How outsourcing housework has been proven to create more gender equality at home

Outsourcing household Services image showing deliveries, groceries, a dogwalker, gardener, and food delivery

A few years ago, I saw Miriam González Durántez, a successful international trade lawyer, speak at a Stylist event in London. During the Q&A someone asked her how she managed the challenges of having a career, children, and supporting her partner at the same time. Her partner was the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats. In her answer about how she managed to “have it all”, she emphasised that it was a myth that you can do it alone, and that we shouldn’t expect to. They had a staff to help them manage the household and childcare, and even with a lot of help, it was still really hard. It was refreshing to see someone talking so openly about outsourcing housework and care work as the solution to having two successful careers within a family – and it’s something we should start normalising.

This post looks at the proven social, economic and personal benefits of outsourcing housework, and why it is a proven solution at both a household and societal level to creating more gender equality.

The Swedish scheme that created 30,000 jobs, increased equality, and was cost neutral to taxpayers

In 2007 Sweden introduced the domestic work subsidy (RUT) to reduce the cost to consumers of household and care services. Each adult is eligible for around EUR 2,500 in domestic services – household cleaners, laundry, childcare and other help. The subsidies are applied at the point of payment, so households have easy access low-cost services. One of the original goals of the scheme was to improve workplace gender equality because despite a range of paid parental leave policy interventions, women continued to do too much at home. This scheme proved effective in delivering benefits including:

  • Increased acceptability of outsourcing domestic work
  • 30,000 new jobs (out of which 23,000 people were previously unemployed)
  • A new market for businesses
  • Cost neutral to taxpayers – every euro spent on the scheme was returned in the form of additional tax revenue from workers and businesses.

The Belgian Service Voucher Scheme that increased women’s employment & autonomy of the elderly

In Belgium, a voucher scheme was introduced in 2004, which subsidises up to 70% of the cost of household services. Every household can purchase up to 1000 vouchers per year to pay for subsidised household services. Single parents and people with disabilities are entitled to 2000 vouchers per year. The scheme has been highly successful in delivering social and economic benefits.

The economic benefits:

  • Increasing business opportunities and demand for household services
  • More employment opportunities for low skilled workers
  • Converting more informal economic activities into formal activities, increasing the tax base and providing better benefits and protections to workers
  • Improving fraud detection within the tax system
  • Increased female employment

The social Benefits:

  • Increased autonomy of the elderly
  • Increased work-life balance for families
  • Reducing inequalities between men and women’s share of housework

Does outsourcing housework help?

When women started entering the workforce en masse in the seventies and eighties, men took on more of the unpaid work at home. Unfortunately we never got close to an equal share. Despite women working longer paid hours and increasingly participating the workforce at similar rates to men, men haven’t picked up enough of the house and care work to get anywhere near equality. Women still do more childcare and housework than men in every country in the world.

Academics and researchers have been trying to find effective solutions to more gender balance at work and at home. Academics like Dr Pia Schober, Dr Liat Raz-Yurovich and Ive Marx have demonstrated with their research that the impact of increased outsourcing of housework can be immediate and effective in reducing women’s workloads to more manageable levels, enabling them to work.

What can we do if we don’t live in Belgium or Sweden?

It’s difficult to understand why every country in the world hasn’t attempted to implement similar schemes to Belgium or Sweden. They are proven to shift societal attitudes to housework, support more equitable outcomes at home and at work, and are cost neutral to taxpayers, creating jobs and stimulating business opportunity.

At a household level, starting to shift how we handle our workload is a step in the same direction. To find out where you can start in your home, take the multiplayer Housework Preferences Quiz that shows where you can start to outsource the tasks you and your partner really don’t like doing.

Ready to start creating equality in your home?

Knowledge is power – the first step to solving the problem is understanding it. Take the ThirdShift Quiz to start understanding what your work is worth.