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Evolutions in time-use and division of labour of men and women

Ignace Glorieux, Joeri Minnen, Theun Pieter van Tienoven, Jef Deyaert et Eszter Mészáros


La façon dont nous utilisons notre temps en général, et dont nous séparons travail rémunéré et non rémunéré est largement affectée par des influences culturelles et sociales. Cette utilisation est également supposée se modifier en fonction de changements sociaux et culturels, comme l’évolution vers des attitudes plus égalitaires. Ainsi, beaucoup d’études montrent, d’une part  une diminution du temps accordé au travail rémunéré par les hommes et une augmentation de leur implication dans le soin des enfants et, d’autre part, une augmentation de la participation des femmes au marché du travail ainsi qu’une diminution de leur charge de travail non rémunéré. Cependant, les mêmes études mettent également en évidence la lenteur de cette convergence dans la division du travail entre hommes et femmes. En comparant la base de données flamande « emploi du temps – 7 jours » de 2013 (n=2,894) à celles de 1999 (n=1,234) et de 2004 (n=1,643) qui présentent des données comparables sur l’emploi du temps, cette contribution analyse les évolutions antérieures et la situation actuelle de la division du travail entre les hommes et les femmes en Flandre, Belgique. Cette contribution montre notamment que les hommes commencent à plus prendre en charge le soin des enfants, et que les femmes accomplissent de plus en plus de travail rémunéré, mais que les corvées domestiques demeurent, tout comme en 2004, principalement à charge des femmes. De plus, bien que la charge de travail ne diffère désormais plus de manière significative entre hommes et femmes, les divergences dans sa composition perdurent néanmoins. La convergence vers une division égalitaire du travail avance doucement, très doucement.

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1Research on the combination of work and family life and how this differs for men an women has been subject to three important developments over the last decade: (1) demographic trends including the increase in ‘new’ forms of cohabiting and evolutions in women’s labour market participation, (2) methodological innovations in measuring time-use and time perceptions, and (3) a growing academic network studying work life balance (Bianchi and Milkie, 2010). This contribution mainly serves the second development, since it analyses data of a time-use survey. Time-use surveys are very suitable to provide a realistic and nuanced picture of daily activities of men and women. In a time-use survey, respondents register all their daily activities in a time-diary for a certain period of time, giving a detailed picture of daily life of men and women. A thorough analysis of time-use data allows studying to what extend and with what reason the presumed conflict between work and family life manifests itself differently for men and women and how it affects other domains of daily life (e.g. leisure, social participation, and personal care).

Combining work and family life

2A lot of international time-use research focuses on the gendered division of labour within the household (for an overview see Bianchi and Milkie, 2010). One of the main recurring findings is that women spend less time on domestic chores over the years although they still do take account for the largest share of it (Bianchi et al., 2000; Bianchi et al., 2006; Van Tienoven and Glorieux, 2009; Robinson and Godbey, 1999). On the other hand, many scholars report that mothers but also fathers spend more and more time on childcare (Bianchi, 2000; Sandberg and Hofferth, 2001; Sandberg and Hofferth, 2006; Sayer et al., 2004; Gershuny, 2000), though again, mothers still take up the lion’s share (Craig, 2006).

3Another main finding is that the time men spend more on the labour market does not compensate for the time women spend more on domestic chores and childcare. Men have much more leisure time than women. Besides, here exists a ‘gendered’ leisure gap as well. Women not only have less leisure time, their leisure time is of much less quality because it is ‘contaminated’ by ongoing interruptions of other tasks (including childcare) (Bittman and Wajcman, 2000; Mattingly and Bianchi, 2003; Schulte, 2014).

4Additionally, some scholars argue that, with leisure being replaced by business as sign of social status (Gershuny, 2005; Gershuny, 2000) and work getting more pleasant, an increase in women’s time at the labour market will run parallel with an increase in men’s time at the labour market and even a decline in men’s leisure time (Gershuny, 2011).

