The Secret Tax on Women’s Time | Time Magazine


“So you’re saying that there’s nothing outside of money, or time, that will make anything better?”

A mother of three from the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Edenvale, located northeast of Downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, paused and then answered: “Yes.”

This exchange is the essence of conversations one of us (Lindsay B. Howe), and her colleagues Alexandra Parker and Margot Rubin held with women in South Africa over the past several years. Across upper-middle class neighborhoods, working-class neighborhoods, and informal settlements, women wanted either more time or more money to manage household burdens in service of increasing control over their own time and personhood.

When studies revealed the so-called pink tax, showing in 2015 that personal hygiene products “for her” cost 13% more than similar products for men, it caused outrage and action. The irony that women, despite generally having fewer financial resources than men, are charged more for everyday goods and services even spurred French policymakers in 2014 to investigate this “secret tax” targeting women, and U.S. Congress in 2016 to introduce a “Pink Tax Repeal Act” prohibiting gender-based pricing discrimination.

But, as interviews and studies across the world reveal, there is also an unaddressed pink tax on women’s time: A global epidemic of women lacking time to conduct the activities of their everyday lives that men simply do not experience. Though a lack of time can be just as important for women’s well-being as a lack of financial resources, losses of time often go overlooked. To pursue a more gender-equal future, we need to expand the notion of the pink tax to consider time as another vital resource in which women face inequalities.

Why women have less time than men

Women have less objective time than men: more things to do and fewer minutes in which do them. Men have on average 5 hours more of leisure time per week than women—equivalent to 260 hours, or 10.8 full 24-hour days, each year. Why is there this time inequality?

At home, childcare and chores devour women’s time. In interviews with working mothers in informal settlements in Kibera, Kenya, one lamented: “I have so much to do at home and I still have to go to work.” In data collected in rural Uganda, when asked whether men spend more time doing things they enjoy than women, another interviewee said: “Women don’t have a choice. It’s mandatory for them to do these things. A man can go to the garden and then go bathe and go drinking, and they don’t have other responsibilities.”

At work, women–even those who have the security of steady employment–face further unequal time demands. Women are more often asked and expected to take on “office housework”: necessary but non-promotable tasks such as taking notes, helping new hires get up to speed, bringing in cake for colleagues, or getting coffees for the office. Aligned with gender-based stereotypes, one study found that women volunteer up to 50% more than men for these tasks. Women are also less likely to delegate tasks to other employees than men, in part because they feel more guilt about potentially burdening their employees. Finally, women negotiate for time on their work tasks at a lower rate than men—in one study, men were more than twice as likely as women to request an extension when their deadline was adjustable—perpetuating this time poverty trap further.

The full article is available at Time Magazine.