1GDP is the main indicator of a country’s national accounts system and economy, but it does not contemplate many activities carried out in homes, as they are not exchanged in the market. This is the case with care of children and dependents, cooking, and household cleaning.
2The economic cost of these activities is estimated by calculating the time that household members invest in domestic tasks and multiplying it by the wage that would be paid to an outside person to do those tasks (8.09 euros per hour). According to the calculations made in this study, non-remunerated work would represent some 40.8% of GDP.
3Men and women contribute to this work unequally, with the female contribution being the most important. If the non-remunerated work done by women were taken into account when calculating GDP, it would have represented 26.2% of the GDP of 2010, a percentage similar to the industrial sector.
To calculate the value of domestic work, different non-remunerated activities that appear in the graph are taken into account. Tasks related with food (meal preparation, washing up, shopping) are the most expensive, followed by household maintenance (mainly cleaning but also repairs).
Then come tasks related with clothing (washing, drying, ironing, sewing), care of children and dependents, and regular journeys for carrying out activities.
The difference is especially important in activities related with food, mainly performed by women.
GDP does not measure all the value generated by the economy
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one of the main indicators of a country’s economy. It is an indicator that measures the value of the goods and services produced in a country during a certain time period and is often used to compare the level of development and the state of the economy of different countries.
However, GDP is not a perfect indicator of the value of the economy, because among other factors it does not include activities that involve the production of goods and services but in which no monetary exchange takes place. These activities are invisible for the national accounts because they are not included in GDP, although they certainly are productive and could become market activities. For example, the person who cleans a house could charge for that work or pay another person to do it. Among the activities that remain hidden in the calculation of GDP we find the submerged economy and illegal work, but also housework and care activities, as well as volunteer work. Due to this lack of accounting, we can consider that GDP underestimates the value of the economy.
Also, it is important to underline that housework and people care are performed mainly by women, both in the labour market and in the home. For this reason, when these activities are professionalised and externalised, they have an impact on the female activity rate. Including these activities in the national accounts would enable a more realistic comparison between countries with differing levels of formalisation of this sector, as well as a better understanding of women’s activity and employment rates. To do this, so-called “satellite accounts” are developed which attempt to include aspects of the economy that traditional indicators cannot cover, as is the case of housework and care work. Satellite accounts make work that often remains hidden but that is necessary for society’s wellbeing more visible.
1. What is the value of housework?
For 2010 (the last data available) it is estimated that the value of unpaid activities in the Spanish economy totalled 426,372 million euros, which represents 40.77% of GDP value. The evolution of the labour market since then leads us to think that this figure will not have fallen much. The estimate is somewhat conservative and with other calculation methods could be even higher. Figure 1 presents the value of the different types of activity considered in the study.
In the graph we can see that activities related with food preparation are those with the greatest weight, followed by household maintenance (fundamentally cleaning). Care for children and dependent people are the third category in order of economic importance, with a cost equivalent to half of the cost of food-related tasks. However, it must be taken into account that, although all households need to feed their members and maintain their dwelling, not all of them carry out caregiving activities. If we only considered households where there are people who require care, their value with respect to other categories would be higher. Journeys and work related with care of clothing have a lesser importance than the other three.
What is the situation of Spain in comparison with other countries? Figure 2 shows the percentage of GDP represented by domestic and care work in the G7 countries, calculated based on data from the OECD (Van de Ven, 2018). Direct comparison with the data for Spain with the countries appearing in figure 2 is complicated because the calculation models are different, but the graph gives us an idea of the important divergences between these seven countries. Unpaid work has an important weight in Italy (23.7% of GDP), but is nearly half of that in Canada (11.5% of GDP). Other European countries and Japan and the United States are in intermediate positions. These data indicate that in Canada, domestic and care work are externalised more frequently than in the rest of the G7 countries, whereas Italy is the country where household members most perform this work. Various factors help to explain these differences, mainly the accessibility of domestic help, cultural preferences, and the level of participation of women in the labour market.
2. The unequal contribution of men and women
The calculation of satellite accounts has shown the importance of the economic weight of unpaid work, of which a large part remains hidden in the calculation of regular indicators such as GDP. The satellite account, however, also reveals important gender inequalities, because the largest part of this invisible work, close to 70%, is performed by women. Invisible and non-accounted work, therefore, is mainly female. Figure 3 presents the economic value of the tasks carried out by women and men. Since the wage per hour is the same for all activities, figure 3 also shows the differences in time invested by men and women in unpaid work.
