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Is the gender gap in long hours damaging men's health?

Millions of Australians are spending long hours at work and it could be having a negative impact on their health. Men in particular are up to three times more likely than women to work long hours in paid work and yet the Federal Government has so far chosen to ignore the gendered nature of the problem.

The latest data for March 2023 from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that:

  • 5.3 million Australians work 40+ hours a week (67% men)
  • 1.8 million Australians work 50+ hours a week (72% men)
  • 750k Australians work 60+ hours a week (75% men)
  • 280k Australians work 70+ hours a week (77% men)
Death and injury at work 
According to the OECD Better Life Index, the amount of time a person spends at work is an important aspect of work-life balance. Evidence suggests that long work hours can negatively impact personal health, jeopardise safety and increase stress.
Half a million Australians are injured at work according to the ABS's work-related injury report for 2021-2022 and 3 in 5 are male. Men also experience 74% of the most serious workplace injuries (based on workplace compensation figures). Most significantly, men account for the vast majority (96%) of deaths from work-related fatalities, with three men every week currently dying at work (163 deaths in 2021).
Men doing more unpaid overtime 

In 2018, Australia was ranked 27 out of 39 OECD countries for the gender gap in long hours worked, which is measured as spending 50 hours or more in paid work.

As of March 2023, 17.3% of male workers and 7.4% of female workers are working 50 hours or more a week. Overall, there are 2.6 times more men working long hours than women (1.26 million men and 493k women).

Men are also working 60% more unpaid overtime according to a report from The Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, which found that Australian men are working 5.2 hours unpaid overtime per week, compared to 3.3 hours for women.

The impact on men's health  

In a recent ABC report on work-life balance in Australia, Harvard Business School assistant professor and author Dr Ashley Whillans highlighted the impact of time poverty on health and wellbeing. She said:

"Many people say that the number one reason they can't exercise or eat as healthily as they would like to is that they don't have enough hours in the day to prepare healthy meals or to get on the treadmill. So time poverty can have really negative consequences for our physical health or mental health when we're feeling completely overwhelmed."

The ABC report pointed to the OECD survey, highlighting the fact that 13 per cent of employees in Australia work very long hours, which is above the OECD average. However, it did not address the gendered nature of the issue and didn't feature any men in its article.

The invisible men  

The ABC is not alone in making the plight of Australian men who work long hours invisible.

The Australian Government is currently developing a new way to measure if its policies are working to improve the lives of all Australians. The proposed measures include a focus on gender issues that impact women and girls, but there are currently no plans to include a focus on the gender issues that impact men and boys.

The Government's Measuring What Matters initiative draws heavily on the OECD’s Framework for Measuring Well-being and Progress, which has already been adopted and adapted by many countries.

While the OECD highlights long-working hours as a gender inequality issue that impacts more men than women, the Government has chosen to take a gender blind approach of counting the overall figure for "long hours in paid work" which obfuscates the gendered nature of the problem. 

Do men matter? 

In stark contrast, the Government has also included an indicator called "gender gap in hours worked" in its draft Measuring What Matters framework. This aims to measure the "gender gap in hours worked", defined as the minutes of paid and unpaid work per day that women work in excess of men among the working age population.

According to the latest Time Use Survey from the ABS, men spend a total of 11 hours and 25 minutes on paid and unpaid work per week, compared to 11 hours and 43 minutes by women on average, a gap of less than 3%. It's worth noting, the OECD defines gaps under 3% as showing "no clear difference between men and women".
It appears the fact that women spend nearly 3% more time than men on paid and unpaid work is considered to be a gender issue that the Government needs to tackle, the fact that men are nearly 3x more likely to work dangerously long hours than women, is not currently considered to be a gender issue worth addressing. 

In our submission to the Government consultation on its Measuring What Matters framework, the  Australian Men's Health Forum called for the Government's key indicators to be disaggregated by gender to ensure transparency. We provided three examples of the proposed indicators where data of gender was missing, including long hours in paid work.

Why working long hours is a health issue 

According to the OECD, long working hours matter because 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.

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