Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?
March 8, 2015 1:34 PM   Subscribe

As openDemocracy.net focuses on women's voices for International Women's Day, Dawn Foster argues that we need to have a conversation about the unpaid labour that women are expected to do, and the impact it has on their lives. She presents us with some interesting statistics from the UK about the economic value of the unpaid (and often unnoticed) work that women carry out both in and around their paid jobs.

Note that the UN recognises the injustice of unpaid female labour in this report, starting on page four.
posted by averysmallcat (57 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great article, thanks for the post.

Unpaid childcare was worth £343billion when calculated in 2010, which represents approximately three times the contribution of the entire financial services industry in the UK.

I don't know a single person with kids that doesn't rely on family members (usually Grandmothers) for at least part of their child care. It's so expensive here and people hand over a significant portion of their wages to pay someone to mind their children so that they can work...to afford childcare. It's just crazy. Meanwhile the Grannies and Aunties give up time and pay travel costs and all the incidentals that come with looking after children, never mind the actual tiring work itself involved in herding toddlers and young kids, and they're expected to do it for free because it's "a labour of love". Never mind that they're contributing to the economy by helping countless people stay in the workforce.
posted by billiebee at 1:52 PM on March 8, 2015 [23 favorites]


If your life is miserable, then count all the beans. Sometimes we are all so worn down, talking about the beans takes up the only time we have to love any or everyone on our lifeboat.
posted by Oyéah at 2:49 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in Canada...
posted by klanawa at 3:00 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bearing in mind of course that the Harperites have been systematically carving pieces out of StatsCan's effectiveness. I'd think that unpaid work by women is absolutely not a statistic Harper wants anyone to see.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:04 PM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


If your life is miserable, then count all the beans. Sometimes we are all so worn down, talking about the beans takes up the only time we have to love any or everyone on our lifeboat.


I think this attitude is exactly what the article is trying to address-- insisting "Don't count the beans, focus on love" is why teachers and nurses are underpaid, and women are more likely to work the "second shift" at home.
posted by damayanti at 3:05 PM on March 8, 2015 [66 favorites]


Sometimes we are all so worn down, talking about the beans takes up the only time we have to love any or everyone on our lifeboat.

Counting the beans is often a very effective way to start to talk about how to make people less worn down.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:21 PM on March 8, 2015 [30 favorites]


If you have kids, someone has to take care of them. Unlike pretty much everything else, children are an absolute responsibility. Historically, and in many homes today, the father earns money and the mother provides a home and care. In other, more family oriented cultures, aunts, cousins, and grandparents often share this duty.

I find it distasteful to pretend that everything we do is economic in nature. If a family wants children, and has them, then love and stability become an absolute requirement for those children, insofar as the family can provide it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:34 PM on March 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Women have brought in money and worked for money "historically". Not sure what the relevance is, unless it's a misguided attempt to imply that this particular type of labor division is "natural".

Other than that, I have no idea what argument you're trying to make. That childcare isn't work? Everyone who gets paid to care for children (and the people who pay those people) would disagree. That work doesn't count as "economic" work if it benefits your children? Then men working outside the home to provide for their children aren't doing "economic" work either.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:41 PM on March 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


Marge (reading Bart's "Follow your parents to work day" assignment): "Parent's occupation... Please note that 'homemaker' is not allowed, as it is not real work, that's why you don't get paid." Mmmm...
posted by FJT at 3:46 PM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


There are lots of single parents who are the second shift. Tackling this with joy and ingenuity models a life of those traits. I admit the shadow economy of women's work, is huge. The rip really comes down the gazoo, at Social Security time, or shared retirement for divorced spouses, say of military people. Worse yet model the finances of polygamy, in a world where women serve at the pleasure of their husbands, who then get the children in divorce, and may immediately sell them into slavery.

One thing though, jobs are most often what we do for money, the rest is our private lives and how we choose to live them. l live in the second worst locale for pay inequity in the US. I have no one to blame if I don't want to fix dinner, I live alone. I may choose to live closer to family so I can help out more. I want to see the story of my family unfold rather than reading about it on facebook. Face it, most of us on this planet are poor. Among the poor, family is everything. Read A Handbook For Understanding Poverty. Work and untold amounts of unpaid service is a way of life for poor women and men.

I was reading about the secret economy of bats here a couple of weeks ago. They do billions of dollars in service, controlling insects.
posted by Oyéah at 3:47 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I find it distasteful to pretend that everything we do is economic in nature. If a family wants children, and has them, then love and stability become an absolute requirement for those children, insofar as the family can provide it.

It seems to me that the translation of unpaid labour into economic figures is a way of showing the enormous value of what women are 'required' to do. It may be done out of love, duty, compassion, necessity or altruism, but it doesn't take away from the fact that it is all, in fact, work. It's important to point out that the article does not exclusively talk about childcare, but rather a whole swathe of gendered activities (both within and without of the parameters of official, paid work) that women do because it is 'necessary' or 'proper' or 'natural'.

The author strongly underlines the fact that coding some forms of work as 'feminine' (like looking after the elderly or teaching children) is a fantastic excuse to undervalue them in economic terms. When we start talking about certain elements of 'feminine' work as being motivated by ideological or biological imperatives, we open the door to pile on more hours, more injustices and less respect.
posted by averysmallcat at 3:48 PM on March 8, 2015 [68 favorites]


Historically, and in many homes today, the father earns money and the mother provides a home and care. In other, more family oriented cultures, aunts, cousins, and grandparents often share this duty.

