Work-Life Balance and the Gender Gap

Work-life balance for any one person is having the ‘right’ combination of participation in paid work (defined by hours and working conditions) and other aspects of their lives. This combination will change as people move through life and have changing responsibilities and commitments in their work and personal lives.-Queensland Public Service Commission


In 2010 Women’s Forum Australia published Reality Check: Work Life Balance. This think tank investigated the conflict between women’s work and life goals. Work-Life balance affects both men and women, however, the gender gap is clear: in Australia male and female salaries have a gender gap favouring males by 8%.  In addition to this women spend more time working than men, spending approximately 5 hours more per week doing paid/unpaid work.

According to the report, the risk factors for work-life imbalance include being female, having children, being well-educated, and living in the ACT, Queensland or Victoria, along with other factors such as long commuting times, being from culturally diverse backgrounds and health problems.

Solutions identified to lessen the impact of work-life conflict include

  • Support from organisational culture and management
  • Changing expectations of themselves and talking to others about their expectations
  • Taking time to experience exercise and leisure activities for themselves
  • Reducing or changing the way in which they work (flexible hours, job-sharing, working part-time or from home)
  • Better child care solutions and services for caring for elderly, sick or disabled family members in the home
  • Greater support from domestic partners in relation to domestic tasks, parenting and caring responsibilities. (1)

The report produced by the Australian Centre for Work + Life (University of South Australia),    The Big Squeeze: Work, home and care in 2012 established a benchmark for determining work-life outcomes – the Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI).  The report confirms that women have worse work-life conflict than men:

  • Work-life outcomes are worse for those in female-dominated industries and in jobs that involve interaction and service provision to others. These include retail, accommodation and food services and education and training, allowing for differences in work hours;
  • Mothers have worse work-life outcomes than fathers, whether single or partnered;
  • Full-time women’s dissatisfaction with their work-life balance has risen (from 15.9% in 2008 to 27.5% in 2012) while men’s has not changed;
  • Their experience of chronic time pressure has increased, with 68.6 % of full-time women often or almost always feeling rushed and pressed for time, up from 63.4 % in 2008 (with no change amongst full-time men);
  • Women working part-time report the same degree of chronic time pressure as men working full-time;
  • Work-life pressures are particularly high for sole mothers: controlling for their fewer paid work hours, their work-life strain is equivalent to that experienced by long hours’ workers or those with a wide gap between their actual and preferred hours. (2)
  • Work-life interference is higher amongst fathers than for those men who care for others, and both are higher than amongst men without parenting or care responsibilities. However, all are lower than amongst equivalent women. (3)

Women’s Forum Australia has also found that in addition to earning less than men, Australian women also work longer hours than men in paid and unpaid employment. This is making it increasingly difficult for women to achieve a work-life balance and is contributing to increased health risk and overall decline in women’s quality of life. Many women are choosing to delay or forgo study, community work and personal relationships, including having children as a result.  (4)

(1) Pezzullo, Lynne, et al. Reality Check: Work Life Balance. © 2010. Women’s Forum Australia. PP 91-92

(2) Skinner, Natalie et al. The Big Squeeze: Work, Home and Care in 2012.  © 2012. Adelaide:  Centre for Work + Life, University of South Australia. pp 2-3.

(3) Skinner et al, p 5.

(4) “Work-Life Balance” Women’s Forum Australia, © 2016. Accessed 12 Jan 2017.

(Image sourced from Wikipedia Commons and adapted)