5Finally, the way men and women (try to) combine work and family life is not only affected by working conditions and job characteristics. Many studies demonstrate that the family situation, like the number of children present, the age of the youngest child and the employment status of the spouse affect employment and working conditions (for an overview see Byron, 2005). Besides, these family characteristics put much more pressure on women than on men, resulting in women, much more often than men, to opt-out or switch to less demanding part-time work (Laurijssen, 2012). It often concerns jobs for which women are over-qualified (Connolly and Gregory, 2008) but for them it often is the only (deliberate) way to take away some of the pressure and live a calmer life (Booth and Van Ours, 2009).

6This brief overview is everything but a confirmation of the assumption that contemporary women and men have freed themselves from the traditional gender ideology, that the traditional gender division of labour and the different, gendered rules of conduct belong to the past. Nonetheless, we still cling to the idea that daily life of men and women has converged, that the gender gap is being closed. Recent studies often question this. The Flemish time-use survey of 2004 revealed that the time-use of men and women still keep up an outspoken gendered division of roles, even though there was a modest trend towards a somewhat more egalitarian gender ideology in comparison with the time-use survey of 1999 (Glorieux et al., 2006). A year ago the Dutch newspaper NRC Next (26 November 2013) concluded, in an article based on analyses from a recent Dutch time-use survey, that the ‘revolution in the household’ had stranded. Men and women no longer converged with respect to the division of household tasks (Cloïn, 2013) as was previously still assumed (see f.e. Sayer, 2005). In this contribution we examine whether this also holds for Flanders, Belgium.

7First we will provide a general overview of how women and men in Flanders spend their time and how this allocation of time evolved over the last 15 year. Thereafter, we go into more detail on the typical differences in the time-use patterns of men and women. Next we study how the time-use of men and women evolves over the life course, followed by picturing the course of time-use over the day. We examine whether daily rhythms differ for women and men. Finally, we go deeper into paid and unpaid work and how the time spent hereon is affected differently by labour market participation and family situation.

Time-use surveys in Flanders, Belgium

8The Flemish time-use survey of 2013 (abbrev. TOR13), conducted by the Research Group TOR of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel was the first conducted online using the software MOTUS (Minnen et al., 2014). The TOR13 study followed the same methodology as the Flemish time-use surveys of 1999 (abbrev. TOR99) and 2004 (abbrev. TOR04), but instead of a paper time-dairy booklet respondents logged on to a website and registered their time-use for 7 consecutive days. Furthermore, respondents also completed the two individual questionnaires online (one before their time-use registration and one afterwards) with questions on socio-demographic characteristics and more specific questions on time use, feelings of time pressure, attitudes and habits. The fieldwork ran from January 2013 till January 2014 and in total 3,260 respondents completed the whole survey. The sample also included almost 12% students. Since we aim to examine the allocation of time on work and family tasks, and the possible tension between these life spheres, we excluded them from the analyses. This brings the total sample size at 2,894.

9There is an important advantage of conducting online time use survey. It allows running some quality checks while respondents registered their time-use. For example, pop-up remarks were shown when the timing of activities overlapped or did not succeed the previous activity, or when respondents tried to log activities in the future or activities that lasted longer than 20 hours. Moreover, if respondents logged two succeeding activities that took place at different locations they were notified that a transportation activity was missing. Generally, this meant that respondents registered their time-use more correctly than in paper time-diaries. More specific, it means that respondents made a clearer distinction between the activity and the displacement that led to the activity than they did in the TOR99 and TOR04 studies. We know this because the time spend traveling in TOR13 lies more in line with the time spend traveling in the Belgian time-use surveys of 1999, 2005 and 2013. We consider the Belgian estimates to be more accurate in that respect than the TOR99 and TOR04 estimates because of a methodological difference. In the Belgian time-use surveys respondents used their own words to describe their activities compared to a coded activity list in the Flemish time-use surveys. The latter apparently led respondents to include the traveling time to and from an activity often in the time spent on that activity.

10For the sake of comparison of TOR13 with TOR99 and TOR04 we included the traveling time in the time spend on the activity that served this displacement for all three datasets. A part of the increase in traveling time is then taken away. Nonetheless, it remains a fact that the controlling mechanisms of the online time-use survey have led to a more accurate registration of transport activities that in turn, thus, seem to have increased over time.

