Business & Society

The Hidden Workforce: Unpaid Care Work Among Utah Women in 2024

By Julene Reese |

Childcare, eldercare, housework and other tasks are crucial to the foundations of strong families, communities and nations.

Such work is often termed unpaid or “the work that makes all other work possible.” Women worldwide spend significantly more time than men performing these critical tasks. This happens for reasons such as personal values and choices, cultural and social norms, unconscious biases, and economic and employment considerations.

According to Oxfam, a global organization that works to fight inequality, the monetary value of women’s unpaid work is estimated to be $10.8 trillion annually.

“This is a significant amount of work and money that needs to be recognized, understood and appreciated,” said Susan Madsen, Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project founding director and one of three report authors.

The UWLP recently released a research report examining unpaid care work in Utah in an effort to recognize its value and encourage a more balanced distribution between men and women. It provides an update to a 2017 UWLP report.

The recent report states that, in general, women spend 2 to 10 times more time on unpaid care work than men, depending on region and other factors. Women in the U.S. who participate in unpaid work average 4.92 hours per day compared to 3.79 hours per day for men. However, in Utah, women spend 5.55 hours per day on unpaid work, compared to 3.22 hours for Utah men.

Child care is one of the most common forms of unpaid work, which is significant since Utah has one of the highest fertility rates, the largest family size, and the largest share of women who work part-time in the nation.

For some women, choosing to raise children full-time is fulfilling and empowering; for other mothers, a combination of raising children and employment is ideal, but finding affordable and quality child care is a challenge.

“Research shows that maternal and family well-being increases when mothers can attain their preferred work situations,” Madsen said. “This is significant because the mother’s mental well-being directly affects the family.”

Another type of unpaid care work involves elderly relatives. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 37.1 million eldercare providers in the U.S., 58.9% of which are women. Additionally, 14.4% of female eldercare providers have provided care for 10 years or longer. A recent survey regarding Utahns’ experiences reports that 61.4% of caregivers are female, nearly half (including men) work full time, and 23% report spending more than 20 hours per week providing care, 97% of which is unpaid.

An additional source of unpaid work is household management. Data suggest that the gap in time spent on housework between Utah men and women has narrowed in recent years, with Utah women spending 1.62 hours per day on housework and men spending 1.17 hours, compared to the 1.88 and .94 hours, respectively, as reported in the UWLP 2017 research.

Relationships, households, and families typically require emotional and mental work, which is yet another form of unpaid work. Mental health professionals highlight that emotional work is truly work, and it can take its toll. Women who bear a heavy share of unpaid work are vulnerable to decreased physical, emotional and mental health well-being.

“Even when men participate in the day-to-day work of running a household, women often still do the mental work — noticing, planning, managing, scheduling, organizing and ensuring that needs are met,” Madsen said. “Consequently, women may not devote energy to their own economic and personal well-being because of their many responsibilities. Men spend more time doing paid work each day than women do, but when unpaid work is added in, women are working more hours a day than men — they just are not getting paid for it.”

Salary.com’s survey of mothers’ “job roles” estimates that in 2021, the approximate median annual salary for a stay-at-home mother in the U.S. would be $184,820.42. While this exercise is mainly symbolic, it shows that outsourcing the unpaid work performed by women would be costly.

The report suggests recommendations for Utahns in an effort to redistribute the load of unpaid labor, such as: building social support networks, problem-solving strategies, and communication for women and girls; encouraging companies to promote work-family balance and create innovative solutions as families navigate paid and unpaid work; increasing access to affordable, flexible, and universal child care; promoting awareness about gender roles and stereotypes; and promoting more balanced divisions of labor within households.

“Efforts to encourage a more balanced distribution of unpaid work between men and women include legislation and workplace initiatives, public discourse, and individual choices by family members themselves,” Madsen said. “It is well worth our efforts in these areas to help strengthen Utah families.”

Additional report authors are Kristy Hodsen, UWLP research fellow, and Madison Harmer, UWLP graduate research assistant. To view the full report, click here. For further information about the UWLP, visit uwlp@usu.edu.

WRITER

Julene Reese
Public Relations Specialist
Extension
435-757-6418
julene.reese@usu.edu

CONTACT

Melinda Colton
Communications Manager
Utah Women & Leadership Project
801-631-7770
melinda.colton@usu.edu


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