Chinese Divorce Court Awards Wife £5,000 For Housework

Five grand may be a little stingy. In the UK, women carry out 60% more unpaid work than men – isn't it about time that was recognised?

A Beijing divorce court has ordered a man to compensate his ex-wife for all the unpaid work she did during their marriage – and we’re thrilled to see women’s hidden labour finally recognised.

The man, identified as Mr Chen, will have to pay his soon-to-be ex-wife, Ms Wang, 50,000 yuan (around £5,460) for shouldering the housework and childcare responsibilities since they married in 2015, reported the BBC.

It’s a positive step, but it seems five grand may be a little stingy. Research by King’s College London (KCL) in 2020 found the gender gap in unpaid care work (UCW) is “one of the most glaring manifestations of inequality between men and women around the world”.

Women perform 75% of such work globally, dedicating roughly four hours and 25 minutes daily to it – more than three times men’s average of one hour and 23 minutes. The economic contribution of UCW is around $10 trillion per year, 13% of global GDP – and the economy would no doubt be scuppered without it.

Separate research from the Office for National Statistics suggests women carry out 60% more unpaid work than men on average in the UK. Men tend to do 16 hours a week of unpaid work, which includes adult care and child care, laundry and cleaning, compared to the 26 hours completed by women.

If women were paid for this labour, men would earn £166.63 more per week, while women would earn £259.63 – just over £13,700 per year. That £5,000 for Ms Wang isn’t looking so generous.

Is unpaid work taken into account in UK divorce settlements?

“In some case where one of the parties, usually the wife, has given up work and lost pension rights for example, that may be taken into account when assessing settlements,” says Neil Remnant, head of Family Law at JMP Solicitors.

“In my experience, the courts do not generally compensate for this type of thing as where would it stop? Would the husband have a claim for doing the gardening or washing the cars?”

Remnant does not think unpaid work should be taken into account generally, “although each matter is case specific and it may depend on circumstances.”

He adds: “You could have parties to a divorce making outlandish claims against each other which have no merit.”

And there lies the crux of the problem: unpaid work is impossibly hard to prove – so how will women in the UK ever be compensated? It seems we won’t be – until we live in a society where unpaid work is split equally. We can but dream...