Where are We in Closing the Gender Gaps in Time Use?

By Man-yee Kan and Muzhi Zhou

Do women and men spend time in the same way? The answer is a clear No. Across the globe, women do more unpaid domestic work than men, and men spend more time on paid work. There has been little change in the gender gaps in time use over the years. Advocacy for gender equality has lost momentum for this use of time as a political agenda.

Yet, other changes have happened. In most industrialized societies, the percentage of women with a college education has exceeded that of men. Mothers with children are no longer expected to stay at home. Women still shoulder most of the domestic work but does that imply that they work longer total work time than men when we consider both paid work and unpaid domestic work?

We know more about time use in Western than East Asian societies. Sometimes, it is assumed that gender inequality is higher in these East Asian societies because of the emphasis on traditional family ties and the prevalence of men working long hours. We wanted to know if this the case. We wanted to know if the patterns and trends of gendered time use is very different in East Asian societies compared with European and Anglophone countries.

In our recent article published in Gender & Society, we seek to answer these questions by using diary data from both western industrialized societies and East Asian societies: Beijing, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. And we looked at data from the past three decades.

There are both differences and similarities between Western and East Asian societies.  There is overwhelming evidence of stalled progress in both Western and East Asian societies. In particular, in Japan, Korea, and Southern European countries, the gender gaps in paid work and domestic work are large. The trend toward closing these gender gaps has been extremely slow in Japan and Korea and has stalled in Southern European countries. In Beijing, Taiwan, and countries like the US and the UK, the gender gaps in paid work and unpaid work time are relatively small and these differences have stopped closing in the most recent decade. Still, women have longer total work time than men across both East Asian and Western societies.

Our findings indicate that policies dependent on family ties and the expectation for women’s providing unpaid caregiving hinders progress toward gender equality. The implications of our research are that we must design policies more carefully to tackle the social norms that presume women responsible for domestic and caring responsibilities because those norms impede progress toward gender equality in the division of labour at work and at home.

Man-yee Kan is an Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Oxford. Her research interests include gender inequalities in the family and the labor market, time use research, ethnicity, and migration. She has been awarded a European Research Council Consolidator Grant (2018–2024) for the project GenTime, which investigates gender inequalities in time use in East Asian and Western societies.

Muzhi Zhou is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford and an incoming Assistant Professor at the Urban Governance and Design Thrust, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou). She studies how critical life events, such as marriage or childbirth, reshape people’s lives in Europe and East Asia, family formation patterns, and how children spend their time and its implications.

In the Name of Equality? Are Finnish Relationship Enhancement Seminars Post-feminist?

By Marjo Kolehmainen

Introduction: Behind the scenes of the Nordic ideals

Finland is one of the Nordic welfare states which rank highly in international equality measures. Finland is often considered to be exceptionally democratic and a trailblazer in gender equality and sexual rights.  Still, it has proved challenging even here to tackle gender inequality in intimate relationships. While equality may be supported in general,  people can still oppose having more equal personal relationships. One way this may be seen is that they insist that relationship conflicts are caused only by individual differences between partners and ignore cultural norms regarding gender or sexuality.

Relationship and sex counseling seminars are a place that can influence intimate practices. To learn more about how relationship counseling reinforces or challenges popularized beliefs about gender and sexuality, I attended relationship enhancement seminars in Finland.  As might be expected, both professional therapists and counselors as well as lay experts at these event all supported gender equality and sexual rights. Yet there was no consensus regarding what a good relationship actually looks like. These seminars are instead a site where what gender equality in practice means is contested. Diverse views on gender and sexuality mesh, and sometimes clash.

My research suggests these seminars are full of ambivalence about gender equality. The  showcasing of support for gender equality or sexual rights actually shows  very little about how counseling practices advance equality, or not. In my article, published in Gender & Society, I identify several contradictory patterns. First, some experts believe that equality has gone too far. Second, many experts critique inequality verbally yet remain invested in depoliticizing views about gender in relationships. Third, some experts embrace diversity and expand everyday understandings of gender and sexuality. My findings complicate the belief that Nordic countries are always supportive of gender equality in personal relationships.

Findings: Contradictory patterns

The first pattern is when gender equality is framed not only as having been achieved but also as having “gone too far.” Equality is not seen as a goal to strive toward, but is rather located in the past.  Women are claimed to be the new dominant gender. For instance, the experts claim  “men have become too nice”  or “men have no balls anymore,” or they “should man up.” Here, men are portrayed as victims or an oppressed group. These claims conceal contemporary gender inequality and belittle women’s experiences of gendered injustices.