Analysis of time-use

11The way we use our time is affected to a great extend by social and cultural influences. What we do, when we do it, for how long, and in what sequence are expressions of social values, norms, opinions, attitudes, positions, roles, and power relations. This makes time-use data very well suited to get an insight in contemporary societal forces, and in this contribution more specifically in the daily division of labour between men and women. By studying the daily activities of men and women – how they divide work and family tasks, what they do in their spare time, … – we can observe the societal dynamics and evolutions underlying the outcome of combining work and family life.

A week of time for women and men

  • 1  The average traveling time per respondent was 7h12 per week in 1999 than 7h31 per week in 2004. In (...)

12To assess the general time-use of women and men in Flanders, we reduced all time-use activities to 10 generic categories (of which one residual category). These categories capture spheres of action that most people recognize as such in our society. Note that traveling time is included in the activity it served1.

13Table 1 shows how much time men and women between 18 and 75 years old spend on these 10 categories, computed for a whole week and over the 3 time-use surveys (1999, 2004, and 2013). Students are omitted from the analysis. This table differentiates between duration per respondent (i.e. the average duration calculated over all respondents that took part in the survey), participation rate (i.e. the percentage of respondents that actually performed the activity during the week of the survey), and the duration per participant (i.e. the average duration calculated over all participants).

14Both women and men spend by far most of the time of the week on sleeping and resting, respectively 59 and over 60.5 hours per week. Women not only sleep longer, but also spend with 18 hours a mere 2 hours per week more on personal care. With 32 hours a week men have almost 6 hours more leisure time than women, whereas women with 24 hours a week spend 7 hours more on domestic chores than men. Additionally, women with children spend another 2 hours per week more on childcare (i.e. duration per participant). Employed men work just below 40 hours per week, employed women just over 30 hours. All these differences are significant (see also Figure 1) and show that the classical stereotypes and traditional division of paid work and family work still predominates.

15If we look at the evolutions, we find that the share of women that is employed has augmented by 11 percentage points from 57.6% in 1999 to 68.4% in 2013. The employment rate of men of 76.1% in 2013 is significantly higher than in 2004 but does not differ from the male employment rate of 1999. These percentages concur with estimates from The Policy Research Centre Work and Social Economy (Steunpunt WSE, Flanders, Belgium). The time spend working does not change over the years, neither for men nor for women. The difference of 8 hours of paid work done more by men can be considered to be persistent (see also Figure 1).

16Men gradually spend more time on domestic chores, whereas women significantly decrease the time spent on household tasks. In 2013 women spend almost 4 hours less on domestic chores than in 1999 and over 1,5 hours less than in 2004. Yet, women still perform 7 hours more on household tasks than men, though the difference decreases (see Figure 1).

17The time men spend on childcare has increased with over 1 hour per week between 1999 and 2013. Nonetheless, again it holds that women spend 2 hours per week more on childcare and raising children. However this is more than halving the difference of 5 hours as it was in 1999.

18The amount of leisure time of men did not evolve significantly between 1999, 2004 and 2013. Women, on the contrary, gained 2 hours of leisure time between 1999 and 2013. The leisure gap between men and women thus closes slowly although it remains a considerable 5,5 hours per week. Women spend on average 1 hour more on social participation (talking, visiting, volunteer work, care for others/family members, associations). However, the time spend on social participation seriously declined between 2004 and 2013.

19The evolution in time-use of men and women shows that the ‘household revolution’ in Flanders is still going on. Men and women converge with regard to dividing paid work and family tasks. However, the equilibrium is still far out of sight.

Male and female time-use

20In the previous subsection we revealed some tendencies of convergence of the time-use of men and women. Differences in time spend on paid work, domestic chores, childcare and leisure are becoming noticeably smaller. On the other hand, the time-use patterns of men and women are still very different. To assess these differences in a more systematic way, we analysed the time-use of men and women via a discriminant analysis. For this purpose we used a more detailed categorisation of time-use in 33 daily activities. Discriminant analysis is a technique that, based on the information of people (in our case time-use), tries to predict other characteristics of these people (in our case their sex). Suppose that, using the information of people’s time-use, we succeed to predict their sex correctly in 50% of the cases, we then might conclude that the way we use our time – like the colour of our eyes, the number of teeth, or eyesight – is not gendered. Surely, if we predict someone’s sex at random our success rate would also be 1 in 2. However, if our predictions become more accurate, we then have to conclude that the information we use does differ systematically by gender. Additionally, the discriminant analysis gives us information on what activities contribute more (or less) to the predictive power of the analysis. The indicator we use is the measure of discriminant power. This measure varies from 0 to 1 and can be interpreted as a correlation coefficient (the higher this value, the better the predictive power).

