Home / News / India /  Your caste and class determines how you spend time

Caste, class and geographic location determine how Indians spend the hours in a day - how much paid work they can do, how much unpaid work they must do, and how much leisure time they have. The first ‘Time Use’ Survey conducted by the government in 20 years shows the strong role of gender in determining how people spend their time. But it also shows how other key fissures in Indian society determine who gets to do what, and for how long.

The time use survey, released earlier this month, was conducted by the National Statistical Office in 2019, and asked a nationally representative sample of 450,000 people how they spent their days. The survey showed that women spend 84% of their working hours on unpaid activities, while men spend 80% of their working hours on paid work. Just 6% of men participate in cooking in any manner, and just 8% do any house cleaning.

But beyond this broad divide between men and women lie other cleavages. The poorest Indians spend the least time on paid work, and the richest Indians have the least time for sleep.

Upper caste men and women have the most time for self-care and maintenance activities, including sleep, while Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe men and women have the least time among social groups. The NSO allows respondents belonging to all religions to choose from the following social groups: Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Class and Others. In this article, ‘others’ is used as a proxy for upper castes.

Upper castes spend the most time on religious practice, have the most time to watch television and use other media, and have the most leisure time.

Upper caste women spend the least time on paid work among all social groups, but upper caste men spend the most time on paid work among groups.

“Almost 40% of scheduled castes work in wage labour, and much of this is casual labour," said the economist Sukhadeo Thorat, professor emeritus at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. “What this means is that however much time you have, you must work! Of course there is no time for leisure. The upper caste men who employ scheduled caste people as wage labour in their farms and enterprises will naturally have time freed up for leisure."

Geography also circumscribes the way Indians spend their days. People in Delhi have the most time for ‘self-care and maintenance’ which includes sleep, while those in Kerala have the least. People in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala spend the most time on cultural activities and on leisure, while those in Bihar have the least time for leisure.

In Telangana and Tamil Nadu, women spend over 30% of their working hours on paid work, while in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh fewer than 10% of women’s working hours result in any pay.

While women do several times the amount of unpaid housework that men do, in some states the balance is particularly skewed. Men aged 15-59 in Haryana do the least housework - just 15 minutes in a day - in comparison to the 269 minutes each day of unpaid housework that women aged 15-59 in the same state do, making it the most gender unequal state in this respect.

How much of the gender divide in unpaid work is a function of more men being in paid work, and how much of it is on account of gendered divisions of labour?

“The stronger the patriarchal norms of gender division in households in a region are, the less likely it will be that men share in household chores - even when they have the time," said Ashwini Deshpande, professor of economics at Ashoka University in New Delhi. This dynamic creates gendered spaces within the household. “In many households, if a man walks into the kitchen, it is considered odd or wrong," said Deshpande. “It isn’t paid work that is preventing them from sharing in household work."

Rukmini S. is a Chennai-based journalist.

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