The Gender Leisure Gap: Why Women Are Losing Their Time To Just Chill Out

Women are told to lean in, but having the time to lean back might be the true test of equality and success.

The Gender Leisure Gap: Why Women Are Losing Their Time To Just Chill Out
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It’s well documented that women still aren’t earning as much as men–less than three quarters of the salary for the same work in many industries–but the gender wage gap isn’t the only issue. There’s another disparity quietly gaining traction: The gender leisure gap.


Some blame Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean-in” phenomenon, in which women have been urged to do more, take on more, lean in to more and more opportunities in order to advance. Lean-in critics like Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks say it’s a mentality that breeds burnout.

“When a workplace is full of employees who always lean in and never lean back, it’s full of employees who are exhausted, brittle, and incapable of showing much creativity or making good decisions,” she writes in Foreign Policy. “There is, after all, much to be said for leaning out–for long lunches, afternoon naps, good books, and some nice, slow hours in the La-Z-Boy.”

The Leisure Imbalance

It’s this kind of “leaning out” that recent research has shown men get significantly more of on a regular basis. According to a 2013 study by Pew Research, men get an average of five hours more leisure time than women per week.

Easy as it is to point fingers, this problem has been around far longer than the “Lean-in” phenomenon and it’s more complex than women pushing harder for advancement in the workplace. Some would argue there’s a double standard when it comes to leisure time for men and women. For example, managers are more likely to grant flexible work hours to male employees, according to a study published in the Journal of Social Issues.


What’s more, a study out of Cornell found that women living with men still do a disproportionate amount of housework, even in those households in which women work and their partners don’t. Another found 50% of married working women were primarily responsible for making meals, compared to only 9% of their male partners. When it comes to child care, the figures are similar. While 51% of working women take time off from work to care for a sick child, just 9% of male partners do.

All this hustling in work and family life is creating a culture of tired women in the workplace. But leisure time should not be a nice-to-have for anyone–male or female. “If we want to do more than just go through the motions, both love and work require a protected space in which creativity can flourish,” writes Brooks. “Today, most women can make money on their own and acquire rooms of their own–but they still get too little psychic space and too little time for the kind of unstructured, creative thinking so critical to any kind of success.”

In other words, making time for leisure in your life means making time for yourself, your creative work and thinking, which itself is a precursor to success, both personal and professional.

Or as Brooks puts it: “If we want to rule the world–or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions–we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us. We need to fight for our right to lean back and put our feet up.”

About the author

Jane Porter writes about creativity, business, technology, health, education and literature. She's a 2013 Emerging Writing Fellow with the Center For Fiction.