Women have always worked at doing things besides raising children. Not having to do so was a class marker, but in the past as now, most women worldwide did not live in the most privileged classes. And so they worked. They raised food, herded animals, and did all the work that men did. When more people began to live in cities, most of them still worked. Sweatshops, stores, market stalls, piecework, managing property, cleaning other people's houses (being a servant in general). Shop clerks. Waiters. Cooks. Childcare. Secretaries. Teachers. As soon as they could get into colleges, they did. As soon as they were allowed to do any kind of scientific or artistic work, they did. They have been sneaking into armies and being soldiers (we have multiple historical examples) too. Women have worked in coal mines, in factories, on ships, wherever and whenever they could, and in a lot of places and times, when they were expressly forbidden to do so. They did it anyway.

Women have always, always, always worked. By any definition of work you want to use. They have done it. And they have often had and raised children at the same time.

But the fact that this needs stating and restating says a lot about how much we as a society take that fact for granted.
posted by emjaybee at 4:01 PM on March 8, 2015 [93 favorites]


I find it distasteful to pretend that everything we do is economic in nature.
I'm sorry that you find it distasteful, and I certainly wouldn't want to upset your sense of decorum, but the fact remains that it is, in some sense, true. You can pretend that childcare has no economic value, right up until the moment when your free childcare-provider becomes unable or unwilling to perform that labor. When a full-time mother and homemaker dies or becomes incapacitated or decides no longer to do the work, the cost of replacing her labor is really high. Families actually really need to think about that fact, because in many instances they need to take out life and disability insurance on stay-at-home parents to take into account the cost of replacing that invisible, unpaid labor.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:17 PM on March 8, 2015 [37 favorites]


You can have any political or ideological view on this. But in Europe and Japan, and maybe also China, as women stop working for free, it becomes a huge economical problem. Who will take care of our growing population of elder people? What happens when women no longer choose to have children? It's personal, but it is also political and it has economic consequences.
posted by mumimor at 4:21 PM on March 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read this while sitting by a family member in his hospital room, while also feeling a bit concerned about not visiting my father in the nursing home for a few weeks, after a really busy week balancing visiting my family member in the hospital with a tough set of deadlines at work, after having been sick myself the previous week (with a cold that's still lingering a bit). I keep seeing good-looking men at the hospital and thinking, "You're just going to get sick and die like everyone else."

That's perhaps a bit morbid—and to be clear, the person I'm visiting isn't dying—but it has become increasingly apparent to me in the last couple years just how much unheralded and disproportionate work we women are expected to do to support our families, from children to ailing spouses to aging family members. Not that men don't help, but women do make up more than 60 percent of caregivers, and only "59 percent of informal caregivers have jobs in addition to caring for another person." Moreover, "because of time spent caregiving, more than half of employed women caregivers have made changes at work, such as going in late, leaving early, or working fewer hours." (See more here.)

It would be nice if there were more recognition of how difficult this is, more understanding among friends, employers, and medical facilities alike when women caregivers who work find themselves pulled in so many different directions. But until you've gone through it yourself, it can be hard to understand the difficulties involved. There is no good answer, given the expectation that a good daughter, wife, and mother is one who is available to meet every need at any time—and ditto, increasingly, for a "good employee." Given that most of us are never going to be independently wealthy, and people are living longer and longer with chronic health problems...Western society, especially, needs to figure out how to address these difficulties and disparities and better support people who undertake the noble work of caring for others, so caregivers and mothers aren't left stripped of the potential for fulfilling careers and pursuits.

It was so disheartening to hear from a former colleague that officials at her grandmother's care facility told her, in surprise, "Oh, we just assumed you didn't work... Most caregivers don't." After "leaning in" and experiencing mainly frustration and misunderstanding from all sides (including herself for not being able to smoothly do it all) for several years, she ended up resigning recently from what was a high-profile position in that company to spend more time with her family. Sigh. I fully support her decision to leave that environment, but I was saddened to think of what might have been possible for her with more support from all quarters.
posted by limeonaire at 4:22 PM on March 8, 2015 [19 favorites]


I may choose to live closer to family so I can help out more. I want to see the story of my family unfold rather than reading about it on facebook. Face it, most of us on this planet are poor. Among the poor, family is everything. Read A Handbook For Understanding Poverty. Work and untold amounts of unpaid service is a way of life for poor women and men.


The key thing is "choice". Some people have the privilege to chose to take a lower paying job closer to home/with more flexible hours because they want to spend more time with their family. Many people don't. The way you framed it can be read as "Well, people are poor because they chose to have their priority be their family", which is awfully close to "Women take lower paying jobs and do work without compensation because they love their family".

(Also, just FYI, a quick google search turned up "Poverty in America: A Handbook", but no "A Handbook for Understanding Poverty". Is that what you're referring to?)
posted by damayanti at 4:51 PM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think Oyéah was referring to Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:11 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


it doesn't take away from the fact that it is all, in fact, work.

Women have always, always, always worked. By any definition of work you want to use. They have done it. And they have often had and raised children at the same time.

Absolutely. "Work" covers a much wider scope than just the employer/employee/compensation mode, and I think that it's tricky to discuss the varying types together as they relate specifically to the world of economic statistics without risking clouding the issue by a misinterpretation that all forms of work involve an exchange of money for goods or labor.

Going over the UN report, it seems to imply a process where the state sets policy, the employers comply with law, and then cultural norms change. That seems an odd way to go about it, even considering the target audience of these reports are generally directed to a governmental audience.

Equal work for equal pay in the workplace is an obvious, clear, achievable, and absolutely necessary goal to begin to resolve the myriad of issues faced by people around the world. Creating or expanding state-sponsored services that help caregivers in any form may be harder to achieve, but is still a very clear and very much needed goal.

