Rushing a child to school, washing the dishes or changing a diaper — it all adds up to hundreds of hours of unpaid work for millions of Canadians every year. But put day-to-day household tasks next to a paycheque, and it can be hard to quantify. That is, until now.
According to a new report from Statistics Canada, the economic value of unpaid housework in Canada climbed to an estimated $860.2 billion in 2019, up more than 10 per cent from 2015.
That’s equivalent to over 37 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP); or, to put it in real terms, bigger than the contributions of the wholesale, manufacturing and retail industries combined.
Putting a dollar value on day-to-day household tasks helps paint a picture of the true economic output of a country. But quantifying household work also highlights pay gaps between men and women and the often invisible work put in at home, note researchers Sandy Besporstov and Amanda Sinclair of StatsCan’s National Economic Accounts Division.
“Regardless of marital status and the presence of children, women tended to do more unpaid household work than men,” wrote the authors in their report.
Per capita, the study found Canadian women put in 820 hours of unpaid housework in 2019, 50 per cent more than the 540 hours of housework Canadian men did.
WOMEN EARN $0.88 FOR EVERY DOLLAR MEN EARN
The StatsCan report found that while women put in the majority of work at home, they continue to be paid less outside the house.
Examining data between 2015 and 2019, the authors found a small decrease in the wage gap between men and women as women’s wage growth outpaced men in every region except Quebec.
Even so, in the last year of the study, women still earned an average of $0.88 for every dollar a man earned.
“This difference between women's share of the hours and monetary value of unpaid household work is directly attributable to the market wage gap between men and women,” the report states.
CHILDREN CHANGE EVERYTHING
In 2019, StatsCan found women with children averaged a little over 15 hours a week of household work; men, by comparison, averaged just over 10.
The gap, according to several studies cited by StatsCan, is largely due to “societal expectations placed on women to have clean homes.”
Once children arrive in a home, unpaid workloads balloon for both men and women.
By 2019, women in a partnered household spent twice as many hours with children under 15 than men, with women between 25 and 54 taking on the largest share of unpaid housework.
After 54 years old, the share of work for women in a partnered household dropped, whereas for men, their share of work increased as they grew older.
The report notes that same-sex couples accounted for 1.1 per cent of total partnered households in 2015. Single fathers, meanwhile, completed double the unpaid household work compared to single men.
“While women continued to do the majority of unpaid household work, their share of the total value of unpaid household work was less than men,” wrote the authors.
The difference, note the researchers, comes down to the ongoing wage gap between men and women in the workplace.
HOUSEHOLD WORK VALUED DIFFERENTLY
To replace the household work of one person — man or woman — would have cost over $23,000 in 2019.
But not all work at home would cost the same to replace. Take the 20 hours of unpaid household work men average in a partnered home. Most of those hours are spent on a mix of outdoor maintenance; repair, painting or renovation; and taking out the compost, recycling or garbage.
If those tasks were to be contracted out, they would have cost an average of $23.74 an hour in 2019. But pay somebody else to complete the unpaid household tasks women more often do, and it would only cost an average of $17.62 per hour.
“This again signals a fundamental difference in the value of work done by women in the home, but also a market wage gap between jobs done more by women than by men,” states the report.
B.C. WOMEN COME CLOSEST TO HOUSEHOLD WORK EQUALITY
Of the five Canadian regions the study looked at, women in B.C. were found to complete the lowest share of unpaid household work. But at 58.7 per cent, it was still more than men.
Women in Ontario, which were found to do the highest share of housework in the study, averaged 61.3 per cent of household work compared to men.
With millions of Canadians having spent more time at home over the past two years, the authors note the COVID-19 pandemic has made the accounting of unpaid household work even more important.
“Although this study does not include estimates of the value of unpaid household work during the pandemic period, it can serve as a good baseline for making comparisons with the post-pandemic period, once those estimates are available,” they wrote.