Illuminating Gender Inequality With Data: Our Year Exploring the Problem

Elephant and women with a peashooter

ThirdShift uses data to make gender inequality in the home more visible, so we can fix it. This blog explores what the problem looks like in 2021, and how it is affecting us all. 

It should not come as a surprise in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis described as a “she-cession”, that gender inequality remains a persistent problem. Just over a year ago, I read Invisible Women. What struck me most was that despite living in a world where data is increasing so fast that 90% of all data in existence was created in the last 2 years, far too little of this data shows women’s experience. Not enough data exist to show the causes and effects of so many parts of life that disadvantage women. This data gap obscures the problem and prevents us from understanding how to solve it. 

And strides toward gender equality have slowed to a crawl. 

Inequalities between men and women impact women’s relationships, health and wellbeing, careers, potential earnings, physical safety and future security. Many of these inequalities start in the home. But too much of this is invisible. 

We see a data gap as an opportunity. By filling it, we can understand the causes of gender inequality, and create practical solutions to address them. After a year spent immersed in the problem and testing potential solutions, it’s time to share what I’ve learned. 

“Once we can see the problem, we can find the threads we can pull on to try and solve it.”

This blog aims to start a conversation, starting with the most interesting insights we’ve collected in the past year.     Heard that we’re on the right track with solving gender inequality? Think again. 

Here’s the problem we’re dealing with.      

1. Women in the UK do 2 hours more unpaid work than men every day

There is a gendered unpaid work gap in every country in the world. The best performer globally is Sweden, where deliberate public policy interventions have created more gender equality in the workplace and the home, including world-leading parental leave entitlements. Even Sweden has an unpaid work gap – women do 49 minutes more unpaid work per day than men. In today’s world, that’s the best women can get.      

That was before the pandemic started. Research over the past year has shown this workload gap is widening in alarming ways – both men and women are taking on more, but the gap persists, leaving women with overwhelmingly high workloads, and forcing many out of paid work entirely.

2. Women earn 83 pence for each £1 that men earn

Again, that was before the pandemic robbed households of the childcare and other support services that made it possible for two working parents to earn and live. 81% of employed mothers say they need childcare to work but 51% don’t currently have the childcare available to enable them to work. Of the women who have been made redundant, 46% say that lack of childcare was a factor. Reports published in 2020 noted that women in their thirties will never see pay equality in their working lives. This gap is widening.

The pandemic response has also largely ignored women, and certainly failed to recognise the ways in which gender “equality” does not equal “equity”. The British government continues to tell us that parents have a right to ask to be furloughed for childcare reasons. Data shows 71% of women who asked for furlough for childcare reasons were denied it by their employer. There is still no option for “shared furlough” that might allow both parents to reduce their work hours so that childcare and home schooling can be shared on a more equal basis. 

In the US in December 2020, there were 140,000 net job losses in the economy – 100% of those job losses were women (disproportionately black and Latina women). This problem is a full-blown crisis, we just haven’t seen the full impact of it yet. We will.

3. By the time a couple’s first child is 10 years old, the mother will be earning 50% of what she did before having children, while the father’s earnings are unaffected.

The reason for this fact is rooted in the two points above. Women’s household and care workloads – that increase by over 500% when children enter the picture – are preventing their participation in the workforce on equal terms with their male partners. 

Some of this is down to existing pay gaps – men earn more than their partner in around 70% of households (see fact 2). So when it comes to having children, it “makes sense” that the person who earns less is the one to give up their job. Except that it doesn’t if you look beyond the 1-2 years at the beginning of a child’s life and factor in the long term impact on that person’s earnings, pension savings and career opportunity in terms of overall household earning potential. More on this in future posts.

Where ThirdShift comes in      

Our approach to this problem is simple – we make an invisible (and highly complex) problem visible, so that it can be solved. Our starting point is to use data, tools and research to document gender inequality in the home, and the factors that shape it. Once we can see the problem, we can find the threads we can pull on to try and solve it. We’ll cover more on potential solutions in later posts, so stay tuned.

Our goal is to find or create practical solutions that allow individuals and families to create their own equality at a household level – for good, and in a way that’s right for them. Someone recently described this problem as a twist on the classic elephant analogy (How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!) Except in this case, we’re trying to kill the elephant, and we only have a pea shooter and a limited number of peas. So where do we aim? The elephant is huge, growing and it’s thrilled that we want to take a shot at it. We can’t even see all of it yet. How many shots can we take? Not an infinite number – we are only a small team with time and resource constraints. The more people standing with us with their own peashooters, the better the odds that we can bring down the elephant – so we need all the help we can get!

Join Us Now: Be part of the solution

We will be updating our blog with our insights regularly, as well as talking about different solution ideas we’ve tested or considered and to try and solve the data gap and gender inequality. If you’d like to start by getting a picture of the distribution of work in your home, try our Household Balance Calculator to get a quick snapshot. Understanding the problem is the first step towards solving it.

If you’re interested in this issue, join our mailing list and we’ll keep you up to date. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, where we’re keen to hear your ideas and reactions to the problem and how we can find a better way.

If you enjoyed reading this, please share with someone you think would too. 

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.