Around the World, Girls Work While Boys Play

A young girl carries water on her head in Sierra Leone after collecting it from a water source. Around the world, girls are responsible for the bulk of household chores. UNICEF

Household chores for kids can be a good thing. It teaches them responsibility and helps them contribute to the benefit of the family.

But that's when the chores are reasonable and balanced. A new report released by UNICEF finds that girls around the world spend 40 percent more time than boys on unpaid household chores compared to boys the same age. That amounts to 160 million more hours a day.

All that hard work doesn't necessarily build character, and in fact can be detrimental to self-esteem and self-worth, says the organization.

"The types of chores commonly undertaken by girls — preparing food, cleaning and caring for others — not only set the stage for unequal burdens later in life but can also limit girls' outlook and potential while they are still young," according to the study. "The gendered distribution of chores can socialize girls into thinking that such domestic duties are the only roles girls and women are suited for, curtailing their dreams and narrowing their ambitions."

All those hours spent on chores also limits girls' abilities to spend time on normal childhood activities like playing and education. In addition, caring for sick or aging family members puts girls in a situation of enduring adult responsibilities while they are still children themselves. Some chore situations, such as traveling from their homes to collect water or firewood, also can put them at risk of violence.

Location impacts how much time girls spend on chores. While worldwide girls spend 40 percent more time than boys on chores, in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, girls between 10 and 14 years old spend nearly double the amount of time on household chores compared to boys.

Some other statistics:

  • Almost two-thirds of girls ages 5 to 14 around the world help with cooking or cleaning. Fifty percent help with shopping, 46 percent fetch water or firewood, 45 percent wash clothes and about 43 percent take care of other children.
  • In the three countries where girls are most involved with household chores (Somalia, Ethiopia and Rwanda), more than half of the girls spend 14 hours per week on chores.
students in a classroom in Central African Republic
urges more gender equality in chores so that girls can be equal with boys in educational, social and employment opportunities. UNICEF

"The overburden of unpaid household work begins in early childhood and intensifies as girls reach adolescence," said UNICEF's Principal Gender Advisor Anju Malhotra. "As a result, girls sacrifice important opportunities to learn, grow and just enjoy their childhood. This unequal distribution of labor among children also perpetuates gender stereotypes and the double-burden on women and girls across generations."

The UNICEF report suggests a more even distribution of chores and negative gender patterns "before they become cemented in adulthood."

"Supporting girls to stay in school and be involved in sports, play and other leisure and asset-building activities — and investing in infrastructure, technology and childcare to ease uneven burdens — can help put girls on the path to empowerment and the world on course to greater gender equality."