Another clickbait headline is getting Twitter exercised. But, says CAROLINE CRIADO PEREZ, the anger misses the target.
This week the Twittersphere reacted with outrage over a headline. Nothing new there, of course. But bear with me, because the headline to this Telegraph exclusive was special. ‘Women will have to give up work to look after parents unless EU care workers are given priority after Brexit,’ it read. You can imagine the responses. ‘Sexism!’ howled Twitter. ‘Don’t parents have sons?’ we remonstrated, as a thousand Handmaid’s Tale memes took flight. One woman’s viral tweet summed up the general feeling: ‘I beg your f**king pardon.’
Consider my pardon begged: I’m with the Telegraph on this one.
Let me explain. Women do 75% of the world’s unpaid care-work. That is just a fact. In the UK, women do just under twice as many hours of unpaid work a day as men, and a recent University of Michigan study found that husbands create an extra seven hours of housework per week for women. Women also make up 70% of all unpaid dementia carers in the UK, are 2.5 times more likely than men to be on-call around the clock as a carer, and are 2.3 times more likely than men be a dementia carer for more than five years.
And, as the Department of Health report the Telegraph article was based on pointed out, elder care needs are set to skyrocket. In fact we expect them to double over the next 30 years. This is because the UK population is getting older – and as it ages, it sickens. By 2014, nearly a quarter of the world’s disease burden was in people aged over 60. By 2030, more than six million older people in the UK are expected to be living with a long-term illness.
We are going to need someone to care for these people and, at the moment, it’s women and EU workers who are doing the vast majority of the work. And if EU workers are barred from entry to the UK, (the report estimated a ‘worst-case scenario’ shortfall of 6,000 doctors, 12,000 nurses and 28,000 care staff within five years) well, then it’s going to be left mostly to women. And the uptick in unpaid care needs will impact on women’s ability to engage in paid work – of course it will.
Studies have repeatedly found that the more unpaid work a woman has to do, the less she is able to engage in the paid workforce – I’m not sure why we need studies to prove that there are only 24 hours in a day, some of which must be spent sleeping, but there you go.
In the UK, women with young children are employed for shorter hours than those without children, while for men it is the other way around. Twenty-five per cent of EU women versus 3% of men cite care work as the reason they aren’t in paid work. In the UK, 20% of female carers have had to reduce their full-time hours to work part-time, again versus 3% of men. As Twitter says, don’t parents have sons?
It makes for a neat tweet, and of course men could and should be doing their equal share of care work, but the truth is they simply aren’t. As women joined the paid workforce through the 20th century, men did not match the increase in women’s paid work with an increase in their unpaid work. Rather, around the world, women consistently work for longer hours every day and men consistently spend more time in leisure.
In the UK, the latest OECD figures show that women spend more than four hours a day in unpaid work compared to men’s 2.5 hours. Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics found that men enjoy five hours more leisure time per week than women. And, by the way, this holds, regardless of the amount of household income a woman brings in – in fact some studies have shown that when women are the primary earners in heterosexual couples they may end up doing more rather than less unpaid work, presumably as a way to cushion the blow to their spouse’s fragile male ego.
The Telegraph headline has caused outrage, as, in this age of click-driven-journalism, it was intended to. But it is not the headline itself that should outrage us, so much as the facts behind it. When the stock of paid carers goes down, it is women, not men, who pick up the slack. That is an empirical fact borne out by decades of research around the world. And yes, that is sexism. Pointing this out, however, is feminism.