21Table 2 provides the top 5 of activities that discriminate between men and women. Using information of the time spend on 33 activities by men and women, we classify them correctly in 81.5% of the cases. Men (83.9%) are more predictable than women (79.0%).

22Strikingly, the three of the five most discriminant activities are all related to productive activities. It is clear that the gendered division of labour is still highly traditional and persistent. Based on the measure of discriminant powera, we can state with confidence that the difference between men and women is reflected the most by the time someone spends on household tasks (discriminant power=0.75 !). Remarkably, childcare does no longer appear in the top 5 as a discriminant activity. In 2004 childcare still claimed the third place (Glorieux et al., 2006).

23Men are more or less equally predictive as they were in 2004. Did we classify 85.3% of men correctly in 2004 we do so for 83.9% in 2013. Women became less predictive compared to a decade ago. In 2004 82.7% of the women could be classified correctly, whereas this percentage dropped to 79.0% in 2013. This illustrates that the time-use pattern of women has become more diversified, probably because part of the women shifts to a more ‘manly’ pattern (the result of an increase in fulltime employed women), whereas others still conform to the more traditional gender roles.

Time-use over the life course

24Figure 2 shows the time-use of men and women over the life course from 18 to 75 years in categories spanning 5 years. Percentages of each activity are given for each age category (values below 2% are not shown).

25The busy age of women starts earlier in the life course than the busy age for men. If we take paid work, domestic work and childcare (the blue coloured activities) as the total workload we find that this workload claims over 30% of women’s time from 21 years on whereas for men the workload exceeds 30% of their time from 26 years on. For both sexes the workload drops below 30% after the age of 55. Again the traditional gender roles stand out from Figure 2. During the busy age, men perform more paid work than women, whereas women do more domestic chores. For both sexes the increased workload comes at the cost of leisure time.

26After the busy age, both men and women start working less. The time that becomes available is spent mainly as leisure. Nonetheless, for men this leisure time increases more than for women, because the latter also reallocate some of the time that came available by working less to domestic chores and personal care.

27The differences between women and men that we mentioned already are not only persistent during the busy age, but also over the whole life course. Women spend their whole life more time on domestic chores and childcare. Although childcare only plays an important role for a relatively short period of the life course (26 to 45 years of age), Figure 2 clearly shows that the absence of childcare at later age is replaced by spending more time on household tasks. Men keep spending more time on paid work than women over the life course, but they also have more leisure time than women in every phase of the life course.

The rhythm of the workload

28Both the division of the time spend on paid work, domestic chores, and childcare as well as the division of these activities over the life course are highly gendered. The workload of men and women still differs substantially. Based on this, we assume that the daily rhythm of the workload is also gendered (see Figure 3). We see indeed that at 7 am on an average workday 50% of the working men already (are on the way to) perform paid work. Working women reach this percentage only 1 hour later. The percentage of women that is at work remains lower than the percentage of men at work during every moment of the weekday varying from 58% versus 66% around 10 am to 48% versus 63% around 3 pm. The rhythm of paid work, however, follows an equal pattern for both sexes, with a clearly distinct lunch break around noon. In the afternoon, women engage less collectively in paid work (i.e. the top of the light coloured curve is lower). This is probably the result of the large share of women working part time. In the end we see that from 6 pm the working day – at least with respect to paid work – ends for both men and women equally. On Saturdays and Sundays the rhythm of paid work is less collective (at most 15% of all working men and women is at work on Saturdays and this drops to less than 10% on Sundays) and is not characterised by two distinct peaks.

