How Do We Address Unpaid Care Work?

Most of us know someone who grew up with either a stay-at-home mom or a single mom who worked while also managing the household mostly by themselves. It has been a product of our culture that emphasizes that women should work like they don’t have a family, yet take care of their family like they don’t work. As unfortunate as it is, there is a lot of work that women do in the domestic sector that is unaccounted for in labor statistics and GDP across the world. This work that women do in the domestic sector is often called unpaid care work. Unpaid because there is no compensation that women get for their work and care because it generally involves taking care of their families, partners, aging parents and so on.

According to estimates from McKinsey, women, wives, girls and daughters do about 75% of all unpaid work in the world. Before the pandemic, women spent three times as many hours on unpaid domestic and care work as men. 


So what are some of the statistics of unpaid care work around the world? 


According to studies conducted by UN Women, in a fairly developed country like Argentina, unpaid care work constituted 7% of their GDP and in a country in the Global South, Tanzania, unpaid care work would make up to 63% of their GDP. Additionally, in terms of value, in a country like Switzerland, if you valued the unpaid care work that was done, it is almost at par with the banking and insurance industry. 


During the pandemic, time spent on care work has increased for both women and men, but the increase in this work has been far greater for women. Women were spending two more hours per day on average than men on household duties, particularly, in lower income countries and communities around the US. 

Feminist economists have always advocated for the inclusion of unpaid care work in GDP but household work is considered outside of the boundary of goods and services that are taken in consideration when calculating the GDP since it is done outside a professional setting. Yet, McKinsey believes, unpaid care work performed by women accounts for the equivalent of 13% of global GDP.


So what is the solution to this unequal skewing of unpaid care work towards women and how do we get the recognition at a national economic level that it deserves? 


Here are some ways to start: 


Redistribute unpaid care work: The truth is, there is no way to get rid of unpaid care work. The problem is that both men and women need a break from the never-ending cycle of household labor. Gender equality is the ideal in this situation where unpaid domestic and care work is redistributed between both men and women. One of the ways that companies and governments can achieve this is to provide equal amounts of parental leave for new parents regardless of their gender identity. 


Provide access to care infrastructures: In addition to providing equal parental leaves, we need a more comprehensive care infrastructure to support parents and families around the country. This means access to equal healthcare, access to clean drinking water, sanitation and housing. This reduces the burden that falls on families and individuals to arrange for their household needs. Another way to provide care infrastructure is to provide childcare for free or at affordable rates so that parents can focus on their work while their children are taken care of.


Recognize the value of unpaid care work:  To recognize the value of unpaid care work is not to recognize its value in GDP but in our daily lives as well. Recognize the family members that this burden most often falls on and help them out. It may be your mom, your dad or another family member. 


All in all, unpaid care work is an unfortunate burden on women. To create a more equal society, we need to raise the rate of women’s participation in paid work while also increasing the rate of men’s participation in unpaid care and domestic work.