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The Nudge for Balancing Unpaid Work

Women’s month is a time not only for celebration and honoring the important part that women play at home, at work, and for society in general.

The Woman Post | Catalina Mejía

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It is also a month to work towards gender equality and to rethink our mental models that usually place a higher burden on women in terms of unpaid work at households.

As reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) one gap between men and women is related to the amount of time that they spend on unpaid work. For instance, before the COVID 19 pandemic women spent approximately 4 hours and 25 minutes every day in household activities such as cooking, shopping, and caring for children, whilst men spent 2 hours and 15 minutes. However, the pandemic made this gap even more visible since school closures increased the amount of time that families had to spend on unpaid work. In various cases, women were the ones that had to deal with all of the extra work.

Maxime Ladaique,  manager of statistical resources for the OECD Social Policy Division, invites men as well as women, to ask themselves how much time they devote to unpaid work and to ask their partner to do this same exercise and to write down their answers which should add up to 100%. It is important not to share your answer with your partner before he/she answers the question as well. Ladaique refers to this household experiment as a “Nudge,” which is basically a small intervention that modifies people’s behavior without altering the economic incentives or eliminating options.  Performing this mental exercise can potentially alter your behavior or your partners’ to balance the amount of unpaid work that is done at home. 

Also read: VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN SHOULD BE PROPERLY NAMED

The changes that can take place with this exercise are explained by the Hawthorne Effect, which is a reaction that results when people alter their behavior as a result of feeling closely observed. It is worth mentioning that a study by Ogolsky found that when both persons in a couple have the belief that the household chores should be equally divided,  they are much happier than those couples that have different beliefs about equity. Ogolsky also claims that couples will do better if they communicate on the division of labor to find mutual ground.  A study by Bellani and colleagues found that in the United States the deviation from equity is particularly destabilizing when the wife under benefits, and when both partners’ paid work hours are similar. The same study in West Germany found that equity is less salient and the male breadwinner model remains the most popular. 

However, it is important to note that research has concluded that conjugal equity does have effects on the quality of marriage. Hatfield and colleagues have found that empirical evidence shows that when individuals perceive that the relationship is inequitable, they experience a decrease in marital quality.  Now, what are you waiting for performing the nudge experiment at home?