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Women continue to do more unpaid domestic work than men, better provision of external support services and greater flexibility to work from home needed to reduce burden
In Australia, women consistently undertake more unpaid domestic work—which includes activities such as grocery shopping, food preparation, laundry, grounds care and gardening, home and vehicle maintenance, caring for children, caring for adults, and paying bills—both before and during the pandemic.
The March 2023 Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) survey reveals that women with children bear the brunt of these demands and that cost or availability of external support services as well as a lack of support from friends and families are key contributing factors. Greater flexibility to work from home could help reduce that burden.
Each week, women spend eight hours more than men on unpaid domestic work
Women do 23.1 hours of unpaid domestic work per week compared to men’s 15.3 hours (Figure 1). This difference is not solely attributable to gender variance in time spent at work; even when women are in full-time employment, they spend almost four hours more doing household chores than men (17.4 hours vs 13.8 hours). The gender gap exists across all age groups, but is most pronounced between ages 35 and 64, corresponding to child-rearing and pre-retirement stages in people’s lifecycle.
Women living with children spend over 35 hours per week doing unpaid domestic work
When not living with children under the age of 18 in the household, men and women undertake 13.6 and 18.5 hours respectively of unpaid domestic work per week (Figure 1). Both men and women contribute more when at least one child is present in the household. However, women’s additional contribution is disproportionally larger, amounting to a total of 35.0 hours, while men spend only 19.7 hours, on average. This doubles the gender gap in unpaid domestic work.
Cost or availability of external support services are key contributors to unpaid domestic work hours, particularly for those with children
Cost or availability of external support services and the lack of support from family and friends (including household members) are two key contributors for both men and women’s amount of unpaid domestic work (Figure 2). This observation is particularly true when children under the age of 18 are present in the household: 45% of men and 43% of women living with children list cost or availability of external support services as a contributor to their unpaid domestic work hours, and 46% of women with children indicate a lack of support from family and friends. A change in people’s work hours or a discrepancy between their desired and actual work hours is less important.
Approximately half of Australians do unpaid domestic work out of a sense of duty or obligation (52% for men, 56% for women)—a share that is larger when children are present in the household (63% for men, 72% for women). 30% of men and 23% of women enjoy their unpaid domestic work tasks and about a third (33% for men, 36% for women) regard their number of hours as optimal.
When allowed more work from home flexibility, the unpaid domestic work burden is lower for women and enjoyment is greater
For employed women, the number of hours spent on unpaid work is lowest (18.5) when they are permitted to work from home the equivalent of one day (7 hours) a week (Figure 1). This is not because of different types of jobs. When tasks can be performed from home, but the employer does not permit them to do so at least one day a week, they spend even more hours on unpaid domestic work (22.9) than those women whose jobs cannot be performed from home (21.2).
For both men and women, being allowed to work remotely is associated with greater wellbeing: 34% of men and 26% of women who are permitted to work from home at least seven hours a week report enjoying their domestic activities, while 38% (men) and 44% (women) of them indicate their hours allocated to those activities are optimal (Figure 2).
The gender gap in undertaking unpaid domestic work is evident in couples, and felt more strongly by women
Among coupled individuals, Australians’ perception of their partner’s contribution to unpaid domestic work relative to their own clearly reflects a gender gap: a total of 62% of women report their partner doing either a little less work (24%), a lot less work (32%), or none at all (6%) (Figure 3). Only 15% of women report their partner doing more. Men’s answers are mirrored but provide a slightly more equal picture, with 32% of men indicating their partners’ contribution to be about the same.
When children are present in the household, 71% of women indicate their partner doing less than them. Similarly, 59% of men report their partner doing more. Thus, Australians are consciously aware of the unequal additional burden of unpaid domestic work. However, again, women perceive this inequality more strongly.
Women do more work for their household than men, and contribute more hours of domestic labour than their partners. Better provision of external support services and lowering of costs could support women living with children in particular, and thus contribute towards reducing the gender gap in unpaid domestic work. For example, the planned increase in Child Care Subsidy may be an important step in that direction.
Similarly, greater flexibility to work from home could help women juggle both their paid work and household tasks—particularly as they are more likely than men to disagree with their employer on the number of hours spent in the office versus working from home. For both women and men, being allowed to work from home is associated with a better work-life balance: they more often enjoy domestic activities and are more content with their hours spent on them.
This Taking the Pulse of the Nation insight was authored by Dr Sarah C Dahmann, Research Fellow at the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, and Tanya Gupta, Senior Foundation Fellow at the Melbourne Institute, 28 April 2023.
*This report is based on a total of 1,005 adult respondents from data collected in March 2023. The questions specified that unpaid domestic work can include grocery shopping, food preparation, laundry, grounds care and gardening, home and vehicle maintenance, caring for children, caring for an adult, paying bills, etc
**This research was supported (partially or fully) by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (Project ID CE200100025).
***Beginning in April 2020, the Taking the Pulse of the Nation (TTPN) was conceptualised and implemented by a group of researchers at the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research. Each wave includes a set of core questions, as well as additional questions that address current and emerging issues facing Australians. The TTPN sample is stratified to reflect the Australian adult population in terms of age, gender, and location. In 2022, the Melbourne Institute and Roy Morgan formed a partnership to extend the running of the TTPN. The TTPN Survey uses a repeated cross-sectional design. If you are interested in adding questions to the survey or accessing the data, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© The University of Melbourne & Roy Morgan- Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, 2023. This work is copyright. The material may be reproduced and distributed for non-commercial purposes only, subject to the inclusion of an acknowledgement of the source(s).