Moving to a shorter working week could help to close the gender pay gap, according to a new report released today.
When unpaid and paid work is combined, women continue to work longer hours than men but for less money, while overwork and overproduction are a direct cause of climate change, the Women’s Budget Group said today.
Based on time-use data and evidence from the impact of Covid-19 on working patterns, the WBG researchers found that men increased the time they spent on unpaid care during the first phase of the pandemic in response to a decline in their paid work and an increase in care needs.
Although women continued to perform most of the unpaid care work, men’s share increased to 40 per cent, from 34 per cent in 2015, they said.
This trend reversed in the second phase of the pandemic when men’s paid hours recovered. This indicates that a shorter working week for all would lead to a more even distribution of housework and care responsibilities.
The report forms part of WBG’s work on the Feminist Green New Deal and considers how to ensure that a shorter working week works as part of the green transition. Evidence indicates that countries with shorter working weeks have lower greenhouse gas emissions per person.
Drawing on case studies of reduced working patterns in France, Portugal and South Korea, the report found that a shorter working week needs to be implemented as part of a comprehensive labour policy package if it is to be effective in closing the gender pay gap and positively impacting the environment.
Such a package should include strong pro-labour institutions, particularly well-coordinated trade unions, equal pay legislation, increased job security, higher minimum wages, and permanent contracts, they said.
This should also be undertaken alongside a reform of parental leave policies, which encourage a more equal distribution of care within couples. Careful planning and assessment in order to avoid shortages of particular skills and types of labour.
A flexible approach to a shorter working week that considers various permutations where a shorter working day as well as a four-day or three-day week could be considered, they further wrote.
“The pandemic provided a natural experiment around the benefits of a shorter working week. We know that care was more evenly shared when men were working fewer paid hours,” said Dr Sara Reis, deputy director and head of policy and research at WBG.
“As we continue to battle the inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, it’s only right that we start to learn from the experiences of it. That includes the way in which we work,” she added.
“We know that working less reduces emissions, but we now know that it could also help to reduce the gender care gap. A shorter working week can lead to men being more involved in child-rearing and therefore distribute care more fairly between women and men,” Reis continued.
“A shorter working week is good for the planet and it’s good for people. But it must form part of a wider set of labour measures that includes a reform of our parental leave system.”
Reis concluded: “If women are spending their extra time on domestic labour while men spend it relaxing, we’ll never see parity in how we share care. We need to consider policy solutions that tackle intersecting crises like climate change and deepening inequalities, and the shorter working week could do that.”