For me, things get complicated in separating and defining personal and family responsibilities, including the responsibilities that come from various cultural norms as well as the simple personal ones like making a living, keeping a roof over your head, and possibly raising a family, from the responsibilities of the state and businesses. I'm not trying to defend states or businesses by saying that, I'm just trying to work out at least some vague boundaries of where one ends and the other begins to identify achievable goals to make a more balanced system.

If there is a way to collect and analyze useful data, and include it in economic reports and calculations that can somehow account for the current state of all the different cultural and social norms (like multi-generational households, nuclear families, single and childless couples) both inside a single country and across multiple countries, and use that data to help create programs and laws that these changes can improve a nations productivity as well as create a more balanced situation for its citizens, I'm all for it.
posted by chambers at 5:16 PM on March 8, 2015


It seems like no one is RTFA. The article is not suggesting that housework be compensated, it's justifying its inclusion in the GDP.

I don't think anyone is suggesting, in.the household context, paying a wage to housewives.
posted by jayder at 5:55 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


If your life is miserable, then count all the beans.

Never be afraid you might overthink your plate of beans (surprised nobody used this MeFi Trope yet). Because anything in a Money Based (not just Capitalist) Society that is considered Worth Anything is Worth Money. It's what you value. And as I've said before, Economics is not "a dismal science", it's a "pseudoscience" and in our version of Capitalist Economics, Women's Work is like their equivalent of homeopathy - so diluted it's a placebo
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:15 PM on March 8, 2015


Labor has no inherent value, be it pushing numbers around to produce more numbers, or ensuring the next generation can survive in an uncaring world. ATM, we usually set value by scarcity and demand. This doesn't necessarily work well, because those things don't necessarily track societal utility.

Moms don't get paid because there's a lot of them, but this doesn't mean the work isn't societally useful, and we shouldn't discount it because it doesn't have a strict dollar value.

tl;dr fuck Adam Smith.
posted by fnerg at 6:24 PM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The unpaid labor of women is the dark matter of the economy.
posted by KathrynT at 6:31 PM on March 8, 2015 [86 favorites]


"The unpaid labor of women is the dark matter of the economy."
Great stuff!
posted by Oyéah at 6:41 PM on March 8, 2015


We've been on and off discussing the option of having one of us go from full time to part time (which realistically means taking at least an 80 percent pay cut for that person), because there is so much value, both in quality of life and purely economic, in having a person whose time ("labor," I suppose) is available to be directed primarily at the household. It would be a huge economic hit, but I think that is the path we will find ourselves on.

I don't think anyone is suggesting, in.the household context, paying a wage to housewives.

I can remember seeing that proposed in feminist literature my mother had around the house when I was a kid -- I'm not sure that it was really a serious proposal so much as a way of demonstrating using the only metric that people seem to care about (money) that housework has enormous economic value.

I also know a few couples that basically do that -- where the person who is providing the childcare etc gets a stream of money put into a separate account, so that they have money that is as much independently theirs as it would be if they were getting a paycheck at a job.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:00 PM on March 8, 2015


I view "The Economy" as sure, a very real, but false set of concepts. The doings of caring, the doings of family don't have to march to that beat. I view "The Economy" as a way that all the poor people got robbed, and maybe how women face wage discrimination as a way of life, foisted off on them for the sake of someone else's economic security.

Married people used to get a lot of tax breaks supposedly to support family, and have a homemaker at home. I do think it is gross to intertwine the economy with service we give to others.

Both nurses and teachers did get raises as gender balanced out more in those professions, annoying, but true. I spend twenty hours or more a week, caring for someone who is no relation to me at all. It is not because I am weak and do not understand the economic system. It is not because I am some poor tool that needs rescuing with some numbers, or some words. The one percent's largesse isn't going to magically melt, trickle down and float us all to some economic state of graceful equilibrium. Neither may economists explain away my humanity.

I cynically worry these inquiries will ultimately result in taxation for services, paid for with what? Meals? Find the slavers and free their slaves, keeping in mind slavery is legal in many societies. I was never inconvenienced by feeding my family, combing my girls hair, sitting on the porch and watching over them as they played, turns out that was the best part of my life.
posted by Oyéah at 7:07 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


girls are raised to be mothers and boys are raised to be sons.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 7:27 PM on March 8, 2015 [26 favorites]


Labor has no inherent value

If labor doesn't have value, what does?. You can't eat gold, or bitcoins. But you can eat if farmers farm, pickers pick, packers pack, truckers truck and cooks cook.

Maybe it's because I read Das Kapital too early and too many times, but I'd argue that the only thing that has inherent value is human labor. And the labor that goes on the home has always had value, and, in failing to be valued, has always been exploited.
posted by dis_integration at 7:44 PM on March 8, 2015 [19 favorites]


Yeah, labor being what keeps society physically running, its value is pretty easy to demonstrate.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:53 PM on March 8, 2015


Has anyone got a link to the ONS announcement mentioned? I can't find it on their site.
posted by Segundus at 8:06 PM on March 8, 2015


The question in the FFP's title is a really relevant question here. It's something I've been thinking about in my own household -- how much is it worth to have someone who has, at last counted, cooked roughly 15,000 dinners for 2-14 people, cooking dinner? Does all that experience, all that labour and longevity and love, have value?

I cannot imagine that it doesn't. 15,000 dinners, people. That's not counting lunches or breakfasts, which she has almost always also made, too -- just dinners. And this is just a rough count; she cooked for her siblings growing up, too. (I am of course talking about my mother.) It's more like 60 years of cooking dinners every night nearly without exception, which adds up to over 20,000 dinners. The mind boggles, and yet every time I ask her about it, because this is a kind of longevity and dedication it is hard for me to fathom, she says it's what women were just supposed to do. Women cook for their husbands, and their families, and that's that. They get on with it. (My mother is from a directly-post-Depression generation, hence the strong gender roles and the number of proverbs that boil down to "getting on with it".)

