Counting our time under COVID-19: new survey on work and care

Family at home
Participants have already found that doing the survey brings home just how much housework and care they may do without realising. Photo credit: Pexels

Researchers at the University of Melbourne are conducting a first-of-its-kind survey in Australia to find out how the time we spend on paid work, care and housework has changed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

COVID-19 restrictions in Australia have brought kids home from school, students home from university, and forced many people either out of work or into working from home. The upheaval has radically altered time spent at home, but has the division of household work changed too?

The Work and Care in the Time of COVID-19 survey builds on research into how much time we spend at work, and how unpaid care and housework are shared between men and women. Unlike other surveys, it asks people how much time they spend in active care, such ashands-on activities like bathing, feeding and playing, and also supervisory care, which is about how much time people spend being ‘on call’ and responsible for others. It also asks about their time doing household chores and how satisfied they are with their partner’s share of the load.

The researchers hope that these data will shed important light on the value and extent of unpaid care. They want to make this essential labour more visible.

“We know people have been forced to work from home, but what we don’t know is how much domestic work is being done, or who is doing the housework and watching the children while everyone is working from home?,” said University of Melbourne Research Fellow Dr Brendan Churchill.

The data being captured is also important because national information on how Australians spend their time has not been collected for over 15 years. The Australian Bureau of Statistics will resume collecting this information later this year.

“This means that our survey will capture an important moment in time, and then Australia will also have ongoing national data on household work and the division of labour beyond this pandemic,” said lead researcher and sociologist Professor Lyn Craig.

“The information is vital for understanding gender inequalities in the home and could support the case for reassessing the value of workers in the care sector – including raising wages.”

Participants have already found that doing the survey brings home just how much housework and care they may do without realising.

“It helps people to reflect on their own enormous contributions beyond paid labour,” Dr Churchill said. “Sometimes people are unaware of just how much work goes into supervising others at home. It’s an enormous burden and one that is not properly recognised by the way many workplaces are set up.”

Men, who now may have more opportunity to pitch in at home, are strongly encouraged to take part in the survey. People can access the survey at: