Almost half of women provide unpaid care every day

Caring is 'vital but largely invisible'
  • Deborah Condon

Almost half of women in Ireland and over one-quarter of men provide unpaid care for others on a daily basis, a new report has revealed.

According to the findings, the majority (55%) of those providing unpaid care on a daily basis are also in employment.

The report, Caring and Unpaid Work in Ireland, has been published by the Irish Human Rights and Quality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

It looked at Irish data that had been collected over more than a decade, in order to investigate involvement in unpaid work in the areas of childcare, care of older adults, care of those with a disability, and housework.

It revealed that 45% of women and 29% of men provide care for others on a daily basis, with adults spending an average of 16 hours per week on caring and 14.5 hours on housework.

The time spent on caring and housework combined is the third highest in the EU. According to the researchers, this reflects the relatively low level of involvement the State has when it comes to supporting carers, and puts Ireland more in line with southern and eastern European countries, rather than Scandinavian and western EU members.

The report also highlighted a ‘significant and persistent imbalance' between men and women when it comes to unpaid work and caring. It found that women spend, on average, double the amount of time men do on caring, and more than twice as much time on housework. In fact, women spend an average of almost 20 hours per week on housework compared to just over nine hours for men.

The report noted that a major gender gap persists even among men and women who do the same amount of paid work.

It found that between 2007 and 2011, the time spent by men on care and housework increased. However this returned to 2007 levels in 2016. This suggests that the increase "was a response to the economic shock of the recession rather than an underlying shift in behaviour".

"Caring and other household work is vital for the wellbeing of individuals and society, but because this work is unpaid, it is largely invisible and rarely measured. Quantifying the extent of care and unpaid work, as we have done in this study, is a first step in valuing these activities," commented the study's lead author, Helen Russell, of the ESRI.

The report emphasises the need for changes in social and employment policies that support carers and encourage greater male participation in care. It said that there is a need to address the clear link between caring responsibility and gender inequality in the labour market.

Without greater equality in the area of unpaid work, greater gender equality in the labour market is unlikely to occur, it noted.

Meanwhile, separate to this research, the Human Rights and Equality Commission has also been looking at Article 41.2 of the Constitution, which states that "in particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved."

Late last year, the commission appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality to recommend that Article 41.2 of Ireland's constitution be amended rather than deleted, in order to recognise the value of care work in Ireland, and the public good provided by care work within and by families.

The Government has yet to bring forward legislation for a referendum on Article 41.2 of the Constitution. However, according to the commission's chief commissioner, Emily Logan, the State "must remain focused on the reform of Article 41.2, not only as an exercise in removing an archaic reference, but also as a means of introducing a long overdue recognition of the public good realised within Ireland's families and in caring roles".

"As life expectancy increases and medical therapeutics advance, Ireland is experiencing a transformation. With relatively low State involvement in support for caring, adults and children are reliant on being cared for and supported by family," Ms Logan said.

The full report can be viewed here.


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