Should all that work be calculated as work? Her work and the work of millions of women like her as mothers and grandmothers and aunts? As a valuable contribution to the economy? Shit yes it should be! That is well, well, well beyond long-service-leave territory, and yet we don't recognise it. "My mum cooks." No. That's inaccurate, minimising and demeaning. It's more like: "My mum has cooked 20,000 dinners and counting, UNPAID". That's just one part of the second shift she has spent her life just getting on with. Just one. Childcare is another. Housework is another. Social obligations, yet another. Caring for ill relatives, another still. All this on top of paid work! All those dinners are a fraction of her second shift work over the last 60 years, and she has never, never been paid for one hour of that labour. She's not even an extreme example, either. There are plenty of older women just like her who have done this all their lives without recognition.

The amount of unpaid and unrecognised and above all silent labour still expected of women is mind-boggling and infuriating and utterly unjust.
posted by E. Whitehall at 8:12 PM on March 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


One of the most pernicious things about modern female activity, in my opinion, is how so much of it is "okay as long as you don't get paid". Take care of children for free -- you're a loving mother or aunt. For money --you're a low status worker. Clean your house because you care-- good housewifery. Paid? You've fallen into the working class. Sex for love, fine. Money? You whore. A romantic relationship that increases your financial security? Gold-digger. The social acceptability of burlesque as a hobby proves it further -- not only do you not get paid, you spend money on costumes, etc. and rarely break even. But at least you're not a filthy stripper!
posted by Hypatia at 8:19 PM on March 8, 2015 [63 favorites]


E. Whitehall: The amount of unpaid and unrecognised and above all silent labour still expected of women is mind-boggling and infuriating and utterly unjust.

Hypatia: One of the most pernicious things about modern female activity, in my opinion, is how so much of it is "okay as long as you don't get paid".

I think these two comments are really important. Not only can the 'unpaid' part become performative, even if true for that person...

Oyéah: I was never inconvenienced by feeding my family, combing my girls hair, sitting on the porch and watching over them as they played, turns out that was the best part of my life.

... but it becomes the dominant narrative to the point where any talk of remuneration (however hypothetical) or attempts to quantify the value of the work (like in the article) is eventually considered gauche.

sonic meat machine: I find it distasteful to pretend that everything we do is economic in nature. If a family wants children, and has them, then love and stability become an absolute requirement for those children, insofar as the family can provide it.

The cultural expectation that we perform emotional labour and caring work for free, for many, many years of our lives, without pointing to the greater injustice of it is so demoralising. It seems to me that the only outlet available in terms of acknowledging how hard this can be is the frequently-repeated phrase that being a mother is the hardest job in the world. Lots of people in this thread have homed in on motherhood as the unpaid women's job but the article encompasses so, so much more. One might be caring for an elderly parent, engaging in low-paid childcare or even just ("just") taking on the bulk of the housework and emotional caring for a spouse, and there's no corresponding understanding of that being a hard job, ever. If what it takes to get across the vastness of unpaid female labour is to couch it in economic terms, then so be it.
posted by averysmallcat at 8:39 PM on March 8, 2015 [24 favorites]


Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata three thousand years ago, and we're still having the same damn fight.

Iceland though...I just ran across this bit of data earlier today: On October 24 1975, Iceland’s women refused to do any work — outside or inside the home — taking “the day off” from paid labor, housework, and child care. An estimated 90 percent of Icelandic women participated and 25,000 — a tenth of the population — gathered at a rally in Reykjavik.

It was the largest demonstration in the nation's history and shut down the entire country. Airports were closed, schools were closed, and hospitals couldn't function. The strike had an immediate and lasting impact. The following year, Iceland's Parliament (now half women) passed a law guaranteeing women equal pay and paid maternity leave. Four years later, Iceland elected the world's first female President. And today, Iceland has the highest gender equality in the world.

We need a strike.
posted by dejah420 at 8:40 PM on March 8, 2015 [99 favorites]


...we perform emotional labour and caring work for free, for many, many years of our lives, without pointing to the greater injustice of it...

To clarify my position: I believe that the only absolute duty is child care. Your parents? Whatever; help them if you feel the need and justification to do so. Parents, however, have an absolute responsibility to their children, because they are responsible for their children being alive. Frequently this responsibility comes down to a calculation of how can this family best provide for our children, and if that calculation results in a working father and stay-at-home mom (as it has in my family's case), I don't think that is an injustice for my wife. We both chose to have children; we did not give up agency by doing so, and we (the team that consists of my wife and I) knew that it might include her quitting her job to provide care.

Necessarily, it ends up with me doing less of the house- and care-work than she does, because I work at my job eight or more hours a day, and she doesn't; but that doesn't mean that I don't also provide care, just not as much (because my support is more indirect). I don't think this is injustice; it is a decision we made as a couple, equitably. At the same time, it doesn't seem sensible to count the care-work as part of GDP because, for example, if we had another child it would increase the work, but where would the economic "product" emerge from? My wife and I would be working harder, but it isn't clear that we would be generating more "domestic product."

When you incur a Parent→Child responsibility, you have voluntarily signed up for long hours at no pay, and it seems positively bizarre to pretend that this is something imposed when necessarily two people are involved in the generation of such a responsibility.

The problematic aspects of it come from twisted interpretations of traditional roles, where the woman becomes essentially a servant of the man; but this type of attitude is not a necessary condition for people to reach the "one income, one stay-at-home parent" situation.

Women have always worked at doing things besides raising children. Not having to do so was a class marker, but in the past as now, most women worldwide did not live in the most privileged classes. And so they worked. They raised food, herded animals, and did all the work that men did.

