Unequal domestic work in childhood can lead to unequal pay as adults

The research team examined data from the Young Lives project

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Young women and girls' time spent in unpaid household work contributes to the gender pay gap, according to new research from the Universities of East Anglia (UEA), Birmingham and Brunel.

The research shows women’s later employment participation is affected by taking on the weight of this care burden in childhood, thus adding to existing inequality gaps in the study countries.

The study, ‘The contribution of girls’ longer hours in unpaid work to gender gaps in early adult employment: Evidence from Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam’, was published in the journal Feminist Economics.

The research team examined data from the Young Lives project, a longitudinal cohort study of childhood poverty following the lives of 12,000 children from India, Ethiopia, Peru and Vietnam. The India sample data is from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Following the lives of children from the age of 8 to 22, the research team analysed employment participation in any paid work and any sector (including agriculture), type of employment and wages.

According to UNICEF, girls spend 40 per cent more time on household chores than boys. Unequal shares of household care work are highly consequential for girls and linked to wider inequalities such as access to piped water, which shapes the amount of necessary work.

The amount and nature of household work influences girls’ school participation, reduces their time for study and can thus constrain their future employment opportunities.

Policy to address gender inequality in paid work needs to take into account unpaid work in childhood, said Dr Nicholas Vasilakos, of UEA. Investing in youth employment is central to development agendas and would help countries meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal of decent work for all by 2030.

Household work is negatively related to job quality – both type of jobs and earnings – said Dr Christian Darko, a lecturer in applied business and labour economics at the University of Birmingham.

Prof Shireen Kanji, professor of human resource management at Brunel University London, said: “It seems that in comparison to men, women’s employment is likely to be driven to a greater extent by lack of choice or by need, and is characterised by fewer opportunities for well-paid, higher-quality employment.”

However, the study did find that girls whose parents have higher aspirations for them at 12 have better chances of higher-paid employment at age 22.

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