29The second component of the workload of men and women is domestic chores. Figure 3 shows that men and women start at the same time with domestic chores, but it concerns much more women than men (the light coloured line increases much steeper). This holds for weekdays as well for weekend days. On weekdays around 9 am 1 out of 5 women does domestic chores in contrast to 1 out of 10 men. Remarkably the collective rhythm of domestic chores during a weekday resembles the rhythm of paid work. There are two pronounced peaks that are interrupted by a lunch break at noon. However, the second peak of domestic chores of women in the afternoon continues well into the evening. It is only at 8 pm that the rhythm of domestic chores converges for men and women. The rhythm of domestic chores of men is equal to that of women but much less collectively. Compared to paid work on weekend days, the rhythm of household tasks shows much more resemblance with household tasks during the weekday. A clear sign that unpaid work always continues and, as the figure shows, mainly women guarantee this continuation.

30The final component of the workload of men and women is childcare. Even if we take only men and women with children into account, childcare remains a less collective activity. At its peak moment, 1 out of 5 Flemish parents (men and women together) are spending time on childcare. We concluded already that women take up a larger share of childcare and this is confirmed in Figure 3. Besides, three small peaks and one large peak in the rhythm of women’s childcare stand out. The first peak is situated in the morning between 7 and 9 am. This is the time that children have to get out of bed, have their breakfast, and head to school. The second peak falls around noon, the time that children come home from school to have lunch. The large peak falls between 3 and 5 pm. This is the time that children come home from school and possibly have a ‘4 o’clock snack’. The fourth peak lies between 7 and 8 pm. In this time span young children need to be helped with getting ready to go to sleep. Again the rhythm of men participating in childcare is more or less equal to that of women, but men’s childcare is much less collective and is actually a long run-up to the evening peak. This indicates that it is mainly women that adjust their working times to, for example, school times. During weekend days childcare is undertaken much more equally by both sexes.

Productive time

31Figure 2 showed that for most people, the time spent on work and family life is of great importance for a long period of their life course. Especially paid work consumes a substantial amount of the time daily available and its – mostly – obligatory characteristic makes paid work an important Zeitgeber for or structuring force of other daily activities. The same holds more or less for domestic chores. We have to cook, we have to clean, and we have to do our laundry every now and then. Besides, the division of paid work and domestic chores turns out to be highly gendered. In this subsection we take a deeper look at how paid work and household work are intertwined and are affected by work and family situation. What about the decline of traditional male breadwinner families? What is the effect of the increasing labour market participation of women on the division of labour in the household? And to what extend does the rise in dual-earner families go hand in hand with a more gender egalitarian division of labour?

32We concluded already that women spend more time on unpaid work, whereas men spend more time on paid work. In the introduction we assumed a negative correlation between both paid and unpaid work. By defining the total workload as the sum of the time spent on paid work, domestic chores, and childcare we can verify this assumption. Figure 4 provides an overview of the evolution of the composition of the workload (1999, 2004, and 2013). Table 3 provides an overview of the (composition of the) workload divided by employment situation and family situation. For every category both the time spent on paid work, domestic chores and childcare is given, as well as the share of each of these activities in the total workload. The differences between women and men are tested for their significance.

33Among men the share of paid work decreased from 53.6 to 50.8%, whereas it increased for women from 30.6 to 36.5% over the last three decades (see Figure 4). Notwithstanding, women keep doing 1.3 times more domestic chores and 1.6 times more childcare than men.

34For the total population (18 to 75 years of age; students excluded; transportation time included in the activities it served) the total workload of men and women does not differ significantly and lies around 50 hours per week (Table 3). When looking at the employment situation we find the highest workload among fulltime working men and women. Again, for this group, the total workload of 59.5 hours a week does not differ significantly. However, the share of paid work is much higher for fulltime working men than for fulltime working women. For the share of household work the opposite holds. Part-time working women have a workload of 49 hours, but the sample size of part time working men is too small to make a comparison. Unemployed and retired men have a significant lower workload than women, for unemployed men this is over 12 hours less than women. Finally, it is striking, though in line with expectations, that fulltime working men do not spend significantly less time on childcare compared to fulltime working women.