Yes, this is absolutely true. One key distinction between then and now, though, is that women frequently worked in occupations where they could also provide child care. The children might play at the market; or hang out with the children of the people for whom their mother is a nurse. My wife grew up in this type of situation, and you still see it in non-Western countries. I actually believe it is very healthy; it allows the mother a social outlet and a role to play in the world besides the domestic servant role that many "traditionalists" expect from women. In addition, it reduces the segregation of children, who can learn social etiquette and basic business from their mothers.

In Vietnam, you will often see kids (10-12 years old) doing things like minding the counter of a coffee shop while their mom (or dad) goes to the rest room or is taking care of some unrelated business, or helping to arrange products on shelves, and so on. This type of low-level interaction and "work" would probably be an improvement over the child warehousing you see in the West. (Go to this building; sit there for hours; don't dare to talk to anyone; interact only with people of your own age.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:37 PM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone is suggesting, in.the household context, paying a wage to housewives

I am. Banging the same old drum again: guaranteed minimum income for everyone.

We both chose to have children; we did not give up agency by doing so, and we (the team that consists of my wife and I) knew that it might include her quitting her job to provide care.

The problem is--and I am not saying your family didn't enter into this decision mindfully--that this is seen as the default. Literally the only thing fathers cannot do that mothers can is breastfeed. And there are pumps for that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [15 favorites]


(uh, assuming a whole bunch of heteronormativity and obviously there are family units where Dad can indeed breastfeed as needed and Mum can't, and plenty of families where there's no Mum or no Dad, or two of each, or whatever, but was rolling with the initial premises here)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:43 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are also other ways to recognize unpaid labour in policy or regulations:
Maternity leave, even better if leave comes with a legal guarantee you can return to your job when leave is over; law that protect the financial interest of stay at home parents (such as right to continue sharing income after divorce, or share a pension when husband dies first).
Historically in Canada it meant the right of farm women to own their farm when her husband dies, this may still be an issue in some countries.
Tax breaks for families caring for elders, or for those with disabled children/adult children.
How about tax breaks for coop housing (which we are losing in BC) in recognition of how they can reduce unpaid labour by sharing that work across several households. additional benefit could be applied to coop housing focussed on single-parent families.
Tax credit for volunteer service is another idea. My fathers former employer matches their community donations to volunteer hours contributed by retirees. A major focus of my parents time is volunteer trail building hours that in turn raise funds for wheelchair accessible trail building materials and stream restoration in the parks where they volunteer. The company then gets the tax credit.
Also pay equity is probably playing a big role in deciding who usually stays home...so policy on that would be good.
I think it matters and makes sense to calculate unpaid labour as a portion on GDP, and use that information to decide how to best apply social benefit to support that work in some way.
There are many, many options for doing this.
posted by chapps at 12:56 AM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


At the same time, it doesn't seem sensible to count the care-work as part of GDP because, for example, if we had another child it would increase the work, but where would the economic "product" emerge from? My wife and I would be working harder, but it isn't clear that we would be generating more "domestic product."

The economic product is the person who is enabled to work full-time. The person who works part-time or not at all in order to look after children is the person who makes the economic contribution of the full-time worker possible. The children are also economic products. Over the course of their hopefully long lives they will create jobs for doctors, teachers, college professors, and all manner of service industry workers, plus they themselves will ultimately contribute to the economy in terms of labour hours, taxes, etc. The people who are producing the next generation of worker bees are creating and cultivating an economic product. That the person (in your example of one man and one woman raising a child, which obviously isn't the only model) who usually makes the decision to go part-time or leave paid work is a woman, is usually because that is the person in the lower-paid or lower status job in the first place, which is full-circle to the fact that women's labour is normally valued at less than a man's.
posted by billiebee at 2:50 AM on March 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


Necessarily, it ends up with me doing less of the house- and care-work than she does, because I work at my job eight or more hours a day, and she doesn't; but that doesn't mean that I don't also provide care, just not as much (because my support is more indirect). I don't think this is injustice; it is a decision we made as a couple, equitably. At the same time, it doesn't seem sensible to count the care-work as part of GDP because, for example, if we had another child it would increase the work, but where would the economic "product" emerge from? My wife and I would be working harder, but it isn't clear that we would be generating more "domestic product."

When you incur a Parent→Child responsibility, you have voluntarily signed up for long hours at no pay, and it seems positively bizarre to pretend that this is something imposed when necessarily two people are involved in the generation of such a responsibility.


The problem is that in situations where both women and men work eight or more hours a day, it is STILL usually the woman who performs the majority of the support and care, both for the child and for the household. The problem is that the indirect support that you provide is valued socially and economically, but the support that your wife provides is seen as something that women ought to provide as a matter of course. Both of you work to provide your child with a home. Only your work is counted as value to your country.

Where is the domestic product? The child that you are spending eighteen years feeding and clothing and educating so that they can go on to become a productive member of society. What is the lifelong economic value of an employee? What is the lifelong economic value of an employee who had a stay-at-home mom who helped them with homework and took them to extracurricular activities and encouraged their passions and provided constant emotional support? Society doesn't self-propagate without people having kids. An economy does not stand by itself in a vacuum. If people stopped having kids, there would be no society, no economy. What is the economic value of that?

We're not talking about an individual situation where a husband and a wife have made a decision regarding how to balance childcare and work. We're not saying you're doing it wrong because you and your wife have decided that her staying at home makes the most sense for your family. We're talking about an entire global system that erases the unpaid and silent labour women engage in. If your wife worked full time, and you hired a nanny instead, that money would be included in the GDP. So why isn't the work that your wife is doing so that you don't have to hire the nanny, the opportunity costs to her of providing that childcare, not included?

