Melinda Gates: Unpaid Domestic Labor is a “Hidden, Root Inequity”

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Melinda Gates.
Melinda Gates.Photo: Steve Granitz

In today’s Lenny Letter, Melinda Gates (philanthropist and one half of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) talks to editor Jessica Grose about one side of gender inequality that often — literally — gets brushed under the rug. Women around the world are frequently tasked with domestic duties that go unpaid and unquantified, leaving men with more time to compete in the working world and enjoy leisure activities. On average worldwide, women spend about four and a half hours a day on unpaid domestic work like laundry, child care, and house cleaning, which is more than double what men do.

Melinda Gates has made it her cause lately to try to find a method to correct or economically quantify what she considers “one of those hidden, root inequities.” Gates says that she’d “love to see us measure unpaid labor as part of gross domestic product worldwide,” which is, of course, a huge undertaking. Currently, in India, the gap between hours spent by men and women on unpaid domestic labor is even larger: For every woman’s average six hours a day of daily domestic labor, men spend less than one hour. Gates considers education to be one of the biggest contributors to changing that ratio in the developing world.

But in the U.S., where women spend about four hours a day on domestic duties compared to men’s two and a half, Gates thinks small changes can make a difference:

Then in a place like the United States, it’s more policy. There’s just no reason we don’t have a great family-paid-leave act here in the United States. There’s different ways you can get at that, whether at the state level or the federal level. We also ought to recognize that unpaid labor falls predominantly to women. The other thing I would do in countries like the U.S. is to show more men, even in TV ads, doing household work. Only 2 percent of ads show men doing chores, and yet we know they actually do several hours of it in real life. Those images affect young boys and girls.

We’re starting to see these changes, including the new New York state paid-family-leave law, but overhauling the advertising world might — incredibly — be a little harder. Women still only make up 8 percent of leadership positions in advertising, despite the fact that we influence 85 percent of purchasing decisions.