Work-Family Balance and Participation in Sports

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]  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.


[1] “Sport Participation 2010: Research Paper,”  (Statistics Canada, February 2013).

[2] Nancy J. Hirschmann, “Mothers Who Care Too Much: What Feminists Get Wrong About Family, Work, and Equality,” Boston Review 35, no. 4 (2010): 3.

[3] W. A. Rogers, “Feminism and Public Health Ethics,” Journal of Medical Ethics 32, no. 6 (2006).

Role Models (Guest post)

Waking up in my parents’ house as a child the conversation always included a discussion of the weather conditions and what physical activities were on the agenda.  Frequent reminders not to forget a swim cap or pair of tap shoes in your bag for the day were constant.  My mother had the weekly routine down to a science of lunch boxes and ballet uniforms.  On the weekends the weather discussion led directly into an appraisal of the cross-country ski conditions, or opportunity to go for a hike after breakfast (depending on the season).

Today nothing has changed.  Calls to my mother (and father) usually begin with a discussion of whether they are on their way to or back home from yoga class or some other activity.  If the weather is not good for a run on the mountain or a tennis game there will no doubt be a Zumba class as a last minute substitute.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have grown up in a household where going for a walk around the neighbourhood was a nightly routine in the summer and my parents led by example in terms of physical fitness.

I was too young to remember going to aerobics classes in a baby carrier (apparently I was happy to kick my feet to the beat of the music) or to “mommy and me” swimming classes at 6 months of age but these and all the other activities no doubt left a lasting impression on my attitudes towards physical fitness.

Physical activities were not something that you did grudgingly out of a sense of duty but the fun things that made the car rides and going out in dreary Canadian winters fun.  Some of my closest friends to this day are the ones I made at dance class at an age that I can barely remember and because are accustomed to doing activities together we still meet up for bike rides, runs and for dance workshops as our main drivers of socializing.

What, if anything, does this have to do with having an active mother?  Research shows that having a positive female role model is especially important for girls in a way that it is not for boys.  Linda Bunker has found that “Girls’ involvement in sports is largely impacted by the attitudes of parents and other role models.”  It is not clear why boys do not require the same encouragement to engage in sports (it may be that they are expected to like sports and that the pressure to conform is already a big enough driver).  Given that childhood habits are a good predictor of future involvement in sports and fitness activities, it would seem that it is extremely important for girls to have positive associations with physical activities at a young age.

My mother certainly does not think of herself as an athlete (or runner or yogi) in spite of her constant physical efforts and I am by no means an athlete myself but the fun that we had and continue to have doing physical activities is the backbone not only for a healthy lifestyle but it is also how we continue to socialize together and with other friends.  This social aspect to “activities” points to some of the reasons that I never liked going to the gym or any other activity that I thought of as “exercise”.

Most if not all of the activities that I have done over the years have had a large social element and this is one of the main drivers that has always motivated me to get out the door and go.  The activity has to be fun too, of course, but I am much more likely to push myself to do physically demanding things with my body if there is someone else doing it with me.  I am not in competition with my friend or family member but the mere fact of having someone else doing the same thing motivates me to a. Show up when I said I would and b. Push myself harder to keep up.

Running alone on a treadmill indoors does nothing to make me want to improve.  Chatting with a friend while jogging I don’t even notice the time and the kilometers passing.  Having great friends and a sense of community at my activities has been the best part of being active.  My mom is definitely my number one partner as well as role model.

Do you have fond memories of physical activities with your mother or other role model?  I am looking forward to many more bike rides, hikes, yoga retreats and dog walks with my mom.  Thanks for being an inspiration through your healthy habits and for making exercise fun!

 

Aviva is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario.  She is a yoga enthusiast, dancer, cyclist, foodie and animal lover.  She lives in Montreal with her Kung-Fu devotee partner and their dog and two cats.