Work-Life Balance

Background

Finding a suitable balance between work and daily living is a challenge that all workers face. Families are particularly affected. Some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country. If parents have to choose between earning money and looking after their children, the result is that there will be too few babies and too little employment.

People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are more likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer hours in unpaid domestic work. While on average men in OECD countries spend 131 minutes per day doing unpaid work, women spend 279 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring.  This average difference, approximately 2.5 hours per day, conceals many disparities among countries. For instance Turkish and Mexican women spend between 4.3 and 5 hours more than men working on domestic chores, while the difference is only a little over one hour in the Nordic countries.

Employees Working Long Hours

An important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large in OECD countries. Turkey is by far the country with the highest proportion of people working very long hours, with more than 46%, followed by Mexico with nearly 29% and Israel with nearly a fifth of employees. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work and the percentage of male employees working very long hours across OECD countries is 12%, compared with less than 5% for women.

 

Time devoted to Leisure and Personal Care

Furthermore, the more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as personal care or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. The average person in the OECD works 1 776  hours a year and devotes 62% of the day, or close to 15 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socializing with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.). Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time, as time devoted to leisure is roughly the same for men and women across the 20 OECD countries studied.

Work-Life Balance in Detail by Country