Housework

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By Jordana Cristina de Jesus & Luana Junqueira Dias Myrrha*

Domestic chores before and after the pandemic: social and gender inequalities

Notified cases and deaths from Covid-19 remain at high levels in Brazil. Since March 2020, in an attempt to reduce the speed of contagion and avoid the collapse of the Health System, governors of different Brazilian states have followed the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and instituted social distancing, through decrees that determine the closure of establishments in non-priority areas, such as shops and schools. The main objective of this action is to keep as many people in their homes as possible and prevent the spread of the disease. However, some states, even with the rising curve of cases and deaths, allowed the resumption of some sectors, mainly commerce and retail, and made social distancing measures more flexible.

The first three months of the pandemic in Brazil were the most marked by social distancing, which has been gradually cooling down. In a note published by ONAS, it was found that in some states of the Northeast Region, between February 15th and June 22nd, the movement of people in some states exceeded expectations for a phase of gradual reopening of the economy. Gradually, isolation seems to have become an individual decision for a select group that can continue at home, in a home office, for example.

One of the characteristics of social isolation, of course, is people staying at home longer. This greater permanence translates into a considerable increase in domestic work. People start moving around the house for longer, which increases the demands for cleaning and maintenance. In addition, people are now having more meals at home, which previously took place at work, in restaurants (also closed due to the necessary social distancing measures), in schools. With schools closed, children now spend all day at home, which increases demands for care and also domestic work derived from entertainment and attention activities for children. Added to this, especially among private schools, remote teaching represents an additional challenge in monitoring and supervising online educational activities, which increase the younger the children are.

The virus prevention recommendations themselves also increase housework to a great extent. The need for the frequency of cleaning clothes, shoes and other objects of constant use (cell phones and other items) was increased and the need for disinfection of purchases was added. In addition to visible domestic work, there are also invisible ones, such as the mental work of organizing homes, as well as remote assistance to other family members, either because they have become ill, or are at risk and require supervision regarding the necessary care on their own. of the pandemic. There is also care for bereaved family members, as it can be imagined that at least 70 families were directly affected by the death of family members due to the new coronavirus. And so many others who remain in intensive medical care in which families remain apprehensive and emotionally affected.

Domestic work includes the fundamental task of reproducing daily life and continuing social life outside the home. And the Covid-19 pandemic came to remind us of the importance of care in social life. Although we have these indications of an increase in domestic and care work, it is important to emphasize that before the pandemic, families were already dealing with different demands and levels, and with important inequalities between those who care and those who are cared for. In Brazil, historically, domestic work has been assigned to women and, therefore, before the pandemic, more than 80% of the household chores were female responsibility. In 2018, they devoted almost twice as much time as men to household chores and caring for children and the elderly, according to data from the Continuous National Household Sample Survey (PNADC). However, there are significant differences in the time dedicated to household chores and care, when considering socioeconomic and demographic variables.

The amount of time that women dedicate to this type of activity varies according to the stage of the life cycle, whether they are married or not, the number of children or living with demanding elderly people. But in addition, this amount also responds to the socioeconomic conditions in which these women find themselves. On average, the higher the income level (in which the predominance of white women grows), the lower the domestic workload to which a woman is subjected. This happens because at the highest income levels it is possible to purchase services that replace or lessen the time dedicated to unpaid domestic work, such as ready meals, contracting services, day laborers, maids and care services (such as nannies, nurseries and quality daycare centers). differentiated in relation to public services, which are still scarce).

Income also makes it possible to structure households in such a way as to facilitate domestic work with household appliances that reduce the intensity of time demanded, such as a washing machine, for example, or in more extreme cases, access to piped water to wash clothes. This whole set of factors means that the poorest women, who are mostly black women, dedicate much more time to unpaid domestic work. In addition, it is these same poor, mostly black women who act as domestic workers. Thus, in Brazil, at the base of care, paid or not, are poor and black women.

