization would be good if it helped reduce the burden of work. But that is not the case. What is happening majorly is that women now have to work double the amount to be able to afford these goods and services. In a time-crunch, to be able to afford these services often means one would spend a lot from their pockets. This also means that if somebody is unable to afford these services, would have to make time to do the chores on their own. This is creating a vicious cycle whereby the cost of the goods and services required to compensate for the shortfall in time results in a further loss of time.
Future of household work
Technology is drastically changing the way we live. Futuristic devices such as vacuum robots, drone cleaners, and artificial intelligence butlers are to become the next step in the discourse of household technologies. How these technologies will impact women is yet to be seen.
- Housework and Technological change
- The impact of technological change within the home
- Is this the end of household chores
- The determinants of housework time
- The Hassle of Housework: Digitalisation and the Commodification of Domestic Labour
- These household chores will be done by robots by 2040