Gender, caste and geographies determine how Indians use their time: Time Use Survey

Gayatri Vinayak
·5 min read
Indian Woman Sitting In Kitchen Cooking Food
Indian Woman Sitting In Kitchen Cooking Food

Women spend close to five hours a day doing unpaid domestic work for household members, while men spend only around an hour and a half a day on unpaid work. Around 38 per cent of the population participate in paid employment and other related activities, spending a total of seven hours each day.

These details are revealed in India’s first Time Use Survey data, released by the National Statistics Office (NSO) for the period between January and December 2019, covering around 4,50,000 people from across the country, aged six and above.

Across the world, more women are occupied in unpaid work than men. In 2019, alone, unpaid work done by women across the world amounted to an equivalent of a staggering USD 10.9 trillion. This difference is even starker in India. The country ranks low in the Global Gender Gap Report (2020), at 112 out of 153 countries. One of the areas that it has consistently performed poorly in is economic participation. Ranked 149, India lags behind its neighbours with Bangladesh at 141, Sri Lanka (126) and Nepal (100).

The economic cost of the amount of time spent on unpaid work is huge – the value of unpaid domestic labour by women is nearly 40 per cent of its current GDP in India. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggests that if women’s participation in the workforce were to increase to the same level as men’s, the country’s GDP could be boosted by 27 per cent.

Gender gaps on time use

As per the survey, women spend approximately 19.5 per cent of their time on unpaid domestic work, while men only spend 2.5 per cent of a 24-hour day engaged in unpaid domestic work. Further, only 6 per cent of men participated in cooking, while 8 per cent did household cleaning.

In urban areas, the difference in the participation rate in employment and related activities is huge - only 16.7 per cent of women participate in paid employment, as opposed to 59.8 per cent of men. This gap is slightly lower in rural areas – 19.2 per cent women as compared to 56.1 per cent for men.

Nearly 20.7 per cent of the people surveyed were engaged in unpaid caregiving activities – out of this, 27.6 per cent were women, while the proportion of men was 14 per cent. The average time spent on caregiving activities also varied greatly between men and women. While women in rural areas spent 132 minutes a day on unpaid caregiving activities, rural men only spent 77 minutes. In urban areas, this difference is even more evident - women spent 138 minutes a day on caregiving activities, while men spent 75 minutes a day.

Women’s participation in unpaid work reduced with age, though - while women in the 15-59 age group spent 355 minutes on unpaid activities a day, this reduced to 253 minutes after the age of 60, in rural areas. For men, the reverse was true - those in the age group of 15-59 spent 89 minutes on unpaid activities, which increased to 114 minutes among men aged 60 and above.

Further, both men and women spent less time on unpaid volunteer or trainee work (2.4 per cent in rural areas and 2.3 per cent in urban areas). However, there was not much difference in the amount of time spent learning, between rural and urban areas. 24.1 per cent of men in rural areas and 23.3 per cent of men in urban areas and 19.4 per cent of women in rural areas and 20.7 per cent of women in urban areas spent their time learning. The average time spent on learning in a day was 430 minutes.

Caste and geographies matter

The survey reveals that an individual’s caste could also determine how much time is available for activities other than paid or unpaid work. Individuals were divided into Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), Other Backward Castes (OBC) and Other Castes (OC). Rural men from the SC and ST communities only had 135 and 130 minutes, respectively, for leisure activities, while rural women spent even less time – 108 minutes for ST women and 126 minutes for SC. This increased significantly among urban men who had 157 minutes (ST) and 152 minutes (SC), with women having more time for leisure (SC-156, ST-155).

Urban women belonging to other castes had the most leisure time -173 minutes, while urban men had 159 minutes a day for leisure. Indians also socialise a lot, as is revealed by the survey. 91.3 per cent of the population engaged in socialising and communication, and participation in religious and community events. However, there were differences along caste lines here, as well. Men belonging to the upper caste spent the most time on religious practices, but the least time on unpaid household work.

The amount of time spent doing unpaid work differs depending on regions as well - men in the age group of 15-59 in Haryana spent only 106 minutes on unpaid domestic work as opposed to men in West Bengal who spent 115 minutes.

In Kerala, while 35.6 per cent of men in the age group of 15-29 were engaged in learning, this percentage was higher among women - 41.6 per cent of women in the age group of 15-29. In Madhya Pradesh, the reverse was true - more men in the age group of 15-29 (26.4 per cent) were engaged in learning than women (21.4).

Through the survey, the NSO aims to measure the participation of men and women in unpaid activities and to calculate the time spent on non-work activities such as socialising, learning, self-care, leisure activities, etc. It also looks at recognising the amount of unpaid work women do outside of the workforce.