The Great Recession and Unpaid Work Time in the United States
Does Poverty Matter?
Poverty status is an important factor influencing household production and the unpaid work time associated with it due to the role of household production as a coping strategy in mitigating the impact of economic downturns. In this paper, we examine the presence of poverty-based asymmetries in the unpaid work time changes of men and women during the Great Recession. Using the 2003–12 American Time Use Survey, we find that these changes indeed varied by poverty status. In particular, nonpoor women drove the reduction in unpaid work time among women. Among men, the lack of the change in unpaid work time masked the increase in poor men’s time and the decrease in nonpoor men’s time. Oaxaca-Blinder decompositions of the changes in the unpaid work time reveal that shifts in own and spousal employment status largely account for the gender-based differences in these changes, while shifts in the household structure partially explain the poverty-based differences. Nevertheless, sizable portions of the changes in time use remain unexplained by the shifting individual and household characteristics. The latter finding supports the hypothesis of poverty-based variation in the unpaid work time adjustments in that poor and nonpoor individuals appeared to have responded to the recession in different ways.