10. Work-Life Balance

Professional obligations and unpaid work can leave individuals with little time for themselves, their family and their friends. While time crunches can affect a wide range of people, this indicator focuses on full-time employed people to enable a consistent comparison across countries (see Box 10.1). The average time off (i.e. time spent on leisure and personal care, which includes sleeping) is around 15 hours per day for full-time employed people in OECD countries, ranging from just over 14 hours in Japan to 16.5 hours in Italy (Figure 10.2). In European countries, the full-time employed generally have more time off than elsewhere. Changes in time use over the past decade or so can be assessed for just six OECD countries: Belgium, Canada, Italy, Korea, Japan and the United States. Time off in these countries has changed relatively little since the mid-2000s.

Long working hours matter for well-being whether they involve paid work (e.g. in salaried employment) or unpaid work (e.g. caring responsibilities, cooking, and cleaning in the home). While long paid working hours were discussed in the Reference Chapter on Work and Job Quality, long hours of unpaid work are considered in Figure 10.3. This indicator captures long unpaid working hours for both people whose primary activity is domestic production and for those who face a “double day” burden of both paid work and long unpaid working hours (see Box 10.1 for more details). Long unpaid hours affect less than 10% of the working-age population in France, the Netherlands and Turkey but more than 15% in Ireland and Austria.

When both paid and unpaid work are taken into account, women work longer hours than men in almost every OECD country (Figure 10.4, panel A). In the average OECD country, women work 25 minutes per day more than men. Gender gaps are largest in Italy, Spain, Estonia, Greece and Hungary, where women spend over 1 hour per day more than men in total work. By contrast, men in Norway, New Zealand and the Netherlands spend slightly more time in total work than women (between 5 and 24 minutes per day).

Most of the gender differences in total working hours are driven by long hours spent in unpaid work by women (Figure 10.4, panel B), i.e. time spent doing routine housework, care work (for children and adults), shopping for goods and services for the household, and travel related to household activities. Across the OECD, men spend longer hours in paid work than women do (almost 1 hour and 40 minutes more per day, for the OECD on average), while women spend longer hours in unpaid work (around 2 hours more per day, for the OECD on average). Even in countries such as Estonia, where gender differences in time spent on paid work are small, women still do the lion’s share of unpaid work.

Satisfaction with time use can offer some insight into whether people are achieving the balance of activities that they themselves consider desirable. In the 29 OECD countries with available data, average satisfaction with time use is 6.9 on a 0-10 scale, with the highest ratings found in Denmark (7.8), Finland and Mexico (7.7 each) and the Netherlands (7.5), and the lowest in Hungary (6.3), Greece (6.1) and Turkey (5.6) (Figure 10.5).

Among the full-time employed, men generally spend more time on leisure and personal care than women do (Figure 10.6). Across OECD countries, the average gender gap in time off is around 45 minutes, but goes up to almost 1 hour 30 minutes in Italy. The Netherlands and Norway are the only countries where full-time employed women spend longer time on leisure and personal care than their male counterparts. Moreover, working-age women are systematically more likely to spend long hours in unpaid work, relative to their male counterparts (Figure 10.7). Women are 1.7 times more likely than men to work long unpaid hours in Norway, but almost 17 times more likely in Turkey. On the other hand, population-wide measures of satisfaction with time use (ages 16 or over) show few clear gender differences, and their direction is not consistent among OECD countries.

Time off is lowest during middle-age (Figure 10.8). For the 13 OECD countries with available and harmonised data, younger and older full-time employed people enjoy, on average, around 50 and 25 additional minutes of time off per day, respectively, compared to those aged 30-49. Across age groups, those aged 30-49 are also the least satisfied with their time use (Figure 10.9). The OECD average satisfaction with time use is 7 for people aged 16-29 and 7.4 for people aged 50 and plus, compared to 6.4 for people aged 30-49.

In the average OECD country, satisfaction with time use falls slightly as educational attainment increases: satisfaction with time use is on average 7.1 out of 10 for people with primary education, 6.9 for individuals with secondary education and 6.8 for people with tertiary education (Figure 10.10). The education gradient in the average satisfaction with time use is steeper in France, Sweden and Canada, while it is almost flat in in Italy and Mexico.


[1] UNECE (2013), Guidelines for Harmonizing Time-Use Surveys, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva, http://unece.org/index.php?id=34496.

[2] UNSD (2005), Guide to Producing Statistics on Time Use: Measuring Paid and Unpaid Work, United Nations Statistics Division, New York, http://unstats.un.org/unsd/pubs/gesgrid.asp?id=347 (accessed on 12 December 2019).

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