Home / Regular Issue / JSSH Vol. 31 (3) Sep. 2023 / JSSH-8709-2022


Gender, Ethnicity and Unpaid Domestic Work Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Malaysia

Hemarubhini David Chelliah, Harn Shian Boo and Premalatha Karupiah

Pertanika Journal of Social Science and Humanities, Volume 31, Issue 3, September 2023

DOI: https://doi.org/10.47836/pjssh.31.3.04

Keywords: Dissatisfaction, pandemic, time pressure, unpaid domestic work responsibilities

Published on: 22 September 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in mandatory work-from-home arrangements and the closure of schools and daycare centres, placing an additional burden on families. Using an online survey carried out during the second Movement Control Order in January 2021, this survey was about who is responsible for housework and childcare work and the subjective time pressure, spare time and satisfaction. Our results indicated that housework and childcare were shouldered by women rather than men during both periods, i.e., before and during the pandemic. In addition, housework and childcare were viewed by many women as either their sole or shared responsibilities with their partners. Contrarily, many men believed that housework and childcare should be shared or fully borne by their spouses. The gender differences in managing domestic responsibilities persist before and during the pandemic. Furthermore, the findings conclude that there is a significant association between gender and unpaid domestic work responsibilities for certain ethnic groups and not all ethnic groups within both periods. Our findings also revealed that during the pandemic, most women reported time pressure and dissatisfaction towards the division of housework and childcare among couples. Overall, reducing women’s burden of unpaid domestic work and improving their well-being is crucial.

  • Abdullah, K., Noor, N. M., & Wok, S. (2008). The perceptions of women’s roles and progress: A study of Malay women. Social Indicators Research, 89(3), 439-455. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-008-9242-7

  • Addati, L., Cattaneo, U., Esquivel, V., & Valarino, I. (2018). Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work. International Labour Organization. https://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/WCMS_633135/lang--en/index.htm

  • Adrian Hodges Advisory Ltd, & Chan, M.-K. (2019). Business briefing on unpaid care and domestic work: Why unpaid care by women and girls matters to business, and how companies can address it. Oxfam GB; Unilever. https://policy-practice.oxfam.org/resources/business-briefing-on-unpaid-care-and-domestic-work-why-unpaid-care-by-women-and-620764/

  • Aziz, N. N. A., Yazid, Z. N. A., Tarmuji, N. H., & Samsudin, M. A. (2016). The fourfold taxonomy of work-family balance and well-being: The moderating effect of coping strategy. E-Academic Journal, 5(1), 1-4.

  • Aziz, N. N. A., Yazid, Z. N. A., Tarmuji, N. H., Samsudin, M. A., & Majid, A. A. (2018). The influence of work-family conflict and family-work conflict on well-being: The mediating role of coping strategies. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 8(4), 259-275. https://doi.org/10.6007/ijarbss/v8-i4/4012

  • Boo, H. S. (2021a). Gender norms and gender inequality in unpaid domestic work among Malay couples in Malaysia. Pertanika Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 29(4), 2353-2369. https://doi.org/10.47836/PJSSH.29.4.14

  • Boo, H. S. (2021b). Unpaid domestic work and gender inequality in the time of COVID-19 in Malaysia. Pertanika Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 29(3), 1765-1781. https://doi.org/10.47836/pjssh.29.3.16

  • Budlender, D. (2008). The statistical evidence on care and non-care work across six countries. Gender and Development Programme (Paper no. 4). United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. https://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BCCF9/(httpAuxPages)/F9FEC4EA774573E7C1257560003A96B2/$file/BudlenderREV.pdf

  • Carvalho, M., Rahim, R., Tan, T., & Zainal, F. (2021, September 15). Almost 78,000 couples divorced since start of pandemic last year. The Star. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2021/09/15/almost-78000-couples-divorced-since-start-of-pandemic-last-year

  • Chauhan, P. (2020). Gendering COVID-19: Impact of the pandemic on women’s burden of unpaid work in India. Gender Issues, 38, 395-419. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-020-09269-w

  • Choong, C., Firouz, A. M. M., Jasmin, A. F., Noor, N. M., & Gong, R. (2019). Time to care: Gender inequality, unpaid care work and time use survey. Khazanah Research Institute.

  • Chung, H., Birkett, H., Forbes, S., & Seo, H. (2021). Covid-19, Flexible working, and implications for gender equality in the United Kingdom. Gender & Society, 35(2), 218-232. https://doi.org/10.1177/08912432211001304

  • Cochran, W. G. (1977). Sampling techniques (3rd ed.). Wiley.

  • Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Lawrence Erbaum Associates.