Although housework, therefore, depends on the socioeconomic context, it is certain that for the vast majority of families who can and who are respecting social distancing, this work has increased to some extent. According to the “Online survey on hiring domestic workers during the covid-19 pandemic” carried out between May 25th and June 06th, 2020, approximately 70% of domestic worker contractors dismissed their employee, suspended the contract or no longer hired him. Therefore, most of the respondents' families do not have a maid, a nanny, a caregiver for the elderly or a day laborer to help with domestic tasks and day-to-day care. Nor can they send children to schools or nurseries, which have paralyzed activities since March 2020, in compliance with social isolation decrees and are still closed. Consequently, household members are taking on more housework. The question that arises is: how has this work been divided in the context of the pandemic? Could it be that in this exceptionality in which domestic work has been highlighted and the performance of domestic workers has diminished, has it been equally distributed among the adults in the household? Would men have increased their engagement with housework and child care?

The profile of contractors of domestic workers responding to the “Online survey on hiring domestic workers during the covid-19 pandemic”, is summarized in Figure 1. Of the total of 1.696 respondents, 96% have completed higher education, 90% are between 30 and 69 years old, 83% are women, 76% declared themselves white and 84% declared household income above 5 minimum wages minima. A homogeneous profile, which corresponds to the middle class, which to some extent is a consequence of the methodology of non-probabilistic “snowball” sampling (where one respondent indicates to another), whose limitation is the greater access to similar individuals, who generally experience similar socioeconomic conditions, such as the level of education and income. In addition, the survey was directed at contractors of domestic workers, with access and frequent use of the internet to answer the online questionnaire, which further narrowed the socioeconomic profile of the respondents.

Figure 1: Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the respondents to the questionnaire of the “Survey on the hiring of domestic employment during the Covid-19 pandemic”, between May 25th and June 6th, 2020. | Source: Online survey on hiring domestic workers during the Covid-19 pandemic

According to the answers to the question “Who is taking over the domestic work that was performed by this employee?[1]” the most frequent was “The tasks are being divided equally among the members of the household” corresponding to 32,3% of the cases (Graph 1). However, adding up the frequency of those who answered that “The tasks are being divided among the members of the household, but with an overload for the woman(s)” and “Mostly the Woman(s)”, 52% of the respondents stated that there is work overload of household chores in their homes for women. Therefore, in this context of the middle class with higher education or more, during the pandemic, women continue to be primarily responsible for household chores and care at home.

Graph 1: Who is taking over the domestic work that was performed by the worker who was on leave in full or in part, or fired, during social distancing, according to the responses of contractors to the questionnaire of the “Research on Hiring domestic employment during the coronavirus pandemic? Covid-19”, from May 25 to June 6, 2020 | Source: Online survey on hiring domestic workers during the Covid-19 pandemic

In order to analyze whether, during the pandemic, there was a more balanced division of tasks between the members of the couple, in this specific context, we used data from the Continuous National Household Sample Survey (PNADC), collected in a period prior to the pandemic, in 2019. PNADC asks residents the individual time dedicated to household chores and care. Thus, from this question, it is possible to calculate the total amount of domestic work done in each of the households and how much proportionally each resident took on this work. With these proportions in hand, we created categories for sharing household chores that were similar to those used in the Survey on Hiring Household Jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the calculated proportions, it was considered that the tasks were partially divided among the members of the household, but with an overload for the woman(s), when women were responsible for something between more than half and less than 80% of the tasks. domestic activities at home. The same applied for men. It was considered that tasks were mostly the responsibility of women or men when they were responsible for more than 80% of the domestic work done at home. Finally, we have the situation in which the tasks were divided equally between the members of the household, when proportionally each member of the couple assumes 50% of the total time devoted to household chores. It should be noted that this classification of equal division of tasks among household members is identical in both surveys.

Another recreation from the PNADC was of the same household arrangements identified in our research. The selected cases were couples without small children up to 14 years old, with or without another adult/elderly resident, and couples with children up to 14 years old, with or without another adult/elderly resident. As the survey on hiring domestic services was answered by a specific group from the sociodemographic and economic point of view, we selected in the PNADC only couples with higher education, with total household income above 5 minimum wages and who were between 30 and 69 years old . This is necessary so that the samples and, therefore, the results, are minimally comparable.

These are limitations found in this study, since only this particular group is analyzed. However, as the literature on the subject mentions, it is among high-income and highly educated couples that gender conflicts tend to be permeated by the participation of hired domestic workers. The participation of paid domestic service in the homes of these couples is one of the factors associated with the greater participation of women in the labor market. In this sense, the study becomes relevant for understanding this context, as it makes clear the need for support for families so that both men and women can have access to the labor market.