The second pattern involves token critiques of inequality that seem to support gender equality and LGBTIQ+ rights, but do not challenge the status quo. The ideal of equality becomes clearly visible when experts demonstrate that they are aware of the dangers of making generalizations from heterosexual experiences. They justify their exclusive focus on intimate relationships between a man and a woman because it is “familiar” to them. Or they acknowledge same-sex but such statements remain tokenistic since that they do not addressthe obstacles and discrimination same-sex couples still face.

The third pattern contains acts of resistance. There were events in which diversity is welcomed and experts resist prevailing notions about gender and sexuality. While it is fairly typical for speakers to mention rainbow couples in passing, these events provide occasions for acknowledging “different options, for instance, asexual, pansexual, polyamorous” or for hoping that gendered norms “would not narrow one’s understanding of oneself or other people.” In other words, here, equality is understood more broadly than as gender equality between women and men or basic LGBTIQ+ rights. Moreover, equality is not rendered as something already achieved but as something to fight for.

Concluding remarks: A postfeminist sensibility

In my research, I conclude that these three different approaches to gender equality constitute a postfeminist sensibility. While the term postfeminism is often used to suggest a backlash against feminism, I define the simultaneous coexistence of feminist and anti-feminist elements as postfeminist. These three patterns together illustrate a postfeminist sensibility in which contrary positions toward feminism coexist. My findings complicate the idea that Nordic countries are straightforwardly progressive.

Marjo Kolehmainen is a postdoctoral researcher in gender studies at Tampere University, Finland. Her current work concerns digital intimacies, especially the diverse practices of teletherapy in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find her on Twitter, @MarjoKolehmain.

Who Pulls the Purse Strings in Couple Relationships? Divergent Gender Revolutions

By Dr. Yang Hu

Who Pulls the Purse Strings—Why Does it Matter?

How partners manage their money is a key part of everyday family life. Money management illustrates the checks and balances of power that are crucial to understanding couple relationships. As financial management provides essential access to money in the household, gender inequalities in household financial management can lead to inequalities in partners’ living standards, health, and well-being. A few recent studies have also shown that gendered dynamics of partners’ money management also matter for relationship satisfaction.

The uneven pace of the gender revolution between the public and domestic spheres presents a major puzzle for understanding how gender equality at work translates into gender equality at home. Household financial management is an important, but often overlooked, link in this translation. In my previous research, for example, I have found that women were only able to translate their earnings into a reduction in their housework time when they participate in or control financial management in the household.

Context: Changing Couplehood and the Gender Revolution

Over the past decades, couple relationships have evolved as has the gender revolution. Popular media and scholars alike have predicted a decline in partners’ material interdependence and an “individualization” of couple relationships, as women’s labor force participation and economic status increases. However, it is less clear whether the “individualization” of couplehood is also reflected in how partners manage their money. Has the gender revolution given women greater power in household finances? As couples have different economic options, it is important to explore whether and how trends of household financial management differ between low- and high-earning women and couples.

The Research

In my paper, published in Gender & Society, I have analyzed data from 11,730 heterosexual couples from a nationally representative sample of the UK population. I have examined changes in financial management for cohorts of couples born between the 1920s and 1990s.

My findings show that the gender revolution in who pulls the purse strings has followed divergent paths. Over time, low- and high-earning women have come to take more control of the finances in their relationships, but in different ways.

As high-earning women develop a sense of autonomy from their earnings and can afford the transaction costs associated with keeping separate purses, their empowerment in household finances is primarily characterized by a trend of “individualization,” as reflected in a decrease in joint financial management and an increase in independent management, such as separate bank accounts. Further, the trend of “individualization” is primarily found among men and women with about equal individual income: the decline of joint financial management is particularly prominent among women with equally high earnings as their male partners.

Women with low earnings have seen more subtle changes. More recent groups of low-earning women now keep their own spending money rather than receive a housekeeping allowance, which gives them more freedom of choice on how the money is spent.

Changes have also taken place for men. More recently, men have become less likely to adopt a “back-seat” management of the finances, where they give their partners a housekeeping allowance to manage the delegated and onerous chore of making the money stretch to cover daily expenses. Rather, men have stepped up to share the chore of everyday money management. Taken together, these trends show a subtle relaxation of male control over household finances for women with low earnings.

Implications of the Findings

My findings lead to some room for optimism. I found progress toward, but not yet full achievement of, gender equality in how couples manage their money. The tale of two (divergent) gender revolutions by social class underlines the importance of an intersectional lens on gender equality in couples.

While some sociologists have long argued that modern couple relationships increasingly incorporate the ideals of equality and individual autonomy, how these ideals are achieved differs considerably between low- and high-earning women and couples. My findings draw attention to the role played by material conditions in shaping the way gender equality is achieved in couples’ money management. I show that (income) equality between high-earning partners is at the core of the “individualization” of couple relationships.

Yang Hu(Twitter: @dr_yanghu) is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Lancaster University, UK. His research focuses on changing gender and work-family relations and their intersections with population mobility in a global context.