Having more women in the workplace not just adds to diversity and improves idea generation, they also work harder. We knew that anecdotally but here’s a study by a PhD student and her Professor that shows tangible evidence that women indeed work harder than men. The study also attempts to find evolutionary reasons for why that might be the case.
“We carried out a study of farming and herding groups in the Tibetan borderlands in rural China – an area with huge cultural diversity – to uncover which factors actually determine who works the hardest in a household, and why. Our results, published in Current Biology, shed light on the gender division of work across many different kinds of society.
The majority of adults across the world are married. Marriage is a contract, so one might expect roughly equal costs and benefits from the union for both parties. But unequal bargaining power in a household – such as one person threatening divorce – can lead to unequal contributions to the partnership.
We decided to test the hypothesis that leaving your natal area after heterosexual marriage to live with your spouse’s family may contribute to a higher level of workload. In such marriages, the new person typically isn’t related to, and doesn’t share a history with, anyone in their new household. Without blood relatives around them, they might therefore be at a disadvantage when it comes to bargaining power.
The most common form of marriage around the world is where women are the “dispersers”, leaving their native home, while men stay with their families in their natal area. This is known as patrilocality.
Neolocality – in which both sexes disperse at marriage, and the couple lives in a new place away from both their families – is another common practice in many parts of the world. Matrilocality – where women stay in the natal family and men move to live with the wife and her family – is quite rare.
Our study focused on rural villages from six different ethnic cultures. With our collaborators from Lanzhou University in China, we interviewed more than 500 people about their dispersal status after marriage, and invited them to wear an activity tracker (like a fitbit) to assess their workloads.
Our first finding was that women worked much harder than men, and contributed most of the fruits of this labour to their families. This was evidenced both by their own reports of how much they worked and by their activity trackers.
Women walked on average just over 12,000 steps per day, while men walked just over 9,000 steps. So men also worked hard, but less so than women. They spent more time in leisure or social activities, or just hanging around and resting.
This may be partly because women are, on average, physically weaker than men, and may thus have reduced bargaining power. But we also found that individuals (be they male or female) who disperse at marriage to live away from their kin have higher workloads than those who stay with their natal families.
So if you are female and move away from home at marriage (as most women do throughout the world), you suffer not just in terms of missing your own family but also in terms of workload. When both sexes disperse and no one lives with their natal families, both sexes work hard (as there is little help from kin) – but the woman still works harder. According to our study, perfect sex equality in workload only occurs in instances where men disperse and women do not. These results help us to understand why women globally disperse, but men generally do not.”
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