A nudge for your partner to do more at home!

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As every year, we are about to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March. It’s a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women—but also a day to draw attention to long-standing gender inequalities that we must all work together to end.

One large gap between women and men relates to the time they devote to unpaid work. Did you know that before the pandemic, women spent on average 4 hours and 25 minutes every day cooking, cleaning, caring and shopping—compared to just 2 hours and 15 minutes for men—according to the latest OECD statistics based on time-use surveys? During the pandemic, school and childcare centre closures have increased the amount of unpaid work for families, and in many cases it is again the women who are taking on the largest part of it.

See statistics on employment and much more on OECD.Stat

See statistics on employment and much more on OECD.Stat

If you think you spend too much time doing housework tasks at home compared to your partner, this article is for you. If you think you spend too little time doing these tasks at home compared to your partner, this text is for you, too!

Let’s do an experiment together. I’m going to start with a question for you, but first please get a pen and a piece of paper…

So: what percentage of housework do you think you generally do at home, and how much do you think your partner does? (By housework, I mean cooking, cleaning, caring for family members, travel related to household activities, shopping, the mental work of planning for the family and other routine housework.) Write down these two figures, which should add up to 100%.

Are you done? If yes, you can proceed.

Without sharing your results, ask your partner the same question: what percentage of housework do they estimate you both do? Write them down.

Do they match? Are they very different? I must confess that in our family, my partner’s and mine did not match. 

To get a sense of who was closer to reality, I asked our two teenagers, who are still living at home, the same question: “Kids, who does more at home: Maman or Papa?”

Their answer made me realise that my partner probably was…

The good news is that, since then, I understood that I could and should do more at home. And I did! Well again, that’s my perception, but I just consulted my partner and she confirmed that I had indeed done significantly more at home in the last few weeks.

This short intra-household experiment can be a real “nudge” for your partner (or you!) to share housework tasks more equally at home. Researchers call it the “Hawthorne effect”, referring to a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behaviour in response to their awareness of being observed. Keep also in mind that researchers find that couples who share home tasks more equally are more stable couples.

(A “Nudge” is a small intervention that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way, without eliminating any options nor significantly changing economic incentives—as defined by Thaler & Sunstein’s 2008 best seller “Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness”.)

I believe that nudges have the power to change behaviour throughout the life cycle. The French BVA Nudge Unit presents several examples of such “gender equity” nudges, including a recent campaign in Hungary Hygiene Has No Gender at primary school; colleges in the United States encouraging women choosing economics as their major at university; and at work with a French company encouraging the recruitment of more men in the Human Resources department. For more on gender equity nudges, I invite you to listen to expert Iris Bohnet’s podcast A Nudge for Equality, based on her best-selling book “What Works: Gender Equality by Design”. And for more general case studies showing the application of behavioural insights to public policy around the world, see the 2017 OECD Nudge report.

I also believe in the power of numbers: a number is sometimes worth a thousand words. At the OECD, statistics are the raw material of the Organisation. They help us define, observe and better understand our economies and societies; they are essential to design better policies for better lives. You can find a wide range of gender-related data on education, employment, entrepreneurship and more via our OECD gender data portal.

And please feel free to share this nudge with your female and male friends, and let us know how your experiments go!

Visit the OECD Gender Portal

Visit the OECD Gender Portal

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Gender Equality

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Maxime LADAIQUE

Manager of Statistical Resources, OECD Social Policy Division

I work on data management, analysis and dissemination for various labour market and social policy projects, including income distribution and poverty, social protection, ageing, disability, housing or gender equality and family policies.