And that's not even to get into the incredibly complex issue of reproductive control and who has access to it. Hell, it's twenty-fucking-fifteen and we're still debating whether women get to control what happens to their own bodies. It's really not as simple as "women were involved in the decision-making ergo things are just and fair". It really isn't.
posted by Phire at 2:52 AM on March 9, 2015 [28 favorites]


God, I am such a babe in the politico- philosophical woods. Arrgh. So angry that post stay at home mother role (where I still had paid work, and contributed to the ratbastard's career - drawing diagrams, writing business plans, following up on tax, giving advice on social behaviour at work), my at home work did not reduce on re-entering work full time, and it did not reduce when I added study to that. There was a bunch of - you guys know the word for it-is it conscious incompetent - tasks, that he "forgot" to do, or ""couldn't" or what-fucking-ever, Soi was working twice as long as him, if I cared that our resources didn't disappear into service providers (fast food, for example).

So, I'm all - yeah, well that was just MY ratbastard, and I was a fool to stay so long, but don't call me a fool for not bringing it up, because I did, over and over, and sought marriage counselling when it caused fights, and developed an incredible ability to discuss things without arguing, and to give up when it was useless... So yeah my monkey, right?

Except my son (who I adore, and like and respect) just doesn't value hygiene and stuff, and while his political views are pro-Sarkeesian and Gillard (and yes, he will disagree with me if he does), and pro-feminism - yay! He leaves all the shared accomodation shit to me, and even though I keep readjusting what I hope he will do, I was excited tonight when he brought me home because he bought cat food and he took the garbage out. I'm working 50ish hours a week, his work is variable (currently non-existent) and I can't remember him doing the dishes once, and if I ask him, he'll sigh, and slam his door slightly hard, and he may or may not know, I'm socialised to back the fuck right off because my desire to keep the living space mildly hygienic impacts on his depression. Work with me here, and assume that he does this in good faith.

So it's women's work and women care about it, and if they care about such unnecessary things (like maybe creating framed silhouettes of baby's every dental shedding). But what the fuck do women understand about a reasonable minimum standard of taking care of kids, keeping in contact with relies, family nutrition, household cleaning? It's all my fault, right, that I want the dishes done every day. And it's no big deal that I do them myself, like I have for (most) of the last 25 fucking years. Because, being a woman makes my opinion immediately suspect. If a bloke says the dishes only need to be done x times in y period - well! He's a fucking bloke and therefore right! (All present company excepted - assume hyperbole for the sake of a point).

And the point is - because I have a vagina (and a vulva and a clitoris), some things are clear: if something needs to be done, the buck stops with me. If there's an opinion to be had, mine will be the last to be accepted.

So this is what they mean by the political is personal or whatever they say? That even now, as my fertility is waning (waned!), and my career is burgeoning, my genitalia means household chores are mine forever. Because why?
posted by b33j at 3:32 AM on March 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


Also, fuck, I meant to say, was discussing Home Economics with colleague today, and how amazing despite advances in feminism that home economics (and the work it supports) totally undervalued today, and she said something about how economic capital privileged over social capital though it's clear a lack of social capital results in economic downturns (lack of nutrition knowledge/home cooking -> obesity -> increased health care costs and reduced workforce productivity).
posted by b33j at 3:39 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


was discussing Home Economics with colleague today, and how amazing despite advances in feminism that home economics (and the work it supports) totally undervalued today, and she said something about how economic capital privileged over social capital though it's clear a lack of social capital results in economic downturns

Yeah, that was the charitable read I gave to Oyeah's first comment – I can understand where blowback against viewing things in economic terms comes from, because lately it seems like monetary value is the only one, while social values are being dropped by the wayside.

Of course love/social values are essential. However, so are economic values. We can't run a fair system based on purely social exchanges, sans financial economy, because valuation would still be taking place, but worse, with only one value system. Who gets to decide how that works? The value system isn't the root problem – it's how it's applied and used that is. Doing things out of love is great, but it can't be the only thing. It just can't. Who among us has lived their life doing things out of love every single day? Past a certain point, even things you love aren't done solely from love.

Viewed with a utilitarian eye, money can be (if made to be so) a fair way of separating work from emotion. It also allows us to exchange with people we don't/can't/won't love, people we have no emotional connection to, people we've never even met; it has a democracy about it that gets twisted when we don't view or apply it fairly.
posted by fraula at 4:04 AM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just in case, in my mildly inebriated state I wasn't clear, both my colleague and I value the work that is typically devalued AND considered women's "work", and we are planning a series of papers that demonstrate the value of that work with the aim of (hopefully, eventually) reintroducing it into curricula (not just because, but because knowing how to do this shit is important, and it's never as easy or as obvious as it is portrayed).
posted by b33j at 4:37 AM on March 9, 2015


We need a strike.

Another data point: the Russian Revolution started with women's demonstrations on International Women's Day.

Just sayin'
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:07 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


When you incur a Parent→Child responsibility, you have voluntarily signed up for long hours at no pay, and it seems positively bizarre to pretend that this is something imposed when necessarily two people are involved in the generation of such a responsibility.

