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Gender gap in unpaid labour means women work ‘double shift,’ experts say

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Experts say a recent Statistics Canada report on gender disparities in unpaid labour paints a dim yet familiar picture about the burdens women face at home and in the workforce.

The report, published Monday, found that men and women aged 25 to 54 work roughly the same number of hours per day, but a gender gap emerged in the division of unpaid labour, such as housework and caregiving.

In 2015, women spent an average of 3.9 hours per day on unpaid work, 1.5 more hours than men, according to the report. It found that this time came at the expense of women’s paid-work hours, spending an average of 1.3 fewer hours than men on the job per day.

For Sarah Kaplan, director of University of Toronto’s Institute for Gender and the Economy, the findings came as no surprise. Despite women making gains in the workforce in recent decades, she said Canadian attitudes about gender roles have largely remained the same.

“We live in a gendered society,” Kaplan said in an interview Tuesday. “The recent results from (Statistics Canada) don’t indicate that we’re making much progress in changing those dynamics.”

Over the past 30 years, the average time women spend on housework has decreased by 42 minutes per day, the report said, and men have upped their daily contributions to the home by an average of 24 minutes.

Still, Kaplan said, women are expected to bear the brunt of domestic duties, in addition to acting as the primary caregiver to children, and increasingly, aging relatives.

For women who work outside the home, these demands amount to working a “double shift,” she said, where women are required to be as productive as their male counterparts on the job, only to come home and contribute more than their fair share.

Kaplan said the burden proves to be so great for some women that it forces them to leave the workforce or take lower-paying jobs, which she said is the primary driver of the gender wage gap.

Statistics Canada’s findings suggest that the toll on women is not only economic, but psychological, with women reporting higher levels of stress about not having enough time to accomplish all their tasks by the end of the day.

More than 60 per cent of women reported doing unpaid work at the same time as another activity, the study said, compared to 40 per cent of men.

Queen’s University law professor Kathleen Lahey said this kind of multi-tasking is a “lifelong condition for women.”

As a new mother, Lahey said she remembers tucking her infant daughter into a desk drawer lined with fleece and blankets so she could get some work done at the office while the baby napped beside her.

“In paid work, it’s kind of like letting women compete equally in a swimming competition, except they have to have some extra weights tied around their ankles,” she said.

“You just can’t get the same traction as someone who does not have that dimension of their life continually on their minds.”

Without adequate government-supplied care, Lahey said women are diverted away from work by children early in their careers, and as they near retirement, are increasingly tasked with looking after aging relatives.

“The tragedy for Canadian women is that it affects really every aspect of a woman’s economic existence,” she said.

Lahey said these long-standing inequities need to be addressed.

“I think that this is a matter of considerable urgency,” she said. “We also need to ensure that future generations are not facing recurring problems like this.

“Canada has to make this change.”

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