  • Craig, L., & Churchill, B. (2020). Working and caring at home: Gender differences in the effects of Covid-19 on paid and unpaid labor in Australia. Feminist Economics, 27(1-2), 310-326. https://doi.org/10.1080/13545701.2020.1831039

  • Craig, L., Bittman, M., Brown, J., & Thompson, D. (2008). Managing work and family (Report No. SPRC Report 6/08). https://doi.org/10.26190/unsworks/428

  • Del Boca, D., Oggero, N., Profeta, P., & Rossi, M. (2020). Women’s and men’s work, housework and childcare, before and during COVID-19. Review of Economics of the Household, 18(4), 1001-1017. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-020-09502-1

  • Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020a). Current population estimates, Malaysia 2020. https://www.dosm.gov.my/portal-main/release-content/current-population-estimates-malaysia-2020

  • Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020b). Report of special survey on effects of COVID-19 on economy & individual (Round 1). https://www.dosm.gov.my/portal-main/article/covid-19-report-individual-round-1

  • Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2022). Labour force survey. https://www.dosm.gov.my/portal-main/release-content/key-statistics-of-labour-force-in-malaysia-august-2022

  • Hazarika, O. B., & Das, S. (2021). Paid and unpaid work during the COVID-19 pandemic: A study of the gendered division of domestic responsibilities during lockdown. Journal of Gender Studies, 30(4), 429-439. https://doi.org/10.1080/09589236.2020.1863202

  • Hewitt, B., Baxter, J., Givans, S., Murphy, M., Myers, P., & Meiklejohn, C. (2011). Men’s engagement in shared care and domestic work in Australia. The Social Research Centre. https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/women/publications-articles/economic-independence/mens-engagement-in-shared-care-and-domestic-work-in-australia

  • JobStreet Malaysia. (2020). COVID-19 job report. https://www.jobstreet.com.my/en/cms/employer/wp-content/themes/jobstreet-employer/assets/loa/report/my/JobStreet-COVID-19-Job-Report-Malaysia-Sept-2020.pdf

  • Kaufman, M. (2014). Engaging men, changing gender norms: Directions for gender-transformative action. UNFPA-MenEngage. https://www.unfpa.org/resources/brief-engaging-men-changing-gender-norms

  • Korosteleva, O. (2018). The SAGE encyclopedia of educational research, measurement, and evaluation. SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781506326139

  • Neetha, N. (2021). Crisis after crisis: The pandemic and women’s work. The Indian Economic Journal, 69(3), 425-440. https://doi.org/10.1177/00194662211013234

  • Noor, N. M. (1999). Roles and women’s well-being: Some preliminary findings from Malaysia. Sex Roles, 41(3), 123-145. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1018846010541

  • Poortman, A.-R., & Van Der Lippe, T. (2009). Attitudes toward housework and child care and the gendered division of labor. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(3), 526-541. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00617.x

  • Povera, A., & Harun, H. N. (2021, January 11) MCO 2.0 in five states, three FTs. New Straits Times. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2021/01/656447/mco-20-five-states-three-fts

  • Rahim, R., Tan, T., Carvalho, M., & Zainal, F. (2021, September 23). Over 9,000 domestic violence cases recorded since MCO began, Rina Harun tells Parliament. The Star. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2021/09/23/over-9000-domestic-violence-cases-recorded-since-mco-began-rina-harun-tells-parliament

  • Ruppanner, L., Brandén, M., & Turunen, J. (2017). Does unequal housework lead to divorce? Evidence from Sweden. Sociology, 52(1), 75-94. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038516674664

  • Stratton, L. S. (2020). The determinants of housework time: Boosting the efficiency of household production could have large economic effects. IZA World of Labor 2020. https://doi.org/10.15185/izawol.133.v2

  • Tang, A. (2020, March 16) Malaysia announces movement control order after spike in COVID cases. The Star. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/03/16/malaysia-announces-restricted-movement-measure-after-spike-in-covid-19-cases

  • Treas, J., & Tatlock, A. (2012). Housework. Oxford Bibliographies. https://doi.org/10.1093/OBO/9780199756384-0099

  • United Nations Development Programme. (2020). How we worked from home. https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/crisis-prevention-and-recovery/how-we-worked-from-home.html

  • United Nations Population Fund, & Promundo. (2018). Engaging men in unpaid care work: An advocacy brief for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. https://menengage.unfpa.org/en/resources/engaging-men-unpaid-care-work

  • World Health Organization. (2020, March 11). WHO director - General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19. https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---11-march-2020

  • Xue, B., & McMunn, A. (2021). Gender differences in unpaid care work and psychological distress in the UK COVID-19 lockdown. PLoS ONE, 16(3), Article e0247959. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0247959

ISSN 0128-7702

e-ISSN 2231-8534

Article ID


Download Full Article PDF

Share this article

Related Articles