In all the activities analysed, women have a greater weight than men. Women contribute 62% of care work, 68% of household cleaning and maintenance, 70% of food preparation and 82% of clothing care, this being proportionally the most feminised task. Women’s participation in this type of work is much more important than that of men, and so the invisible economic contribution is too. If taken into account in the calculation of GDP, unpaid work performed by women would total 33,928 million hours and would represent 26.24% of GDP for 20101. If unpaid work were considered a sector of the economy, the part carried out by women would have an economic weight similar to that of the industrial sector.
It is important to point out that the calculations presented here only include activities declared as “primary” in surveys on time use. This survey does not enable two simultaneous activities to be declared without hierarchising them: one must be the main, and the other the secondary activity. For example, if a person is ironing clothing and at the same time caring for their children, they must choose whether childcare or the ironing is their main activity. Given that domestic and care tasks on occasions are compatible, the calculation by the authors is conservative, therefore we could think that gender inequalities would be more significant in reality if all the time devoted and not only that declared as “primary” activities were taken into account.
In the majority of countries in our area, researchers have confirmed a reduction in the time devoted to domestic work in the last fifty years (Altintas and Sullivan, 2016). Diverse social changes have helped to encourage this tendency: technological advances that permit greater efficacy in the tasks, changes in customs, and the appearance of an offering adapted to these new habits (for example, the appearance of pre-prepared ready meals), the development of public and private care services, and the incorporation of women into the labour market. However, these changes have not taken place at the same speed nor with the same intensity in all countries, and in Spain the time devoted to unpaid work and its corresponding economic value is higher than in other societies (Altintas and Sullivan, 2016). This work is invisible but of great economic value, and this economic value should be taken into account when interpreting women’s labour activity patterns.
How is the value of housework calculated?
There is no single method for calculating the value of domestic tasks, and each of them necessarily involves certain starting budgets. The estimate we are presenting here is one of the possible estimates, published by the INE and based on data from 2010 (Angulo and Hernández, 2015).
First of all, it is necessary to identify the unpaid activities that are considered relevant within the “domestic tasks” label. In our case there were four:
Household: those related with household cleaning, maintenance and repairs;
Food: all activities related with culinary production, from cooking to washing the dishes or obtaining raw materials in the home destined for food (for example growing a vegetable garden);
Clothing: washing clothes, ironing, dressmaking and repairing clothes;
Care and attention to children, elderly people and dependent persons.
Furthermore, we have to calculate the time devoted to each of these tasks, including the journeys to reach the place where the activity will be undertaken. For this reason, data have been used from the Uses of Time Survey conducted by the Spanish Statistics Institute (INE) in 2009-2010. This survey uses a diary to measure the temps that a representative sample of residents in Spain devotes to different activities over the course of a day (INE, 2010).
To attribute an economic value to each task, there are two alternatives: or we take into account the wage of the person effectively performing the activity, understanding that this is what she effectively ceases to earn in the labour market when she devotes her time to unpaid tasks (opportunity cost), or alternatively to calculate the wage that would be paid to another person to make the task unpaid (substitution cost). The choice of one method or another is important, because work in the housework and caregiving sector is not remunerated with high salaries, while the person who effectively does the work can have a lower or higher . If we use the substitution cost, the result will be a lower estimate than if we use the opportunity cost, because the wage of domestic workers is lower than the average of workers in other sectors. In this study we use the substitution cost and assume a net wage of 9.09 euros per hours.
Finally, we must take into account also a series of production costs and intermediate costs. For example, to prepare food it is necessary to use ingredients acquired in the market, above all the ingredients on the dish, but also used are utensils (pans, electrical appliances. , etc.) or infrastructures that are worn down with each use. The estimate of intermediate costs is added to the previous calculation.
ANGULO, C., and HERNÁNDEZ, S. (2015): «Propuesta de cuenta de producción de los hogares en España en 2010. Estimación de la serie 2003-2010», Documentos de Trabajo, Madrid: INE.
ALTINTAS, E., and SULLIVAN, O. (2016): «Fifty years of change updated: Cross-national gender convergence in housework», Demographic Research, 35.
EUROSTAT (2003): “Household production and consumption. Proposal for a methodology of household satellite accounts”, Luxemburg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
Instituto Nacional de Estadística (2010): Encuesta de Empleo del Tiempo.
VAN DE VEN, P., ZWIJNENBURG, J. and DE QUELJOE, M. (2018): «Including unpaid household activities: An estimate of its impact on macro-economic indicators in the G7 economies and the way forward», OECD Statistics Working Papers, 91.
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