PHS policies - Implementation and monitoring guide

Gender equality and work-life balance


  • Objective 6: Gender equality and better work-life balance for users

The increase in female activity rates creates a need for measures to support work-life balance. Women in most countries still shoulder the greater share of the “housework” burden, because of an unequal division of work at home. This is clearly illustrated by the Eurofound (2012a) results, which indicate that, as concerns the time spent on activities outside of paid work, the differences between men and women are striking, specifically with regard to housework and, to a lesser extent, childcare. Gender equity is thus not respected in this field and the consequences for women are broad and visible in the long-term, with a higher risk of vulnerability and poverty, lower income levels and less purchasing power, pension gaps, and so on.

According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report (2015), if every country matched the progress toward gender parity of its fastest-improving neighbour, global GDP could increase by $12 trillion by 2025. The report also states that “the lower representation of women in paid work is in contrast to their higher representation in unpaid work. Seventy-five percent of the world’s total unpaid care is undertaken by women, including the vital tasks that keep households functioning such as child care, caring for the elderly, cooking, and cleaning. However, this contribution is not counted in traditional measures of GDP. Using conservative assumptions, we estimate that unpaid work being undertaken by women today amounts to as much as $10 trillion of output per year, roughly equivalent to 13 % of global GDP.”

In general, for both men and women, PHS measures lead to better conciliation between work and private life by facilitating the outsourcing of part of the housework. In this regard, the provision of PHS is of crucial importance. Along with a better work-life balance, the use of PHS also allows users (especially women) to work more hours than before they externalised those services, or it may even enable them to re-enter the labour market. In that respect, PHS might therefore improve gender equality when it comes to access to employment. In general, for both men and women, PHS could therefore also have a significant impact on the employment of users. However, it is important to mention that such effects are only relevant in the case of households that did not use PHS before, even in the undeclared economy.

In Belgium, 18 % of service voucher users consider that the main motivation for entering the system is an improvement in work-life balance. Indeed, the time saved by externalising domestic chores is mainly reallocated to family (23 %), other household tasks (22 %), entertainment (20 %) and rest and health (17 %) (IDEA Consult). In Sweden, for every purchased hour of household services through the RUT tax deduction, married women (aged 25-55) gained 1.8 hours, of which 60 % is used for paid work (Halldén, 2014).