Attention directed at the inequalities between men and women has tended to focus on the realms of politics and economics. What percentage of CEOs are women? How many members of parliament? How much do women earn on average compared to men?
Feminist work in political philosophy shifted the focus a bit to the home, to the gendered division of work in the home, both in terms of housework and dependent care. Feminist political philosophers think this matters for both intrinsic and instrumental reasons. It’s a good thing in and of itself if work in the home is shared. But there are also spill over effects. the unequal division of work in the home is part of what explains why women do less well in political and economic terms.
The family is also where children learn about equality and justice and in terms of raising and educating future citizens, justice in the home matters.
So economics matters, politics matters, and sharing work in the home matters too.
But what about physical activity? Does it matter that inequality between men and women extends to the time one has available for sports and physical leisure?
Here are some of the relevant facts: A study by the government of Canada published in 2013 reports that Canadians are less active in sport than they were in previous iterations of the same study and that participation rates have declined across age and gender but that women continue to participate at much lower rates than men in every age bracket.
Moreover, participation rates correlate with household income. The more money in your household the more likely you and your children are to participate regularly in sports. The report also describes the benefits of participation in sports and these range from relaxation and fun to improved mental and physical health as well as increased life satisfaction. One of the main barriers to participating is lack of leisure time.
Given that women still do the bulk of household tasks even when they are engaged in paid labour outside the home it is not at all surprising that they participate in sports at roughly half the rate of their male counterparts. Hirschmann reports: According to … data from an ongoing National Science Foundation study, married women still do two to three times more childcare and housework than men (17-28 hours per week for women, versus 7-10 hours for men). Indeed having a husband apparently creates about seven additional weekly hours of housework for women.
The data on sports participation mirrors data on public health and is related to increased risk of morbidity and mortality for women, especially those from poorer households. Reduced access to health services through lack of income but also through lack of time disproportionately affects women because they are more likely than men to be poor. If we look at health in the broadest terms possible then surely this outlook must include leisure time, and access to recreational facilities given the impact on well being and the maintenance of health. The younger a person is the more likely it is that they will participate in sports. The lack of participation of older segments of the population is related less to lack of interest than to lack of time due to family and work responsibilities.
There are a number of ways to engage the problem of unequal participation in sports including community initiatives, subsidies for sports, access to equipment and facilities, etc. What the research demonstrates is that people are interested in sports and that as soon as they have enough time and money they prioritize sports. As a society we should be actively encouraging programs that support families in achieving their goals. Women place a high value on creating social bonds through sport so this should figure into strategies for public policy formation.
What kinds of activities do you find easy or more challenging to incorporate into your lifestyle and does this have to do with the intrinsic features of the sport or other external factors like cost or having to travel long distances to participate? I find it is much easier to be involved regularly in an activity when it is located very close to home and has a social aspect. I spend most of my days alone so I crave a sense of community at my activities. Also, the schedule of the activity has to be convenient and it has to be relatively budget friendly. Some of Samantha’s recent posts deal with some of the challenges of having to travel and the costs associated with certain activities.
Let’s just remind ourselves of the some of the reasons inequalities in time available for physical activities matter:
1. It’s good for women’s health and well being.
2. It’s good for children to see their mothers as physically active and competent.
3. I also think it’s good for women’s agency for women to experience ourselves as embodied and competent.
See earlier posts on role models and family fitness for more on this.
Hirschmann, Nancy J. “Mothers Who Care Too Much: What Feminists Get Wrong About Family, Work, and Equality.” Boston Review 35, no. 4 (2010).
Rogers, W. A. “Feminism and Public Health Ethics.” Journal of Medical Ethics 32, no. 6 (2006).
“Sport Participation 2010: Research Paper.” Statistics Canada, February 2013.
 “Sport Participation 2010: Research Paper,” (Statistics Canada, February 2013).
 Nancy J. Hirschmann, “Mothers Who Care Too Much: What Feminists Get Wrong About Family, Work, and Equality,” Boston Review 35, no. 4 (2010): 3.
 W. A. Rogers, “Feminism and Public Health Ethics,” Journal of Medical Ethics 32, no. 6 (2006).
4 thoughts on “Work-Family Balance and Participation in Sports”
Thanks for this excellent post! I haven’t heard much talk about this important aspect of the work/life balance issue (and its particular effects on women). I have seen a few kids coming with their parents to running club events over the years (often coming to run, sometimes to watch or help take pictures) and I’ve been struck by how different this is from my own upbringing. I wasn’t encouraged by my parents to play sports (which would only take time away from studying, I was told) and I rarely saw my parents do anything active (aside from an occasional bike ride, which they seemed to do with us for *our* sake). If I had seen my parents–and especially my mom–engaging in sports or physical activity of their own, I might have learned earlier that this was something that adults–and women, specifically–actually do (and enjoy!)
Great post. The balance is a constant challenge and as you say often a source of inequality. Thanks for being our guest!
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