17 May 2021

If men picked up a little more of the unpaid work at home, including housework and caring for family, it could lead to a $1.5 billion boost to the economy, new research commissioned by Westpac shows.

The Sharing the Load report confirms women spend substantially more time caring for family and doing housework than men. In fact, just 7% of couples who worked identical hours split the load at home equally, with men in those couples saying they did 19 hours of unpaid work a week, while women said they did 28 hours.

The report, authored by Deloitte, is based on a comprehensive survey of more than 2,400 New Zealanders.

But, men and women both expressed an appetite for change. Men estimated they did 43% of the unpaid work at home, on average, but wanted to lift that to 46%. Women said they did 69% of the unpaid work, but on average wanted to do 62%. Men also wanted to cut back their paid hours while women wanted to increase theirs.

“It begins when a baby is born,” Westpac NZ chief executive David McLean said, explaining how the gender pay gap will be difficult to close if society continues to expect women to carry the bulk of duties at home.

“The existing “primary-care-giver” parental leave model invariably results in mothers carrying the domestic load at home while partners return to work. While there are some benefits, one of the side effects is that women typically end up in worse financial situations. A routine becomes established and can be difficult to shake.

“At Westpac, we want to work with others to find solutions that work for individuals, families and the long-term productivity of the country,” McLean said.

The report’s economic modelling shows there could be a $1.5 billion boost to the economy if men picked up a little more of the unpaid work at home, enabling more women to extend their hours in paid work. This would increase labour supply, help to address skill shortages and give the economy a long-term boost.

The report also finds that such a shift could also help close New Zealand’s gender pay gap over time and improve financial wellbeing for women.

The survey finds the biggest barriers for couples wanting to move to greater sharing of the load at home is prioritising household income and the cost of childcare.

Being able to work from home was identified by 44% of survey participants as the main factor that would allow them to take on more paid work. Flexible working arrangements more generally was cited as the next most important factor, at 42%.

The report also finds that normalising flexible work would help to encourage its uptake, especially by men and those in senior roles.

“We’ve been looking at the ways individuals, businesses and governments are tackling this around the world. It’s the Scandinavian countries that are leading the way in flexible working models and encouraging an equal split of parental and domestic responsibilities. In Sweden, mothers and fathers have a portion of leave they can share with their partner as they like and another quota that they need to use themselves or lose,” McLean said.

“In New Zealand, this might seem like a big step to take but as an employer we know that changing how we operate is key to making it easier for families to make changes in their lives. Businesses need to make workplaces more flexible, which will enable employees to divide their family time more evenly,” he said.

The report also looks at how working from home during the COVID-19 Level 4 national lockdown in 2020 affected the way couples shared the load.

Men reported doing more unpaid work around home during this period, while women did a higher-than-normal proportion of the paid work within the couple.

“The COVID-19 lockdowns opened our eyes to what sharing the load means for every one of us. For families they were particularly disruptive, but they also provided the blueprint for change.”

McLean said the survey was representative across all regions and incomes, and included people of all sexualities and genders.

“The analysis focuses on heterosexual couples. That’s primarily due to the size of the data set. It’s also well-documented that gender plays a strong role in how the load at home is shared in couples made up of a man and woman,” he said.

As a result of the study, Westpac NZ is reviewing how it can better empower employees to share the load, and will announce changes in 2021, McLean said.

“This research gives us the insight we need to conjure solutions as a country, and within our own organisation. Flexibility is a permanent part of the work options we have at Westpac. Now, we’re looking at ways we can promote more balance and wellbeing for our employees and their families,” he said.


Key survey results

  • 73% of all respondents thought if both partners in a couple worked, they should share the load at home equally. However, in a typical week, only 7% of couples who both worked the same number of hours shared the load equally.
  • In couples working equal hours, men estimated they did 19 hours of unpaid work at home while women estimated they did 28 hours.
  • Men estimated they did 43% of the unpaid work at home, on average, but wanted to lift that to 46%.
  • Women said they did 69% of the unpaid work, but would prefer, on average, to do 62%.
  • On average, women said they wanted to do 6% more of the paid work and 7% less of the unpaid work, while men said they wanted to do 5% less of the paid work and 3% more of the unpaid work.


Key report findings

  • The report’s economic modelling shows sharing the load more equally and the associated gain in paid work hours could grow New Zealand’s economy by $1.5 billion on average every year, representing approximately 0.5% of New Zealand’s current GDP.
  • The report finds that four things can be done to improve the way domestic responsibilities are shared:
  1. Normalising flexible work – including for men and those in senior roles – to incentivise its uptake.
  2. Businesses and Government can better empower fathers to take parental leave.
  3. Addressing the unaffordability of childcare will help families to split the load at home more evenly.
  4. Challenging traditional gender norms will enable people to break free of the unspoken social constructs that guide the way the load is currently shared.