Melinda Gates delivers powerful message that unpaid work is not just for mums

Melinda Gates may be married to a billionaire, but even she still feels swamped by daily chores. Now the wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has a message for men that has mums everywhere cheering – it’s time to step up and share the chores so mums can spend more time with their children.

Yes, even being married to the richest man in the world can’t buy you more time with family. Melinda says in trying to keep up with foundation work and the schedules of three children, the need for more time that plagues most parents is something she understands very well.

In an annual letter to Gates fans and associates, she appears refreshingly normal, despite a high-flying lifestyle. But it seems money can’t buy everything and Melinda has put out an impassioned plea for dads of the house to share the load.

In most households the domestic workload still falls to the mum, leaving women to feel stretched and wishing they had more time. But in her inspirational message, Melinda says by mixing things up a bit all that can all change.

Growing up in Dallas in the 1970s, Melinda says she had a lot of friends whose mothers stayed home instead of working.

“Though now I know that staying home is working – and working very hard, even though you don’t get paid for it,” she says.

But while the world has changed a lot, some things haven’t changed much at all and caring for the kids, cooking for the family and cleaning the house is still largely considered woman’s work.


“I’m sorry to say this, but if you think that, you’re wrong. Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility,” Melinda says.


“Who packs your lunch? Who fishes the sweaty socks out of your gym bag? Who hassles the nursing home to make sure your grandparents are getting what they need?”

mum daughter family girl

There are so many other things women could be doing if they didn’t spend so much time on mundane tasks.

“What amazing goals would you accomplish with an extra hour every day?” Melinda says.

“Many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic wellbeing of societies around the world. The fact that they can’t holds their families and communities back.”

But she says the world needs to recognise that unpaid work is still work, reduce the amount of time and energy it takes and redistribute it more evenly between women and men.

“Nobody supports a 50/50 split of all types of work at all times. Part of belonging to a family is co-operating, and sometimes one person is going to change a few more diapers because another is focused on a different important task,” Melinda says.

“Furthermore, not all unpaid work is created equal. Folding laundry isn’t rewarding. But caring for a child or a sick relative is deeply meaningful, and many people, Bill and me included, want to take time to concentrate on that part of life. Sharing the burdens of unpaid work also means sharing the joys.”

She says studies show that when fathers are able to take time off from paid work when their children are born, they spend more time with their kids and doing other kinds of housework for years to come.

“As a result, they form a stronger bond with their partners and children. That’s one reason why I think access to paid family and medical leave is so important for families,” says Melinda.

“In the end, the goal is to change what we think of as normal—and not thinking it’s funny or weird when a man puts on an apron, picks up his kids from school, or leaves a cute note in his son’s lunchbox.”

For further proof of mum and dad’s uneven share in the wash-up over chores, read about the research that shows mum does the majority – and why that’s unlikely to change.

(main image via the Bill Gates blog)




Subscribe to Babyology

Our email newsletters keep you up to date with what’s happening on Babyology.

We also have special newsletter-only offers and competitions that are exclusive to Babyology subscribers.

Sign up below:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Send this to a friend