Recognizing, therefore, the potentialities as well as the limitations, we present in Graph 2 a comparison between the allocation of domestic work among family members before and during the pandemic, considering highly educated and middle-class couples in Brazil. First, we have the bars representing the allocation of housework to couples without young children, before and during the pandemic. In this group, before the pandemic, only in 21,5% of cases were household chores divided equally between the members of the couple. The most common was the situation in which there was some division of domestic tasks, but with an overload on women, which represented 39,3% of cases. And yet, in 23,3% of these arrangements, women mostly took on housework. In the pandemic, this distribution seems to have changed, according to data from the online survey, to the extent that the most common thing has become the equal division between the members of the couple, which represent 42,2% of cases. Thus, for middle-class couples with a high level of education and without small children, the division seems to have moved towards greater balance in part of the couples.

The following bars in Graph 2, in turn, deal specifically with couples with young children, up to 14 years old. For these couples, before the pandemic, in 43,9% of the cases, tasks were divided to some extent among household members, but with an overload for women. During the pandemic, this percentage was 40,2%, very close to what was before, and which remained the most common scenario. There was also little change in the “Mostly women” category, which went from 21,3% to 20,2% during the pandemic. Thus, among couples with children, the pandemic situation does not seem to have necessarily reduced the percentage of arrangements in which women are burdened. On the other hand, it is also necessary to recognize that the percentage among couples with children in which tasks were equally distributed was slightly higher among couples with children, 24,5% before the pandemic and reached 35,9% during the pandemic. The increase in the category “The tasks are being divided equally between the members of the household” for both types of couples was a consequence of the reduction in all other categories, however, the greatest reduction was among the categories in which the man dedicated himself more to the tasks. housework than women. Thus, these results suggest that the burden of domestic work remains greater for women, and in those households where they dedicated little time, the need to stay at home during the pandemic changed this distribution. But as there was also a reduction in the categories in which women took on more domestic tasks, although to a lesser extent, it can be inferred that in these cases men began to participate more.

Graph 2: Allocation of domestic and care work before (PnadC) and during the pandemic, in couples with or without children. | Sources: IBGE, Continuous PNAD 2019 and “Research on hiring domestic workers during the Covid-19 pandemic”

Although the more equal distribution of household chores has increased, this change has been more noticeable among couples without children than among couples with small children. The presence of children increases the amount of housework. In the context of the middle class, several schools have adopted distance learning, which requires adult participation the younger the child is. Therefore, although 35,9% of couples with children have been sharing tasks more equally, the level of mothers' housework has not necessarily decreased.

It is also necessary to recognize that for the analyzed group (middle class with high schooling) the probability of acting in the model of home office is high relative to the rest of the population, as the study already published in ONAS demonstrated. It is likely that many of these professionals will maintain this work model in the coming months. Thus, the couple's longer time at home, which leaves domestic work in evidence, combined with the absence of paid domestic service, should reinforce the need for a more equal division between household members for a longer period of time.

However, it is difficult to determine whether this more equal division of domestic tasks could be a trend or whether it will be restricted to this moment in which it has not been possible to keep domestic workers in the contractors' homes. As the anthropologist Débora Diniz recently highlighted “we all need care and we are learning about the jobs essential to collective life”.

In the current crisis of care, it is clear that an important step towards reducing women's domestic work hours is to involve men more in these activities, but there is also a need for policies to support women and protect people who become dedicate to care in society, whether inside or outside the home. This atypical moment should be used to rethink the way society is organized and how care is distributed, making it timely for a broad and profound debate on the forms of collectivization of family demands and State participation, with a view to reducing inequalities not only of gender, but also regional, racial, class and all their intersections.

*Jordana Cristina de Jesus & Luana Junqueira Dias Myrrha are professors at the Department of Demography and Actuarial Sciences (DDCA) at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN).

Originally published on the Graduate Program in Demography at UFRN 

Note

[1]This question was not answered by those who reported that the worker continued with his work activities normally. For this question we had 1.442 valid answers.

 

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