While men and women spend about the same time working in rich countries, women do work more than men in poor countries. And the gap widens as countries get poorer. While in the United States, which has a per capita GNP of roughly $33,000, there is no difference between the amount of male and female work, in Benin, Madagascar, and South Africa, which have a per capita income of less than $10,000, women work one to two hours more per day than men.
So, what explains the difference in the time that men and women spend working in richer vs. poorer countries? It's not a matter of women leveraging their greater earnings in places where they can earn more than men. Alas, there are no such places, and women do not reap greater market rewards in the countries where women work the most relative to men.
The authors of the new study instead think that a social norm explains men and women in rich countries pitch in to the same degree. For both men and women, number of hours of combined market work and homework varies among different regions in the United States. But the male-female work gap remains small everywhere in the country, and in this the authors see evidence of a general equality norm. For example, while people in the South work an average of 7.7 hours per day in and out of the home, and people in the East work eight hours (a daily difference of 20 minutes), the difference between the amount of time that men and women work, again in and out of the home, is only two minutes in the East and 10 minutes in the South. Similar patterns hold when you divide the data by level of education. The most educated quarter of the American population works a combined 8.7 hours, while the lowest educated quarter works 6.3 hours—a difference of more than two hours per day. But when you compare men and women in each education bracket, the difference in their total work is no more than 20 minutes.
Many women with demanding careers tell me that it is women working full-time in the market, not women overall, who work more than comparable men. This study cannot settle that question because it does not report work time separately for people with and without market jobs. But if women with careers work more than men, while women overall work the same amount as men, then women without market jobs must work less than men. Men can use that argument to hit the couch in the afternoon. Or to end up there at night.