No. 13 The Intra-household Allocation of Time and Tasks:
What Have We Learnt from the Empirical Literature?
By Nadeem Ilahi

This paper presents a synthesis of the empirical literature on intra household time use in developing countries.  It discusses the importance of studying time allocated to various activities—market work for wages, work on the family enterprise and different kinds of housework—from a policy standpoint.  It then reviews the empirical literature on five main areas: a) how economic incentives affect intra-household time-use; b) whether access to basic services (water, energy etc.) have gender differentiated impacts on time-use; c) if idiosyncratic shocks such as changes in employment and health affect time use by gender; d) how agricultural commercialization alters the allocation of time and tasks by gender and e) whether child care is an area that needs policy attention.  Last, the paper also reviews the empirical literature on the determinants of child time allocation.

The findings of the review are that there are broad regional and rural-urban differences in the distribution of time by gender, but that the time allocation of men and women to responds to economic incentives and constraints.  Whether labor and goods markets exist or not has important influence in determining how men and women alter their time allocation in response to exogenous changes in their environment.  For instance, the gender-differentiated effects of changes in agricultural commercialization on time use vary according to how well labor and goods markets function.  Thus economic reform that increases the access of individuals to labor, goods, credit, insurance and day-care markets will undoubtedly reduce the need for using female time resource as a “buffer”.  Last, while economic factors play an important role in explaining gender differences in time use, they do not explain all.  The importance of social roles should also be recognized.

This paper is part of a series of papers on selected topics commissioned for the forthcoming Policy Research Report(PRR) on Gender and Development. The PRR is being carried out by Elizabeth King and Andrew Mason and co-sponsored by the World Bank’s Development Economics Research Group and the Gender and Development Group of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network. Printed copies of this paper are available free from the World Bank, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20433. Please contact Owen Haaga, in room MC8-434 or at Comments are welcome and should be sent directly to the author(s) at