A graphic for the definition of Unpaid Labour

What is unpaid labour?

Unpaid labour does not mean working for free in the professional sense, as in volunteering or providing pro-bono services. The term relates to women’s disproportionate responsibility regarding raising children and completing housework. It is also known as the Double Burden of women working in their place of employment to return home and continue working by caring for dependents and completing household chores. 

Research studies from all over the world, particularly time-use surveys mapping out minutes of Unpaid Labour undertaken by men and women each day, indicate that women spend significantly more time looking after children and caring for the home. In the UK, mothers provide 74% of childcare time and perform the majority of housework. Across the globe, this trend is mirrored, particularly in countries with lower levels of economic development.  

It’s not just the home where women lead on chores; women are more likely to take up work that is important for organisational functionality—for example, writing up minutes from meetings, serving on committees, and organising rewards. But they are unlikely to be recognised for these roles. (The Guardian).

McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2022 research shows that women additionally take on the workload and responsibility for driving critical workplace issues such as DEI and well-being. The cost of this ‘invisible’ labour at home and work contributes to higher levels of burnout for women.

Related Concepts

Double-Bind Dilemma

Gender Pay Gap

Motherhood Penalty

Related Research

To find out more about Unpaid Labour, please read ECC’s summary of ‘Women’s Progression in the Workplace’ which frames Unpaid Labour in the context of barriers to women’s career progression.

Related Assets 

To learn more about this, ECC’s explainer on ‘Why there are so few women in leadership roles’ contains a deeper dive into the impacts of the Motherhood Penalty.

Click here to learn more about Women’s Development Programmes: 6 Lessons from Designing Women’s Development Programmes

Click here to learn more about Inclusive Leadership: Intro to Developing Inclusive Leaders