Portugal: Gender differences in time use

A national survey, carried out in 2015, sheds light on how men and women in Portugal use their time. It shows that, especially with regard to paid work and unpaid care work, the working day for women is, on average, longer than it is for men and that women spend longer on unpaid care work.

About the research

The 2015 national survey on time-use by men and women (INUT) sheds light on the gendered nature of the various combinations of people’s paid work and personal and family life, and how these impact on the work–life balance and the different implications of this for women and men. This study was the first nationally representative time use survey in Portugal since 1999.

The study was carried out between October 2014 and September 2016 by the Centre for Studies for Social Intervention (CESIS) in partnership with the Commission for Equality in Labour and Employment (CITE). It was funded by the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism, EEA Grants (Programme Area PT07 – Mainstreaming Gender Equality and Promoting Work–Life Balance).

The main aim was to collect and analyse data on how men and women in Portugal use their time, especially with regard to paid work and unpaid care work.

The research comprised an extensive quantitative component, and an intensive qualitative component. These complemented one another throughout the various stages of the project.

A national time use survey was conducted with a representative sample of the population living in Portugal (mainland Portugal and the two autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira). The survey covered a total of 10,146 respondents aged 15 years or over.

At the same time, 50 in-depth interviews were carried out with men and women in various parts of Portugal (Azores, Covilhã, Faro, Lisbon, Madeira and Porto). It was initially expected that the interviewees would be recruited from the respondents to the questionnaire, but this did not work out as planned, as many respondents who had agreed to be interviewed decided to withdraw for various reasons. The contact networks of CESIS and CITE were therefore vital in finding adequate alternatives and recruiting interviewees without compromising the selection criteria.

The interviewees were men and women who were at that time employed and with at least one child under the age of 15. Most of the people interviewed lived with different sex partners, with both of them earning; a few of the women lived in single-parent households.

Due to the limited length of this article, it is not possible to use relevant quotations from the interviews to illustrate and interpret the quantitative data as is done in the study’s key publications: the policy brief (PDF) and a report (PDF).

Main findings

The time spent on paid work by men – including the time spent on their main paid job, the time spent on any secondary remunerated activity (if they had one) and the time spent in commuting, although higher  is not very much more than that spent by women. On average, the total paid working time of men is 9 hours and 2 minutes per day, while that of women is 8 hours and 35 minutes per dayThe gender gap therefore stands at 27 minutes with respect to paid work.

Figure 1: Average daily paid working time by gender (hours and minutes)

Source: INUT (2015)

Almost one in every three workers have long working hours: 34.4% of men and 25.6% of women state that they normally work more than 40 hours a week in their main paid job.

One of the aims of the INUT survey was to gather data comparable with European level sources, so it also asked a question inspired by the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS). This asked respondents about their preferences if they were free to choose the length of their working week, bearing in mind their need to earn their living. Some 46.1% of men and 43% of women said they would choose to keep their current number of working hours. Paid work therefore seems to be highly valued by both men and women.

However, almost 4 people in every 10 (38.5% of women and 36.9% of men) said their working schedule was not very well adapted, or not at all adapted, to their family, personal or social commitments outside work. This question was also inspired by the EWCS questionnaire.

Paid work has stronger implications for family and personal life in the case of women. More women than men stated that, at least sometimes during the last 12 months, they had felt so tired after a day’s work that they were unable to carry out some household chores (63.4% compared with 46.6% of men) or were unable to enjoy their personal life (64.2% compared with 52.4% of men). Also, more women than men felt that paid work prevented them from spending as much as time as they would like on their families (51.4% compared with 43.8% of men).

The incursion of family life into professional life is also more evident among women. At the workplace, it is the women who more often think about any pressing household chores: for example, what to cook for dinner (50.5% compared with only 17.1% of men), or about issues related to family or daily life (though the gender gap here is much narrower: 52.7% of women compared with 45.4% of men).

Families are, still today, zones of inequality. The amount and type of participation of men in household chores, and also in care-giving, are not sufficient to ensure that the time for unpaid work is evenly distributed between men and women.

Considering all respondents and using their last working day as reference – corresponding to the last working day before the survey was applied to the person – the average time spent on household chores and care work exposes a strong gender gap, in particular with regard to household chores. Women spend, on a daily basis, 55 minutes more than men on care work: this covers all activities classified as care work in the survey such as physical care given to their child, grandchild or another child under 15 years of age (such as feeding or washing) or helping an adult household member who is dependent or has a disability. Women also spend 1 hour and 12 minutes more every day on household chores – covering all activities classified as household chores in the survey (such as cleaning, tidying, dusting, making beds or  putting out the rubbish) or repairs at home (Figures 2 and 3). Women spend an average total time of 4 hours and 23 minutes daily on unpaid work, with men spending 2 hours and 38 minutes on it:; that is, 1 hour and 45 minutes less (Figure 4).

Figure 2: Average time of unpaid care work on the last working day by gender (hours and minutes)

Source: INUT (2015)

Figure 3: Average time of unpaid household work on the last working day by gender (hours and minutes)

Source: INUT (2015)

Figure 4: Average total time of unpaid work on the last working day by gender (hours and minutes)

Source: INUT (2015)

If one looks only at people in employment, it can be seen that the average total working time for people in employment (considering both paid work and unpaid work on the last working day) is greater among women. Men spend a total of 11 hours and 39 minutes per day on these different forms of work, while women spend 12 hours and 52 minutes per day (Figure 5). This means that the working day for women is, on average, 1 hour and 13 minutes longer than it is for men.

Figure 5: Average daily total time spent on unpaid and paid work by people in employment (hours and minutes)

Source: INUT (2015)


The INUT study confirms that there is a significant difference between the time spent on paid work and unpaid work by women and by men. This is caused by the large disparity in unpaid working time, despite the adoption of public policies in Portugal such as separate parental leave for men as laid down by law in 1999. The difficulties and tensions in the use of time are thus intertwined with gender (in)equality and social change on a wider scale.

The survey traced major trends, changes or continuities in its data, by referring to a similar survey conducted by Statistics Portugal 16 years previously. Some of the observations gathered by this exercise are unsurprising, such as household chores remaining largely a woman’s domain. However, others cause a certain amount of perplexity, such as the lower percentage of women and men in 2015 saying that they are always in a hurry. Future research in this field may usefully delve deeper into such findings with the enormous wealth of time-use data now available.

It is essential to conduct periodic national studies on time use, preferably combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies, in order to build a store of solid, accurate knowledge. This will enable an up-to-date picture of people’s work–life balance to be depicted. The comparison with previous studies will allow researchers to assess the development of how women and men use their time, make choices and structure their daily lives.

It is important to stress the usefulness of time-use studies in drawing up public policies in areas such as maternity and paternity leaves, the organisation of paid working time, urban planning and territorial policies – all aiming at a greater equality between women and men. A balanced distribution of unpaid care work between women and men is key to facilitating the coordination of working, family and personal life as a tool to promote gender equality.

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