While I understand that this snippet wasn't the thrust of your post, I think you need to consider that many mothers don't have the luxury of making an informed and wholeheartedly enthusiastic decision to become parents. I'm very glad that this isn't the case for your family, but there are many women on whom parenthood is, indeed, imposed, often due to societal/religious expectation or restrictive abortion laws.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 6:17 AM on March 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


Also, not commenting on original parent-child poster, and I hope it's different now, but when I signed up for long hours, my co-conceptenator did not also sign up. How the fuck does that work? (Even post breastfeeding if you must). Uh uh. youd think two people agreeable to conception would put in equal hours including bread winning and milk making. Nope.
posted by b33j at 6:39 AM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


That the person (in your example of one man and one woman raising a child, which obviously isn't the only model) who usually makes the decision to go part-time or leave paid work is a woman, is usually because that is the person in the lower-paid or lower status job in the first place, which is full-circle to the fact that women's labour is normally valued at less than a man's.

this exactly. i'm a housewife. my husband and i decided that our household would function better if one of us worked and the other stayed home. fact of the matter is that he had the higher earning potential and i, by virtue of being a woman raised in a very strict gender roles religion, had the training to be a housewife. it works well for us and we're happy. we realize getting to choose it in this way is a privilege, but we're not blind to the way that society provided the framework for this decision. we realize that even though it's our personal choice, it can't be severed from the fact that most of the time the work i do falls to women. i feel lucky to have a husband who understands the economic value in what i do and freely admits that his job would be impossible if i weren't doing my job. i honestly prefer this situation to the ones i have been in before where i did more than half of the bread winning and housework and caretaker work. it would be even better if women's work was universally seen as work.
posted by nadawi at 7:08 AM on March 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


I am so puzzled by the idea that calling something work thereby taints it, or makes it less enjoyable, or sacred, or whatever. No one is saying that after 45 minutes of tea party princess-ing, a parent should present a child with an invoice for services rendered.

It isn’t about billable hours being the only metric by which you can claim value in your life, but that in a culture (or cultures) where economic power is the only value consistently recognized, translating work that has previously been considered invisible/free/natural into the language of the financial helps those who are consistently erased become visible, and helps the reality of their contributions become apparent to the power structures that reduce everything to filthy lucre.

When 90% of caretaking has been invisibly outsourced to the unpaid labor of women, describing that in the terms of economic reality (and, realistically, exploitation) has very little to do with how any given individual or family feels about their performance of that labor.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:56 AM on March 9, 2015 [18 favorites]


You can make the understanding of this unpaid work and respect for the workers, a part of school curriculum, somewhere, but not where women are the original sinners and deserve punishment, The unpaid, expected, taken for granted, work of householding will show up and be taxed in Canada if you are not careful. Talk too loudly about preteens minding the counter in family businesses, and someone will show up with a stopwatch, mark my words. We are seemingly the most predatory species on the planet, except fpr the gut bacteria that grow fat folk for an abundant food source.

In one sense people model the unsung power of compassion, continually, our specie's survival depends on it. It is the one reason we exist in the reality of the human capacity for destruction of every dear thing. Careful that you don't inform the delusional, overwhelming, entropy machine, we are performing a work around.
posted by Oyéah at 10:41 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Careful that you don't inform the delusional, overwhelming, entropy machine, we are performing a work around.

It isn't a workaround when they are building their latest Gilded Age on the back of your unpaid labor, and counting on its seamless continuance to prop up their tech disruptor luxury palace incubators.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:09 AM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


The unpaid, expected, taken for granted, work of householding will show up and be taxed in Canada if you are not careful.

You have got to be joking.

Talk too loudly about preteens minding the counter in family businesses, and someone will show up with a stopwatch, mark my words.

Yes. Because we have child labour laws, and those are important, because otherwise children get exploited. The same way women are exploited every day by simply being expected to handle the cooking, the cleaning, the illnesses, the sick and dying relatives while men go off and Be Men.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:19 PM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


The same way women are exploited every day by simply being expected to handle [. . .] the sick and dying relatives while men go off and Be Men.

Two days ago, I was hugging a family friend as she broke down in long delayed sobs while we were clearing away the last of the flowers from her mother's memorial service. She kept saying "It's over. It's OVER. It's been months, and it's over. It was a good idea to have it six weeks after she passed, it really was, it gave me time to get over the immediate grief and the exhaustion of having cared for her, but wow, it was so much work. I can't believe it's over."

I patted her back and said "I know, it's hard. And I know you've had to do a lot of it by yourself." She straightened up and dried her eyes and said, in a much more businesslike tone, "Well, my brother couldn't do it, he was in Mexico."

Yep, two days after his mother died, the man flew to his vacation house in Mexico, and came back three days before the memorial service which his sister planned down to the last jot and tittle, just in time to play the dutiful grieving son. Never have I been so glad to have grown up in a midwesty WASPy family that taught me so effectively how to stifle my feelings, or I would have said something Inappropriate.
posted by KathrynT at 2:31 PM on March 9, 2015 [18 favorites]


"your brother is an ass for leaving all of this to you" is highly appropriate in that situation, I think.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:40 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


KathrynT: I patted her back and said "I know, it's hard. And I know you've had to do a lot of it by yourself." She straightened up and dried her eyes and said, in a much more businesslike tone, "Well, my brother couldn't do it, he was in Mexico."

I see this dynamic in my mother and my grandmother. Grandmother is a wonderful lady, widowed now for nearly 20 years. She is now at the point where, although she lives independently, she needs a fair bit of extra help on a regular basis. My mother and her brother live the same distance from my grandmother, but its my mother who drives over and stays with her every other weekend to change lightbulbs, do big food shops, deal with painting or furniture moving or gardening, take her out places she can't get to herself, etc. These two women are not just mother and daughter but also the best of friends, so it's certainly not a hellish experience, but my mother is absolutely 100% the responsible person to whom all filial duties devolve despite her high-pressure job.

Replicating this down the generations, I see my grandmother more than my younger brother does, despite the fact that I now live on a different continent.
posted by averysmallcat at 3:00 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sigh, yep, my brother is the one who moved away, so I'm the one who devoted a year of weekends to cleaning out my father's house when he moved into assisted living and then a nursing home. I love my brother, and I made a set of choices that led to me being the most logical caregiver, but I do wonder all the time how exactly I ended up in this role. I'm sure I'm not the only woman whose mind is boggled by how this occurs.