35If we compare the workload of women and men for different family situations (see Table 3), we find that men living alone or living with a partner but without children spend more time on paid work and less time on domestic chores than women. The total workload however, does not differ significantly. The workload increases when children are present. Single mothers have a workload of over 53 hours a week of which more than half is the result of household tasks and childcare. Two parent families have the highest workload and in this case men have a significant higher workload than women. They spend 13 hours more on the labour market while women spend 10 hours more on household task and childcare.


36The labour market participation of women has increased even more over the last decade and this explains the increase in their average time spend on paid work. For men, we witness a decrease in time spent in paid work and a decade long status quo in leisure time, refuting the predictions of Gershuny (2011) that an increase in the pleasantness of work will lead to an increase of working time. The time both sexes spend on the labour market has thus further converged.

37Also within the household we signal a convergence. As is to be expected this is the result of a decrease in time women spend on domestic chores. The time men spend on household work has not changed significantly over the last 15 years (cfr. Bianchi et al., 2000; Bianchi et al., 2006; Van Tienoven and Glorieux, 2009). In 2013, women’s share of domestic chores in their total workload is still 10 percentage points higher than men’s share.

38Fathers do, however, spend 1.5 hours per week more on childcare and, although expected differently, the time mothers spend on childcare has not increased over the years in Flanders (cfr. Bianchi, 2000; Sandberg and Hofferth, 2001; Sandberg and Hofferth, 2006; Sayer, 2005). Whereas childcare came in third as the most female activity in 2004, in 2013 childcare does not even appear in the top 5. Nonetheless, we see that in two parent families, fathers still spend 2 hours per week less on childcare compared to mothers. This might indicate that the increase in fathers’ time caring for their child(ren) is largely the result of fathers’ need to take care of the children (f.e. because mothers are still at work) (cfr. Van Tienoven et al., in press). Besides, mothers’ childcare is much more spread over the day, whereas fathers’ childcare mainly takes place in the evening only.

39Did the results of the time-use surveys of 1999 and 2004 indicate that the time men spend more on the labour market did not make up for the time women spend more on household work, the results of the time-use survey of 2013 reveals that the total workload of men and women does not differ significantly anymore. On the other hand, there is hardly compensation: only a very small part of the time that comes available when no paid work is performed (anymore) is allocated to domestic chores. Unemployed and retired men have a much lower workload than unemployed or retired women. Men and women in dual earner families have the highest workload (respectively 57 and 59.5 hours per week) which moreover is very different in composition for both sexes.

40On a weekly basis, women in two parent families spend 13 hours less on paid work and 10 hours more on domestic chores and childcare compared to men in two parent families. A clear sign that it are still women that take a step back from the labour market to make family life work.

41On basis of the time-use survey of 1999, Glorieux and Koelet (2004) wrote that the ‘new man’ in Flanders was ‘just a dream’. On basis of the Belgium time-use study of 2005 Van Tienoven and Glorieux (2009) concluded that it not only was just a dream, but also that women and men dreamt about different ‘new men’, ‘caring fathers’ and ‘supermoms’. Also today, using the time-use information from 2013, we still conclude that there is a gap between dreaming and doing. Yet, dreams and reality are slowly converging. Men spend more time on childcare and the total workload hardly differs between men and women for the first time in Flanders. On the contrary, solely women guarantee the converging ‘household revolution’. Men hardly spend more time on household work, keeping the unpaid work still a ‘female’ activity. Additionally, an equal division of the total workload is completely different from an equal composition of the workload (see f.e. McDaniel, 2008). It is time to fulfil these dreams as well.

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1  The average traveling time per respondent was 7h12 per week in 1999 than 7h31 per week in 2004. In 2013 this is on average 10h51 per respondent per week. Total traveling time in 2013 can be subdivided into traveling for work (3h32) traveling for the household (2h20), traveling for children (0h50), traveling for school (0h12), traveling for social participation (1h16), traveling for leisure (2h31) and traveling for other/undefined purposes (0h09).

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Ignace Glorieux, Joeri Minnen, Theun Pieter van Tienoven, Jef Deyaert et Eszter Mészáros, « Evolutions in time-use and division of labour of men and women », Revue Interventions économiques [En ligne], 53 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2015, consulté le 23 mars 2017. URL :

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Les contenus de la revue Interventions économiques sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

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