Gender patterns and value of unpaid work: findings from China's first large-scale time use survey

Gender patterns and value of unpaid work: findings from China's first large-scale time use survey

In 2008, the first large-scale time-use survey (TUS) was carried out across China. This paper, produced by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, analyses the TUS data collected, describing the gender patterns across three different types of activity: paid work, unpaid work, and non-work activity. Next, a seemingly unrelated regression (SUR) technique is applied to estimate the trade-off between each of these three types of activities, before the authors estimate a monetary value of unpaid work, comparing the findings with a range of macroeconomic indicators. First, the study introduces the survey itself. Covering 37,142 individuals aged between 15-74, and living in 10 different provinces, participants were divided roughly equally between both rural and urban, and men and women. The study represents a significant and comprehensive survey into the ways participants used their time throughout the day, accounting for simultaneous activities and covering nine general varieties of work. Highlights from the findings are summarised in the conclusion of the paper:

  • Men spent more hours in paid employment than women, while women spent more time in unpaid work; when added together, women spent considerably more time devoted to work overall.
  • Using the SUR methodology, the analysis found that women did not share men’s propensity to trade one type of work for another, meaning that external shocks disproportionately impacted women’s free time.
  • Educated women from higher income backgrounds have greater time autonomy.
  • Unpaid work is estimated to account for between 25.1% and 32.2% of GDP, with unpaid care work estimated to account for between 5% and 6.4% of GDP.
  • Macro-economic comparisons show unpaid work as representing a huge contribution to national economic well-being.
The analysis shows a growing tension between paid and unpaid work, with the Chinese government’s overriding concern focused on improving the productivity of paid work. This is unsustainable and unfair on women, since market reforms have eroded government and employer support and protection for women’s reproductive roles.

The paper closes with a call for greater policy attention to supporting the reproductive economy, so as to ensure a socially adequate and gender-equitable supply of domestic and care services.
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