The Work Burden of Women

Date: 
10-26-2001

Societies abound where women work both in
the home and out of the home, whereas male
cohabitants work only out of the home (1).
However, objective data have long been lacking
to document the consequences of this phenomenon.
This is of concern in starvation-threatened
populations because social, economic, and nutritional
planning does not account for the unequal
distribution of work between the genders.
We performed initial studies on the work practices
of women in the Central African Republic
and Nepal using recall diaries combined with
direct observations. These data (2) suggested
that women with dual working roles consistently
spent 2 to 3 more hours per day engaged in
work-related activities than men. With this preliminary
information, we undertook to comprehensively
address the hypothesis that women
with dual working roles perform more work
than male cohabitants by performing agricultural
work above home-maintenance duties.

To objectively and precisely measure physical
activity is monumental. Laboratory-based
measures of physical activity are not representative
of the free-living state, and questionnaires,
personal recall, and intermittent observation are
unreliable and nonspecific and may depend on
subjects’ literacy (3). The preferred method for
objectively and accurately documenting freeliving
activity is to have trained investigators
follow and directly record subjects’ activities
(4). This is highly labor-intensive and expensive.
Nonetheless, this was our approach.

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Authors: 
James A. Levine, Robert Weisell, Simon Chevassus, Claudio D. Martinez, Barbara Burlingame, W. Andrew Coward