Time spent completing household chores was linked to lower well-being and decreased happiness during the COVID-19 pandemic
A recent study found that during the COVID-19 pandemic women, especially mothers, spent more time on tasks such as childcare and household chores than men. In turn, time spent completing household chores was linked to lower well-being and decreased happiness during the pandemic.
The authors of the study were Laura M. Giurgea, Ashley V. Whillansb, and Ayse Yemiscigilc. The findings of the study were published in the journal PNAS. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered how people spend time, with possible consequences for subjective well-being. Using diverse samples from the United States, Canada, Denmark, Brazil, and Spain (n = 31,141), following a preregistered analytic plan, and employing both mega- and meta-analyses, the researchers found consistent gender differences in time spent on necessities.
During the pandemic, women, especially mothers, spent more time on tasks such as childcare and household chores. To the extent that women spent more time on chores than men, they reported lower happiness.
These data represent one of the most rigorous investigations of gender differences in time use during the forced lockdowns created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and point toward individual differences that should be considered when designing policies now and post-COVID-19.
COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our lives. Organizational leaders and policymakers are responding to the crisis by introducing new policies such as allowing employees to work from home until 2022 and switching to a hybrid organizational structure where employees can work some days at the office and some days at home. However, these changes are being implemented with little robust empirical evidence regarding the nature and magnitude of the disruptions that people have been experiencing in their daily lives.
Most research so far has been devoted to how the pandemic has altered employee productivity. A survey of 4,535 principal investigators revealed that female scientists with young children living at home experienced a decline in time spent on research.
Analyzing patterns in technology use from over 3 million users, DeFilippis et al found that time spent in meetings decreased while the average workday expanded, with more time spent answering emails.
As this research suggests, COVID-19 has transformed how people spend their time. Yet, no empirical research has examined time use beyond productivity. In this paper, the authors sought to understand how different groups of people across countries spent their time during the pandemic. They also examined whether any observed time-use differences predict differences in subjective well-being (SWB)
SWB refers to a person’s global evaluation of how happy they are and includes both a cognitive (i.e., assessments of one’s life quality) and an emotional component (i.e., high positive affect, low negative affect).
Recent research has started to investigate the relationship between time use and happiness and how this relationship depends on factors such as wealth and other demographic characteristics.
Spending time on active leisure activities such as socializing or exercising can promote happiness. However, certain groups in society, primarily low-income women, tend to spend most of their time on necessities (for example household chores and caretaking responsibilities), leaving them “time-poor” and with little time for leisure activities.
COVID-19 provides a unique opportunity to study differences in time use and SWB for two primary reasons. First, recent estimates from the Gallup organization suggested that the average number of days that people around the world have worked from home has more than doubled during the pandemic as compared with autumn 2019.
This has likely resulted in many households having both household members working from home which should, in theory, equalize or at least reduce the gender gap in time spent on necessities between mothers and fathers. Second, recent estimates suggested that in the United States alone the daily commute has saved working adults 89 million h each week since the pandemic started.
Reduced commutes could also leave people with more time to engage in leisure activities. Thus, we might expect individuals to engage in more (vs. less) active leisure and to exhibit greater self-reported happiness as a result of this increase in leisure activities.
To explore the question of how people are spending their time, and whether and how time use is shaping SWB during COVID-19, the researchers implemented nine surveys between mid-March and mid-June 2020, including nationally representative surveys of respondents living in the United States (n = 441) and Canada (n = 840), working parents living in the United States (n = 401), public sector workers living in Spain (n = 975), employed adults working from home in the United States (n = 1,518), Brazil (n = 21,874), and globally (n = 935), college students from Denmark (n = 3,233), and college students primarily studying in the United States (n = 924).
The researchers surveyed the US student sample again after one month. The researchers measured SWB across all samples by asking respondents to rate their overall life satisfaction.
Respondents also reported how much time they allocated to various activities on a typical day during the pandemic. The primary time-use outcomes included necessities, overall leisure, and work hours. Time spent on necessities was typically a composite measure of household chores and taking care of others/family time. Overall leisure was a composite of active (for example exercising) and passive leisure (for example watching TV).
Time spent working as a composite of time spent working for pay or studying (in student samples).
The researchers first examined how time use varied by sociodemographic groups (for example income, education, parental status, and relationship status or household size). Then, they looked at how SWB differed by sociodemographic group. Although they examined various sociodemographic groups as per our preregistration, the most reliable results we observed were differences in time use by gender and differences in time use by gender and parental status. They, therefore, focus on these comparisons.
Based on the analysis, researchers found that women spent more time on necessities compared to men. More specifically, women spent more time on household chores and caretaking tasks during COVID-19.
These gender differences were stronger for parents. In a subsample of working adults (n = 24,327), the researchers also measured respondents’ time use in a typical day prior to the pandemic.
Exploratory analysis indicated a significant increase in time spent on necessities for women, and especially for mothers. Given that these are retrospective measures, more research is needed to explore whether there were fundamental shifts in the number of hours women spent on necessities.