The U.S. economic expansion, soon to be the longest on record, has tightened the labor market. But as wage growth has accelerated for some and the unemployment rate sits near a five-decade low, differences in how people work and spend the rest of their time reflect persistent inequality.
Women still earn less than men while spending more time doing housework. And labor market participation isn’t equal: those making more money also end up with more time for personal development activities such as reading, bolstering the kinds of skills that get them even further ahead.
These and other takeaways from the Labor Department’s annual time use survey, which tracks what the population does in their working and leisure hours — all of which have implications for productivity, wages, and the broader economy. The report was released on June 19.
One reason used to explain gender pay differences is that women tend to take on more housework and child care duties than men. The latest data showed this trend only deepening. Women spend three times more on housework per day than men, about an hour and a half. Men have stepped up in the past decade and are increasingly preparing food and cleaning up afterward, but so are women, who spend double the time on those tasks.
Women have reached a milestone that may hasten the narrowing of the pay gap. As of the first quarter, 29.5 million women in the labor force held at least a bachelor’s degree, outpacing the number of college-educated men for the first time, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. It could translate — ultimately — into higher earnings.
Child care duties
Differences in caring for kids can reshape career trajectories, as research shows having a child may act as a roadblock to promotions and wage increases for women. In America, women still overwhelmingly take on the child care duties, allocating more than twice the hours as men when kids are under 6. The dynamic doesn’t change as a child grows, and has deepened in the past decade as fathers spend slightly less time and mothers pick up time with their kids in the 6-to-12 age group.
Women are working increased hours, despite bearing a heavier load at home as well. They’re still working fewer hours per day than men, on average, although that difference has narrowed, even over the past year. It’s a trend observed in other parts of the labor market, as prime age working women’s participation rate has trended up during the past four years of the U.S. economic expansion. As companies struggle to find skilled workers, some have offered more flexible working arrangements to attract parents who also care for children.
Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly seems to buy time to get healthy. Americans in the top 75% of earners spend about 30 minutes per day exercising or playing sports and 20 minutes reading, both almost double the bottom one-quarter of wage-earners. By contrast, those in the lower income group spend more time watching TV — 2.2 hours a day, compared with just under two hours for higher-income peers — and playing video games or on the computer. There are, of course, caveats: some in the lower-wage category could include students or young people still living with their family.
There are also differences in leisure activities between genders, with men indicating they have more time to simply kick back.