Gendered time and energy expenditure in rural livelihoods: Different sides of the same coin?


by Giacomo Zanello and Fiorella Picchioni | April 1, 2019

Understanding how women and men allocate their time and energy is crucial for creating gender-sensitive agricultural interventions. However, data on time use alone does not tell us how much energy people expend on different activities. In this blog, Giacomo Zanello and Fiorella Picchioni of the University of Reading describe two case studies in India and Nepal in which they combined time use and energy expenditure data to better understand rural people’s activities and livelihoods.


Photo credit: Giacomo Zanello/University of Reading

Photo credit: Giacomo Zanello/University of Reading

How people spend their time can impact their nutritional status, health, and income. In particular, the multiple burdens on women, who shoulder most of the responsibilities of caregiving and domestic chores, as well as participating in many aspects of agricultural production and other economic activities, can have negative consequences on child and household nutrition and health.

Studies show that men’s and women’s time in rural areas is often a scarce resource and poorer households tend to have even more constraints on their time. Yet, in contexts where healthy and diverse food is scarce – more than 800 million of people worldwide are estimated to be undernourished – energy, as much as time, is a valuable resource.

Triangulating time-use and energy expenditure data

Time use is often measured using traditional survey tools such as the 24-hour recall. However, the time a person spends on different activities does not indicate the intensity of that work, leaving a number of questions unanswered. What are the characteristics of rural livelihood activities? How do men and women allocate time and energy across different categories of activities? How does seasonality affect the gendered allocation of time and energy among different tasks?

Accelerometers - devices that capture physical activity - have gained popularity in research, both in high- and in low- and middle-income countries, for measuring energy expenditure. Our work shows how combining these two methods in agri-health research can provide a richer picture of agricultural and rural livelihood activities that can better inform gender sensitive agricultural interventions for nutrition.

In two case studies in India (State of Telangana) and Nepal (Chitwan and Kavrepalanchowk districts), we collected both energy expenditure data and daily 24-hour recall time-use information from 40 couples across four non-consecutive weeks representing four agricultural phases (land preparation, seeding and sowing, land maintenance and harvest). This methodology generated more than 36,000 hours of time use and energy expenditure data.

Modelling gendered work across activities and seasons

What do we gain by combining energy expenditure and time use data? The graphs below show the predicted allocations of time and energy spent on productive work, reproductive work, and leisure by agricultural season and sex.

  1. Activities tend to have clear patterns of time and energy use. Productive work appears to be characterized by tasks that are more energy than time demanding, while leisure activities are the opposite. Reproductive work appears to balance levels of energy expenditure and time-use.
  2. Women and men both work in many aspects of productive activities that absorb most of their time and energy. However, the reproductive domain remains predominantly a feminized sphere, although this differences is less evident in the Nepal case study. Women compensate for heavier burdens of productive and reproductive work by having less leisure time.
  3. Productive work varies markedly by season in terms of allocation of time and energy. However, reproductive work appears to be less elastic to seasonality, suggesting that additional seasonal productive work is compensated at the expenses of leisure time.


Predicted energy and time ratios in the India case study by activity and sex (95% confidence interval) based on fractional multinomial logistic regression models


Predicted energy and time ratios in the Nepal case study by activity and sex (95% confidence interval) based on fractional multinomial logistic regression models


Why is this important in agricultural interventions?

Measuring how people allocate their time and energy expenditure across different activities can improve our understanding of rural livelihoods and provide a more granular representation of how people manage their workloads and how this interacts with nutritional outcomes. Gender sensitive agricultural interventions should consider how people manage their workloads, and how work burdens vary by gender, agricultural season, and context. A richer picture of time and energy expenditure can equip policy makers with the tools to create effective nutrition sensitive agricultural interventions.



Other GNIE blogs on time use:


This post is part of a blog, the Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange, maintained by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). To add your comments below, please register with Disqus or log in using your Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts. You must be signed in or registered to leave a comment.