But until you've gone through it yourself, it can be hard to understand the difficulties involved.

I'm quoting myself here, but to elaborate on this: A majority of men never will go through this themselves, despite having beloved family members who get sick and die, just like everyone else. While many men sympathize, most never truly empathize and understand just how much work it is to balance caregiving and child-rearing and a career, even as they see their mothers and aunts and grandmothers and sisters and wives struggle with it and perhaps even praise them for it. That's how this gets perpetuated—that's how I, who started out with fairly little caregiving impulse at all, ended up in this role, like my mother and so many other women before me. And that's why even well-meaning men are often so out of touch with our experience—and how policy gets set that fails to account for these contributions to our society's survival.
posted by limeonaire at 8:22 PM on March 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yep, two days after his mother died, the man flew to his vacation house in Mexico, and came back three days before the memorial service which his sister planned down to the last jot and tittle, just in time to play the dutiful grieving son.

I hear this story so, so, so often and it never fails to infuriate. I have tons of stories like that. In one case, a family friend's brother lived five minutes from her when she had a fall. Who went over and took care of her? My mother, not a blood relation, who lived across town. The brother was "busy". No explanation -- just "busy".

I once had a friend who needed to be checked up on every few days -- she was self-sufficient to a point, but very ill after a very bad flu that'd left her very weak -- and her last living parent, her father, refused to check on her, cook for her, help her clean, make his own lunches, etc., even though he ostensibly lived in the same flat. So I schlepped across town by bus, an hour each way, to help her take care of him with cleaning/cooking/laundry/etc. Not herself -- him.

I think even by fourth grade most of my peers and I were aware of the expectation to help take care of our fathers and brothers; to do for them, in the pouring of wine and the making of tea and the chores while they sat at the TV and had to be asked very nicely to lift their feet for the vacuum. I think even then we were aware that we could not rely on them for anything that was anything less than truly important in very carefully constrained ways -- maybe a pickup, if it was an absolute emergency, or maybe help with hanging things or assembling things if it wasn't too complicated or girly and they weren't too busy, or maybe a hard pat on the shoulder and a quick exit if we were very upset. (One of my classmates had a father who took her to tennis lessons on the weekend and -- get this -- he stayed the entire time. We crowded around her every Monday to press her for details about this magical unicorn of a dad. He played Lego with her. Wow! I'm not even being sarcastic, this was genuinely shocking.)

So while that story about this girl and her father makes me so angry now, at the time it made perfect sense. Of course he didn't take care of her! Of course he didn't help take care of himself! We didn't imagine that he didn't care about her -- it was just that him doing it was like asking snails to jump the sky; completely illogical. Of course he didn't! It was very normal. Now, though? hooooo booooooy do I EVER have words for him if I EVER see him again.

So, yes, I am all for including "who cooked Adam Smith's dinner" et al as part of the GDP value. All these things have costs and I am tired of the pretense that they don't. Women's time, effort, and skill has value.
posted by E. Whitehall at 8:31 PM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yes. Because we have child labour laws, and those are important, because otherwise children get exploited.

Exploitation is one thing, but there is a whole big area that can't be as easily classified, that lies between the outskirts of exploitation and simply doing one's part to help keep the family business running, and where that blurry line between them is drawn will vary greatly, depending on the situation.

For example, a new set of expansive regulations and laws that are designed with suburban and urban populations with a "regular" 9-5 work schedule are entirely incompatible and downright destructive if applied to rural populations that are invested in agriculture - there is no "9-5" in farming - it doesn't matter if you are on a farm in Pennsylvania, Uruguay, or Nepal. Work gets done or eventually you lose the farm.

I grew up on a tiny little ranch, and I had it easy compared to the kids whose families had large dairy or corn farms. Both my parents worked jobs outside the farm during the day, I was in middle and high school, and the farmwork came both before and after those for all of us. I might have to put anywhere from 15-20 hours a week in while I was in school, and the summer work at times would easily be double that or more, doing my part to keep things running - stacking hay, digging postholes for fencing, feeding, watering, training, and taking care of the animals, whatever was needed.

Like I said, I had it easy compared to the kids that grew up on farms 10-20 times the size of our little "hobby farm" - it's a misleading term, as it was a vital second set of income and not simply an amusing distraction, but compared to the big farms, the term would generally apply. Most of the big farms couldn't survive without such unpaid labor from the children, even with the paid farmhands working there too.

This is in the good ol' first-world USA - on the farms living at other end of the economic spectrum, the line between getting by and losing the primary means of earning a living in places where there aren't even inklings of some governmental 'safety net,' it's incredibly tougher to stay on the good side of that line.

With that in mind, if one is to consider creating policies in the future that may come from including and examining all the different forms of unpaid labor across all genders and situations and defining what is exploitative and what isn't, one has to consider the possible side effects, which could by its very nature may challenge exemptions to child labor laws like the family farm exemption in the US, for example, and however honorable the goal, moving too fast may do more harm than good in a great deal of cases.

Creating workable solutions to some of the issues in this discussion is going to require a fundamental rework of some of the oldest and most vital parts throughout the economies of the world. Making considerable alterations to something as fundamental as food production in all its forms and add to that the challenges of balancing both inter- and intra-national trade and valuation of the basic things humans need to survive is not something that can be solved by simply making X practice illegal.

The truly extreme exploitative stuff (sweatshops, children forced out of school to work, etc) can often be dealt with that way, but to really get at the roots of this, you're going to have to deal with systems that have been worked to their present state after 12,000+ years of agriculture, 6000+ years of economies. Finding a different way to do it, while clearly needed, is going to neither be quick or easy.
posted by chambers at 8:38 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


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