Unpaid Work in the Home

It has long been argued that the cost of environmental degradation should be included in National Accounts and subtracted from Gross National Product. China’s growth postings would be less spectacular if the consequences of air pollution were taken into account, as would Indonesia’s growth rate estimates if deforestation was included. A recent article argues for also taking into account the value of unpaid work bringing up children and caring for the elderly.[1] Women increasingly participate in the labour market with little or no compensating reduction in domestic duties. This results in stress and reduced quality of life. Rai and colleagues suggest that not only should this work be valued and included in the National Accounts, but women should be compensated for the stress that arises. In high-income countries parents are provided with paid parental leave. The motivation here may be largely driven by a desire to increase fertility rather than to improve parents’ wellbeing. It is possible that the economic benefits of improving the dependency ratio, along with those of reducing stress, more than compensate for the upfront costs of the transfers that make this possible. The negative economic consequences of a high-dependency ratio have been discussed in previous blogs.[2] [3] In low-income countries return on investment from supporting parents of young children may be yet greater. The global partner to CLAHRC WM is working with the Africa Population Health Research Center (APHRC) to evaluate the benefit of schemes that promote breastfeeding at work. Here, the benefits include improved outcomes for both mother and child. It is strange how health economics tends to ignore societal effects of interventions on productivity and national wealth.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director

References:

  1. Rai SM, Hoskyns C, Thomas D. Depletion: the cost of social reproduction. Int Fem J Polit. 2014; 16(1): 86-105.
  2. Lilford R. Is Low Fertility a Problem for High-Income Countries, but a Boon For Low-Income Countries? CLAHRC WM News Blog. December 12 2014.
  3. Lilford R. Improving Hospital Care: Not Easy When Budgets are Pressed. CLAHRC WM News Blog. January 23 2015.
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