Early last week, Malaysian Minister of Economy Rafizi Ramli was quoted by media stating that Malaysians are addicted to eating out. He cited a recent study which found that Malaysians eat out more than South Koreans, despite having a relatively lower income. According to Malay Mail, Rafizi attributes this to past government policies which discouraged local food production, as well as the convenience and affordability of eating out in Malaysia. He also proposed solutions such as viewing household expenditure through the lens of behavioral economics. According to Economics Help (2023), behavioral economics is the study of how psychology influences economic decisions and behavior. Malaysians can agree that we are blessed with a diverse range of food options available at every price point, with many eateries offering delivery and takeout services. This makes it easy for Malaysians to get a meal without having to cook or clean up.
However, for many Malaysian women with families, time poverty is one of the contributing factors to eating out. Time poverty is a shortage of time for recreational activities after all paid and unpaid labor has been completed.
In Malaysia today, women are holding full-time careers while also raising families. In this economy and especially urban areas, it is impossible to sustain on a single income household, which is why both men and women have to work. A study by Khazanah Research Institute (2019) found that women in Malaysia do more unpaid care work than men, even though they may work the same number of hours in paid work. Unpaid care work is any work that is done without being paid for, such as caring for children, the elderly, or doing housework. This is called the “double burden” or “second shift” where women have to continue working even after coming home from their paid jobs.
Khazanah Research Institute argued that care work is essential for a functioning society and the economy, but it is often undervalued and unpaid. As most care work is done at the home, it is not subjected to market transactions and excluded from conventional economic measures, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Time-Use Survey (TUS)
Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) conducted a time use survey (TUS) to measure unpaid care work. According to them, the value and economic potential of this work isn’t exactly reflected in Malaysia’s current national statistics.
The middle class has the most difficulty balancing paid work and unpaid care work. Across all income classes, except for the B40, women in the research sample spent less time in paid work than men, but more time in unpaid care work. Women in the B40 category spend more time in both paid and unpaid work than their male counterparts.
They discovered that among women, those in the T20 spent the least proportion of time on paid work and unpaid care work (6.1 hours on paid work and 2.6 hours on unpaid care work), while women in the M40 spent the most proportion of time on these two activities (7.2 hours on paid work and 3.9 hours on unpaid care work). This suggests that women in the M40 experience the double burden (based on total hours spent) to a greater extent than women in other income classes.
Chart above obtained from KRI’s 2019 report Time to Care: Gender Inequality, Unpaid Care Work, and Time Use Survey
In recent decades, there has been a shift from the traditional male breadwinner model (where men are the primary income earners) to the universal breadwinner model (where both men and women contribute to household income). Even so, the gender inequality in the sphere of unpaid care work at home continues to persist, with care work still seen as women’s responsibility.
Khazanah Research Institute (2019) affirms that household production can help to reduce income inequality. Families can save money by doing their own care work, such as cooking and childcare, rather than paying for these services from the market. Thus, implementing policies that strive to increase women’s workforce participation must consider the affordability of market services.
Based on our years of experience working with private industry corporations and women leaders, LeadWomen recommends working towards employer supported care to reduce the unequal care burden on women:
- Policies: Organizations should consider the care factor when planning policies and putting care at the center of leave policies.
- Partnership: Work with third-party vendors to provide childcare and other caregiving services.
- Flexible work: Shift towards an outcomes-based work culture when considering flexible work arrangements.
- Mindset shift: Encourage male employees to take up half the burden rather than assuming it is solely a woman’s responsibility.
We believe that Rafizi Ramli’s claim raises valid points. Malaysians are forced to eat out, especially for families in which women are juggling paid work and unpaid care work, due to time poverty. Unless they are able to afford external domestic help, eating out is convenient and affordable at most eateries. It also saves time and elevates the mental burden for women who are already having to work the “double shift”.
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- Behavioural economics. Economics Help. (2023). https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/glossary/behavioural-economics/
- Choong, C., Firouz, A. M. M., Jasmin, A. F., Noor, N. M., & Goong, R. (2019). Time to Care: Gender Inequality, Unpaid Care Work and Time Use Survey. https://doi.org/https://www.krinstitute.org/assets/contentMS/img/template/editor/Publications_Time%20to%20Care_Full%20report.pdf
- Morden, Z. (2023, September 18). Rafizi: Malaysians addicted to eating out because of past administration’s failed policies. Malay Mail. https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2023/09/18/rafizi-malaysians-addicted-to-eating-out-because-of-past-administrations-failed-policies/91457